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‘Thank You, Betty White’

Phyllis Somerville on the joys of being an older actress.

Q: In Little Children, you played the mother of Jackie Earle Haley’s child molester character. How did you approach the sympathy that role required, in loving a son who’s also a monster?

A: Maybe it’s easier when it’s something you know nothing about, because I haven’t been a mother. But I think that love is just there — she sees the good in him. She knew who he was but loved him anyway, and she never gave up hope. That’s who she was. She wasn’t about to give up on her son.

Q: I saw a clip someone put on YouTube — a clip from a TV show — titled, “Phyllis Somerville is my favorite older woman sexpot.”

A: Oh, I loved doing that show! That was Al Franken’s show, LateLine.

Q: Does that desire to bring out a sexier side in a role ever fade?

A: Oh, man, no. I think it goes a little less as one gets older, but at my age, would I love to play something that had a little something like that going on. Absolutely. That doesn’t go away.

Q: Has the renewed popularity of Betty White had any kind of effect on older actresses like yourself, in reminding people that you can do a great variety of roles?

A: I was thinking about that today, because you get so used to hearing that there isn’t work for older actors. I don’t know … my friends are working. Maybe somebody just realized that people have grandmothers.

Two actors my age and I had just gone to the theater, and we went to a little Italian place, and there were four guys probably in their 30s sitting next to us. After they left, their waiter came over to us and said, “The gentlemen who were sitting next to you would like to buy you ladies a round of drinks.” And we looked at each other and said, “Thank you, Betty White.”

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