Interview with Holland Taylor, actress and playwright

Holland Taylor publicity shot

Emmy Award winning Holland Taylor talks about her greatest accomplishment and giving one’s all.

Holland Taylor publicity shotOn January 14th, 2013 Holland Taylor celebrated her 70th birthday. Eight weeks later, her self-penned two-act play, ‘Ann” about the legendary Governor of Texas, Ann Richards opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in New York City’s famed Lincoln Centre. It was the culmination of an intense, six-year, all-consuming effort.

What first attracted you to Ann Richards?

I was aware of her the way most Americans were. She was a very lovable, fascinating, very intriguing personality. When the Queen of England came over to visit Texas shortly after Ann’s inauguration, she came with an enormous retinue of people. An aide said that the Queen assesses world figures as they appear and wants to meet people who look like they are extremely original, or newcomers on the scene of great value and importance.

So, that gives you an idea of the person Ann Richards was. Her achievement was remarkable. Her goals were admirable and new and fresh. She had my interest from the beginning. When she came to New York she made a huge splash on the scene, always in the news and on television.

I met her once at lunch with the columnist Liz Smith. It was wonderful to see her up close and personal. She had a wonderful sense of humor. She was the funniest woman alive. I just loved her.

Ann RIchardsAbout a year or two after that she died. It was a terrible, terrible shock. She was the kind of person you’d think was your favorite aunt, who was always going to be there, always. Then when she died, I was kind of inconsolable. I stayed that way a long time. I wondered why was I that way?

I explored it and months later I thought, I just have to do something creative about her. At first I thought of a movie but I didn’t do anything about it.

Then one day I was driving to work and I was thunderstruck by the notion that it should be a live play. I pulled over and I got ideas for about five or so of the organizing principles of the play. And I never looked back.

From that first draft to the opening night, how long did it take?

Six years. I only got discouraged when we were challenged to find a Broadway theatre that would do it. Then the Lincoln Center invited us, which was just a staggering coup. It was sort of unbelievable.

Do you consider this show more of a personal success or a professional success?

I think to have such a huge role and to be well received on Broadway, and to be nominated for a Tony and all that is a professional success. I don’t think people thought of the writing that much, except the writers that came because they spoke of it. I think writers can be very critical and also “who does this actress think she is, writing a play?” If I had had the opportunity I would have used a male pseudonym, because the play would have been received completely differently.

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Fortunately, many people who came in included writers like Ernest Thompson, Robert Caro, Buck Henry and others and they remarked on the fact that they thought it was an extraordinary piece of writing.

poster of play "Ann"I’m very happy with that. I couldn’t possibly be private or hidden as the writer because I had to be publicly rewriting, and working on it all the time. I was sort of in charge of many, many decisions because I was the author. There was no way to hide that.

Do you think there is more of a burden for a female playwright?

Well, it just depends. I don’t want to be ‘the female playwright’. It’s just tedious. I’m too old and bored with it to even argue the point. It’s too silly to bear conversation in a sense, but we live in an extremely sexist society and it’s boring, it’s old, I’m just tired of it all. But it’s changing. It’s all changing. The male-female thing is very interesting. Women hold a certain power, they just do. Men resent it.

Would you consider the play your greatest accomplishment?

Yes. The whole thing: the production, the performance, the surviving it, the recovering from it, the ramp up to it, the social engagements with people to research it, the trips, the effort, the reading, the thinking about her, the musing, the selections of what I chose to show… Yeah, no question about it.

Any interest in running for public office yourself?

scene from the playI have thought about it, because a lot of people say it. Because I can play someone in that authority, doesn’t mean that I could be it. And I’m sort of past the time where I would do that. I could be appointed to do something, to represent something. But to run even for state senator, that requires tremendous experience.

To people who just say, ‘I’m going to run for senator’, Ann would say, ‘run for city council first, work on the school board. Work on somebody’s campaign. Discover the whole political world.’ I mean you can jump right to a high post, but you would be very ill-equipped to execute it. And I agree with that. I am an actor. I am an interpreter. That is what I do. And whenever I thought about it for two minutes, whenever it came up, I would think “I can’t really do that, that’s just unreasonable”. I have other things I want to do, let’s put it that way.

My intention is to do plays again in New York, and hopefully I get to play a broader range of roles.

