TV audiences have known Holland Taylor for years thanks to Bosom Buddies, The Practice and Two and a Half Men, to name a few of her signature roles.
The Emmy-winning actress, who has been quarantining at home with actress girlfriend Sarah Paulson, is back on TV this week — starring as legendary Texas Governor Ann Richards in Great Performances: Ann, premiering at 9 p.m. ET Friday, June 19, on PBS.
What would Ann Richards say about the social unrest going on across the country?
I got to know her so well through pretty ardent and fervent research that I could think about what she would say in many situations. But in a situation like this, I wouldn’t. It’s too serious. But I’ll tell you one thing, she believed in moving forward and progress.
Would she be disappointed that we still don’t have a female president?
Profoundly. I know she expected to have one in her lifetime and her life was cut off short by any standard [she died in 2006 at 73]. I think actually had she been 50 when she left office, she would have been our first female president because she unquestionably had all the big qualities that would be necessary for a captivating leader.
How do you prepare to be Ann Richards?
I’m not terribly woo-woo about acting. It is an illusion. I know her well because I studied her in many different ways: both her written words and speeches. But also, I got to know about 80 people who were connected to her and some of them very well. So I had firsthand accounts of what she was like and I must have 250 hours of film of her from the archive. If you watch a person closely, you can sort of get into their space. I don’t ever lose myself as an actor. I’m not that kind of actor. I emotionally and creatively get into a place where my craft allows me to behave in a way to seem to be a person. It’s always a created effort. It’s not a psychological trick.
Is there someone else you’d want to get to know, to play? Other women you want to play?
Interesting question. There aren’t. It would be easy to think I wanted to do a show, a one-person show, and I looked around for a subject and I picked her as a great subject to do. It’s exactly the opposite. I was 60-something when I started work on this and that’s not the age to start deciding you’re going to do a one-person show, six days a week. So what happened was that I was so unusually affected by her death; it was as if a beloved aunt had died. It was really a thunderstorm and it made me realize she meant so much more to me than I ever knew, and then further much more to me in terms of her place in history and her place in our society and I realized the country was suffering a loss, not just me personally, which was already strange because I didn’t really know her. So I was motivated to do something creative out of my own pain, out of my own sorrow, out of my own intellectual sense that we lost something valuable in our culture.
You’re an inspiration, having won your first Emmy at 56 [The Practice]. Did you think “Thank God, long overdue,” or what?
It’s wonderful to be honored but I’m not crazy about the whole honors system in entertainment because it’s gotten so overinvested. I believe people care too much about it.
I read that during stay-at-home orders you were sheltering with girlfriend Sarah Paulson, and you’ve got a new puppy.
Nothing like a new puppy to take the horrible sting off a pandemic.
The puppy is a wonderful addition. The puppy is the first creature you see in the morning and she’s waking up to her day of play, she runs and gets a sock immediately so she can toss the sock around. Who can resist it? Her name is Winnie, Winifred P. Paulson.
Was it ever hard to spend all this time together?
We have a very comfortable happy relationship so it certainly can ride out being in each other’s space, but I’m sure everyone is having difficulty in crowding each other. But it’s the lack of agency in our lives, given my age, given the new relaxation of restraints, I’m not supposed to go anywhere because of my age. I do drive to various things that I do and just getting in the car, or going out for a walk, gives me a sense of agency that makes me realize how cooped up I really do feel.
What would you tell young people today perhaps feeling isolated and sad from our current situation?
Try and have the long view; to try and know that whether they are feeling it or not, there is a very big stress on them and that they should take measures to be rested and to take exercise and to nourish themselves because this is a time of enormous unnamed stress.
You also had another new show this past spring, Hollywood [Netflix], and Sarah had Mrs. America [Hulu]. Both of those shows, like Ann, explore women in a certain period of time and the struggles they faced.
I think about my mother and the things that I never realized when she was alive. I never realized the certain sacrifices she made, and I’m not altogether certain she realized the sacrifices she was making. I know for her that dutifully making three meals a day and dessert for dinner was a terrific burden and it caused anxiety. She was an artist, a painter—and for her to have to maintain this middle-class picture-perfect life and have a sort of rigid schedule of meals and taking care of three children when I think she was an artist who just wanted to be doing that. It’s really painful.
WATCH IT: Great Performances: Ann, premieres nationwide Friday, June 19, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/gperf and the PBS Video app.