Actress Holland Taylor often plays characters of regal bearing — women who command the screen, take no guff and still manage to get laughs.
As Evelyn Harper, the ice queen mother of Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen on the CBS hit comedy Two and a Half Men, Taylor, 67, is as haughty as she's ever been. Off screen, she's a little different. Here, she talks to AARP about the origins of her gallant persona.
Q: You've always played strong women. Is that your real personality?
A: It is and it isn't. Privately, I can be quite cautious and chicken little, but when I'm brought into a place where I have to do something, I assert myself and do what I have to do forcefully.
Q: How did this tough persona start?
A: Biology is destiny. If you have a body and voice of a certain type … that's going to affect how people cast you. I was once asked, when I was young, to do Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. That's a part I know I cannot play. It's just not in my physiology.
Q: Did you cultivate a powerful image or was it natural?
A: I don't cultivate it, no. When you play this kind of character, you often get typecast. I'm often asked to play very cold people — for instance, on Two and a Half Men. I don't think I'm cold and unfeeling, so sometimes I'm not very effective. My bosses on the show constantly correct me because I play something too soft, or with too much empathy or understanding.
Q: Did you have a role model for the sort of woman we are discussing?
A: From an early age, I was responsive to English women writers like Rebecca West and Elizabeth Bowen, smart women who had real mental refinement. In my personal life, my mother was strong in the sense of being resilient, but she had a certain delicacy, and my Aunt Louise was terrifically strong, funny and warm. She became a real lynchpin in my life for making things all right — a very comforting figure. I've always been very responsive to her or anyone like her.
Q: Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer are your TV sons. Since you don't have children, does the cast sometimes feel like a surrogate family?
A: I refer to them as my sons, and get quite a sense of delight thinking of them as mine. There was a Mother's Day event at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and both Jon and Charlie came and gave me an armful of roses. I was blown away. It was enormously fun.