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I have played enough brittle sophisticates, played enough horrible mothers. I’m much more interested in playing something complex, with subtleties and the potential for human warmth. I have shown that I can do that.

I’m hoping that I have elevated my position in that regard, in terms of theater, and in terms of independent movies as well. My own nephew, Brad Anderson, is a remarkable director of independent movies. I wish he would use me in another one, because he has allowed me to do some of the better acting that I have done on film. I would do that kind of work, God willing, and that would be great. I intend to spend the balance of my time between New York and Los Angeles and just soldier on. Actors don’t retire, as you know.

Holland Taylor with Bill ClintonWhat impact did the play have on you?

The effect the play had on me was devastating.

It was a tremendously enlivening project over a period of six years. It required more and more of me, and ultimately required all, absolutely all that I had. All my energy, all my effort, all my physical strength, all my fat cells, all my brain cells, all my personal commitment – in the sense that there was not much else I could fit in. Relationships would go by the wayside. Thinking would go by the wayside. Family, everything went by the wayside as I did this, because there was no time when it wasn’t absolutely dominating my thoughts, and dominating my effort.

When I was in the actual run itself, which was 151 performances, all of my effort went into it, such that I was quite ill afterwards. I did do eight performances a week. It’s a long and extremely athletic show and I had a long prep for every performance. I literally had no time to do anything else, or think of anything else.

Performing it was the great reward of it. Even when I was ill, you don’t really feel it or suffer from it while you’re on stage; the minute you come off, you want to die. So, when the play ended, my activity, all the people I worked with and talked with every day and daily obligations, all of that disappeared in a twinkling. And it was a very, very big shock. Very big shock. Very hard to take.

Was there a grieving period after the play was done?

Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.

And physically it was quite difficult to get back. To gain the weight back – I had lost a tremendous amount of weight. It was like doing two marathons a week. I mean, I can’t eat like an Olympic swimmer, a loaf of bread, rashers of bacon and a dozen eggs. I just could not keep any weight on. There was no way. So that was very challenging. The recovery was quite a period afterwards. There was a sense of “What the hell am I going to do with myself?”

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Once it’s all done, it’s like post-partum, like your child leaves and you don’t know where it went.

A friend of mine joked and even said, you know after all that tremendous effort and physical draining, you should at least have some little person saying, ‘Mummy, can I have a puppy?’ There should be something here; but there wasn’t anything anymore.

The play was a thumping success. In Washington, in its last week you could be a Senator and not get a ticket. I’m not kidding. It was a very big success. For me personally, I don’t think I will ever be able to put the cap on it, or finally say what its effect was on me. It’s too profound. It’s like saying what’s the effect of the most important relationship in your life, or a child or something? It’s just too big.

Is it something that you carry with you still?

It’s changed how I look at things now that I’m sort of myself again. Whatever ‘self’ I am now is the ‘self’ that is much altered by the experience. It’s quite an experience to give your all and I was giving my all over a long period of time.

Going forward?

I’m older. I’m six years older than when I started. And I’m at a time in my life when that makes a considerable difference. I’m really in this very neutral place right now, where I feel extremely positive, and happy. I’m carefree. That’s wonderful.

I’m taking a whole new approach to almost everything that I do. I’m open to do things differently. I have achieved something that was enormous. I had a lot of tension and stress doing it. I was worried a lot. I was responsible for a lot of money invested, which was new for me. It was just – I got through it – is all I can say. There’s a lot that I wasn’t happy with, but, I got through it.

Now I don’t have those responsibilities. I’m responsible only for myself, and my own happiness. That’s a very unique place to be in. I’m not going to have any involvement or any job or anything that doesn’t support that. So, a fresh start.

The most limiting factor of my life now, is just time. Time and energy. I’d like to do a lot that I most likely won’t get to do. I’ll do what I can and have those relationships that I want to have, enjoy my friends and try to fit a lot in. A lot of travel, a lot of interesting things that I can squeeze in. I’m very happy.

About Freedom Chevalier

I’m a rehabilitated thespian, and the author of a bunch of articles, plays, short stories, songs, poems, grocery lists, fortune cookie inserts, and even a gritty thriller about the dark side of stand-up comedy, called Pundit, from Red Dashboard Press. I currently reside outside of Boston and am desperately trying to get back to the Bay...and I really have heard every possible joke about my name.