I was covering the red carpet for a tribute to Mike Nichols years ago when Cher arrived. She took some photos but strolled by reporters hoping — to no avail — for an interview.
Feeling courageous — or maybe more desperate — I yelled out as loud as I could, “Cher!” She turned around. When our eyes met, I screamed, “I’m gay.”
Cher smiled and came over to me. I got my interview.
I recalled that moment while talking with the music legend for the latest episode of the “Just for Variety” podcast. “You said the magic word,” she says, laughing. “And it worked. … It shows my commitment.”
Cher, whose son Chaz Bono is transgender, has been an LGBTQ icon for as long as she’s been Cher — actually from when she was a preteen and still known as Cherilyn Sarkisian. She was about 10 years old when her mom introduced her to a group of hairdressers during a weekend in Palm Springs. “I thought, ‘Why are these men so much more fun than the men I know?’ because I only knew straight men from my father and his friends. They were always great but wouldn’t joke around as much,” she remembers. “That’s when it first happened to me, when I was 10. It was kind of a love affair from then on.”
More recently, Cher had another love affair of sorts. She was instrumental in saving a mistreated elephant named Kaavan from the Islamabad Zoo in Pakistan. As seen in the Paramount Plus doc “Cher & the Loneliest Elephant,” she played a key role in getting Kaavan moved to a sanctuary in Cambodia. Cher first heard of Kaavan through fans who bombarded her with tweets asking for her assistance. “Very rarely do I help people on Twitter because I can’t help them all,” she says. “[But] it was them, and they wanted it so badly.”
Even so, she didn’t think she’d be able to do much: “I kept saying, ‘I’m just an entertainer. What did they expect me to do?’”
She then got in touch with Mark Cowne, rocker Bob Geldof’s former manager, who helps transport elephants to Africa. Together they founded animal rescue group Free the Wild. In the doc, Cher is shown singing “My Way” to Kaavan after Dr. Amir Khalil, the veterinarian who spearheaded the move, told her it was the elephant’s favorite song. “It was terrible because Dr. Amir is terrible [at singing] and I hadn’t been singing since COVID,” Cher recalls, laughing, “He gets me off key, and I thought, ‘Cher, you’re either doing this for this animal or doing it to be cool.’ So I guess the cool didn’t win.”
Next up for Cher is work on her memoir and the development of her biopic. Last month, she announced a day before her 75th birthday that the Universal Pictures film will be produced by “Mamma Mia!” producers Judy Craymer and Gary Goetzman, with Eric Roth writing the script. “I know the people so I’m sure they’ll…listen to things I have to say. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to get the final cut,” she says.
Casting hasn’t started yet, but Cher believes a newcomer should play her on the big screen. “We were talking about it yesterday, and we’re just trying to think of [actors],” she says. “I said, ‘I don’t think we know her yet.’”
As for her own acting, Cher says she’s not sure when she’ll make a return. In fact, she says she first turned down the offer to be in the “Mamma Mia” sequel. But then her former manager and then-Universal boss Ron Meyer called her. “He said, ‘You’re doing ‘Mamma Mia 2.’ And he hung up on me,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to.’ And I would not let anyone talk to me like that. I turned around. I said, ‘Guys, I think I’m going to play a grandmother in “Mamma Mia.”’
I’m surprised when Cher says she was “frightened” before shooting began. “I’m not one of those people with a lot of confidence,” she says.
She recalls a meeting she had with the late director Jonathan Demme and casting director Marion Dougherty to talk about a role in 1984’s “Swing Shift.” Cher was shooting the Nichols-directed “Silkwood” at the time. “They were so mean to me,” she says, adding, “They said, ‘Oh, you’re not believable. No one would believe you singing torch songs.’ I said, ‘Well, you’ve obviously never seen ‘The Sonny and Cher Show’ because once a week, I did.’ And they said, ‘You know what? We hate stars.’ Actually, it started with her: ‘I just hate stars that will come and audition.’ Meanwhile, I’m sitting right there.”
Fortunately, Nichols had her back: “I knew I was doing good because Mike kept telling me, ‘You’ll work after this.’”
As for music, Cher hopes to start touring again in February. She didn’t exactly miss being on the road at the start of the pandemic lockdown. “I can be lazy. I’m a Taurus,” she says. “I can kind of lay like Ferdinand and sit under the tree.”
Earlier this month, Cher teased on Twitter she may be working on new music with rapper Saweetie. “She’s a sweet girl,” Cher says, declining to divulge details about their collaboration. “I don’t know how she is with everybody else, but she and I had the best time together. And the thing that we did is going to be big.”
Listen to the full interview with Cher above. You can also find “Just for Variety” at Apple Podcasts or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.