En español | Few Hollywood actresses subvert aging with more panache than Holland Taylor, 77, a Tony Award-nominated stage great who turned TV star at 37 in Tom Hanks’ first show Bosom Buddies and perfected an acerbic, smart persona, playing wised-up, sometimes sexed-up grownups who look about 50 to 70, no matter how old she is at the time: the professor in Legally Blonde, the matriarch in Two and a Half Men, a judge in The Practice, and now, the Great Leader of Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in Bill & Ted Face the Music, the decades-in-the-making threequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991). Taylor talks with AARP about breaking boundaries in her roles and how the new Bill & Ted is more about aging than you’d imagine.
In the third Bill & Ted movie, the now middle-aged guys face the music — that is, face the facts of aging and what's important in life. What's your role?
I’m the most important person in the universe! If you recall, in the original Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, George Carlin played the Great Leader who kept the universe going, who came from the future in a phone booth and told them what to do. My character is Mrs. George Carlin, now the Great Leader from the cosmic hub 700 years in the future, where the nobles and the elders of the society are. I give them their assignment: to write a great song, which allows them to recapture the quest of their youth.
To fulfill the quest and write the tune, they time-trip to meet versions of themselves, from young buddies to retirement-home roommates — and also recruit Jimi Hendrix, Jesus, Louis Armstrong and Mozart for their band. Do Keanu and Alex make beautiful acting music together?
I was knocked out by both of them because they worked long hours and many, many takes. We could have been doing Hamlet in the seriousness with which they were taking every moment. Seeing them do the air guitar just makes me laugh out loud. Because it became so iconic, isn't it? It's no different from, you know, Tom Cruise's slide in his jockeys in Risky Business.
You just got your eighth Emmy Award nomination for playing a 1940s movie studio exec in Netflix's Hollywood who romances a much younger man — played by Dylan McDermott, your costar on The Practice, your first Emmy-winning role.
It was an unexpected reunion. When producer Ryan Murphy told me our characters ended up together, I said, “What? Are you crazy? I've gotta be 20 years older than Dylan.” He said, “You can play 50."
On The Practice, you played another formidable female authority figure who’s tough and nobody’s patsy, but also as sexy as she wants to be.
That was really groundbreaking. It was a really scandalous thing. Because, I mean, that was 1999. And they did not have women on television of my age, 50, playing a really smart, capable, a very powerful judge with a lot of personality and a lot of interesting clothes — and then have her be having this affair with her clerk who files a complaint against her because she ends the relationship, and he’s mad.
Wasn’t that whole episode a joke that referred to the Lewinsky scandal?
Mike Nichols, who was a friend of mine, wrote me a note and said, “President Clinton has a lot to answer for.”
How does the Great Leader stack up against your classic roles?
It’s a comedy and requires that deft balance between playing it for real, but also somehow weaving a comic thing in there, so that she can be both powerful and do something just slightly ridiculous. And, you know, I’ve been playing characters like that all my life actually. That’s something that I like to do.