Did you always want to be an actress?
I did, I kind of knew in my bones from the time I was a little kid that this was what I wanted to do. It was either this or be a veterinarian, and I wasn’t terribly good at science so I think that helped me make my decision. I took a couple of detours first. [After college] I got myself to New York and worked Off Broadway for a couple of years, and doing dinner theater and summer stock. And then had a chance to model, and that was my ticket to travel. I took 5 years from 25 to 30 and got to see the world. I never really started working as an actor until I was 30. I’m sort of a late bloomer in a lot of ways.
Did you set out to become a character actress or were those the roles that were given to you?
I was definitely typecast in my 30s. I was tall and brunette and often played the heavies, or the evil girls or the divorcees. Usually I was the bad one in the group! I mostly did dramatic stuff on television. In plays I had more range, but in television it wasn’t until I did Dream On that they found out I was funny. That changed my career forever and opened so many doors. And then having Just Shoot Me for 7 years, I figured ‘well, I’ve had mine, you can’t really ask for much more.’ So Hot in Cleveland I did not expect.
The characters on the show are described as “looking for a second act.”
This is my 3rd act. And I attribute so much of that to Betty. I turned 60 when we started Hot in Cleveland, and I have this role model in Betty, who is 30 years older than I, and made me realize this really could be a whole other rich chapter for me. Instead of the end, it’s another beginning.
How do you feel in your body and spirit at this age compared to when you were younger?
Oh, it’s much more enjoyable. It’s not just all about me, how is this helping me get ahead--all that stuff. The collaboration becomes more important the older you get. If you can go to work with your friends and laugh every day, and somebody’s paying you for it--I can’t think of anything that would make me happier. And this job has the brilliant schedule of allowing us to go home and see our families at night. So I can walk my dogs and take the horses out in the morning before I go to work. That is like having a truly balanced life.
What “yets” do you still want to experience?
I’m producing a movie about Wild Horse Annie, an incredible advocate who got the first laws passed to protect our wild horses. We have a wonderful script. My co-producer asked if I’d be interested in directing it, but not having directed film I decided this is a pretty big one to bite off for my first one. But I could see in the future directing a smaller character-driven piece.
You’ve done a lot of work on behalf of animals.
Yeah, I’m sort of the unofficial spokesperson for the Humane Society. Not being a mother, my kids have always been 4-legged. We’ve always lived with dogs, and I just recently rescued two 3-year-old mustangs from Return to Freedom sanctuary north of Santa Barbara. We added them to our herd; we already had 3. And I have two rescue dogs and two miniature donkeys. So we have a whole menagerie. I’m out walking those horses and walking the dogs every day.
Tell me about your husband, Richard [Erickson]. I don’t see any photos of him with you online.
No, you won’t. He’s under the radar! You met in Mexico? We met building houses in Tijuana. [Actress] Mary Kay Place invited me years ago, when I was recently separated from my ex-husband, and was in that period when one chapter is ended and you’re flailing around figuring out what your next move will be. She said ‘why don’t you get out of your own way and come and do something for somebody else?’ So I ended up going down to Mexico with a group from a Presbyterian church in Brentwood. And thinking, ‘oh, they could be singing Kumbaya around the campfire.’ And they did! But they also all had beer and were really fun people. I met my husband outside of the campfire; he put his sleeping bag out near a rock somewhere. When I went out to pee late one night I thought he was a rock and I ended up waking him up. Shortly after that he said ‘would you be interested in learning how to ride a motorcycle and going to Africa this summer? I’m taking some bikes to a little medical center I’ve built in Congo.’ And I thought, ‘you just don’t get this invitation every day.’ He was unlike any man I had ever met before or to this day. And we did end up taking bikes to Congo, and moved in the following fall and have been together ever since. He’s a very thoughtful, quiet and contemplative human being. The shorthand when I describe our marriage is he makes me think and I make him laugh. And it works for us.
What else do you like to do when you are not working?
We are helping out my brother and my niece’s mom in raising my niece. She spends the school week with us, so we have an 11-yr. old. Being the age we are we really should be grandparents. But my family doesn’t do anything nice and easy so this child came along as a wonderful surprise for everybody. We are all kind of learning as we go.
Both you and your character on Hot in Cleveland have aging parents.
I have a wonderful episode with Carol Burnett. Jean Smart plays my sister, who has been taking care of our mother, and she says ‘okay I’m done, now you need to come home and take over.’ It was interesting because I just recently came back from being with my mother when she had a full hip replacement. She’s doing great, but it’s that whole thing, for those of us who live on one side of the country and have older parents on the other coast. Mine, fortunately, are still are in amazing shape at 84 and 93, my dad’s age. But you start thinking about that when you are so far away. How to help care for aging parents is a big Boomer issue. In thinking we are being responsible, we can rush in too quickly to strip them of their autonomy. And that is so hugely important. I mean, look at Betty: she lives on her own and goes to work every day. She is still so present and so vital. Because she doesn’t want anybody to do for her when she can do it for herself.