Siskel has just traipsed out of her interview lair after talking up the film version of "Postcards from the Edge," a book loosely based on her life as a second-generation Hollywood survivor -- and a survivor of personal drug wars. Fisher feels Siskel has missed the point of the film entirely.
She's a multi-faceted pop phenomenon these days: Her second book, "Surrender the Pink," has recently been released; she appears in two movies to be released later this year, "Drop Dead Fred" and "Sibling Rivalry"; and she is writing a third book, "Christmas in Las Vegas."
"Siskel says I was hard on my mother," she complains. "He said I made her look non-nurturing." She rolls her eyes. "Puh-leeze! He just didn't get it."
"The book, you know," she continues, "was a thesis on what a [mess] I was at one point in my life. "But [the film's director] Mike Nichols and I changed it to examine the mother-daughter relationship." Meryl Streep plays the film's lead character, Suzanne Vale; Shirley MacLaine is her overbearing mother. (The movie opens here tomorrow.)
"The book was more a stream of consciousness thing. But no one is going to sit there and hear me go on and on about myself for two hours. So we changed the focus."
She begins to bite a nail. "Oh, I hate it that people will think this movie's about my mother and me. That people will think she's this big non-nurturing boozer of a broad."
Has she read "Mommie Dearest," Christina Crawford's condemnation of Joan Crawford as Hollywood mother? Fisher nods.
"I was upset by that book. She obviously never got over being a Hollywood kid. I did. You just have to get over things."
She sweeps away the unpleasant thought with a wave of a manicured hand.
"But my mother and I were nothing like they were. I'm like Suzanne, I guess, but my mother's not really like the Shirley character. She's lovable all the time. That's what made her a star for so long, because she had this adorable spirit." A sigh. "But oh, great, now everybody's gonna think Debbie's a drinker."
Like her mother -- a survivor who claims in her own autobiography that in the '70s things got so bad that at one point she had to sleep in her car -- Fisher has proven to be all but unsinkable.
She survived the "Star Wars" trilogy, in which she played the wisecracking Princess Leia, wore "insane-asylum hair" and feared she would be forever typecast as a plucky, robe-wearing heroine. She survived a rocky two-year marriage to pop balladeer Paul Simon that ended in divorce when she was 28. And she survived a four-year battle with drug addiction. (And she wants it on the record that she and her father did not drop acid together, as one journalist recently claimed. "We did cocaine together. There's a big difference!")
"I smoked pot when I was a teen-ager," she muses, playing with a strand of her short brown page boy. "It took off from there. At 23, I was doing cocaine, which was a nightmare for me . . . But I did it anyway. But as soon as I found pills, I never went back."
Pills, namely Percodan, almost did her in. At 28, she overdosed and checked into a drug rehabilitation clinic. Rehab, she says, was as funny as it was sobering. While there, the man who had pumped her stomach sent her flowers and asked her out on a date.
That event and others like it prompted her to write the manuscript that would become "Postcards."
Fisher's prose, like her personality, snaps, crackles and pops with a strange melange of sarcasm, insight and melancholy.
Cleverness sticks to her like static cling. When it is suggested that her wit and verbal sophistication are masks for her insecurities, she nods quietly.
"I am constantly overcompensating," she says. "I didn't graduate from high school, for example, and I felt I was always trying to catch up. And then there's the parent thing, of course. When I first went to New York, when I was like 21, I got immediately taken up with this very smart crowd -- Mike Nichols and Paul Simon and Lorne Michaels, all of whom were highly educated and highly accomplished. And I, at 21, felt I had to jam everything I was into my mouth to keep up. I was working really hard.
"That's why I went into therapy, initially, because I was trying to be somebody. I've always had this need to convey myself properly. I guess that's why I eventually gravitated to writing, because I could articulate who I am, what I feel."