New York actress Holland Taylor recently debuted her production of Ann for Broadway in Chicago. She personifies and brings to life the story Ann Richards, the late Texas governor, in a one-woman show with a simple set and a self-written script.
At lunch one day Ms. Taylor discussed the legend of Ann and Holland’s stellar television career from Bosom Buddies to Two and a Half Men.
Jerry Nunn: That Ann Richards was quite a pistol. I just saw your performance the other night.
Holland Taylor: Oh, good. I’m glad you saw it. She was actually a huge person as you could tell from seeing the play.
JN: What inspired you to make a one-woman show about her?
HT: Inspiration is the answer. Some people would just look from a distance and assume that I made a practical or professional decision to do a one-person show and that I was looking for a subject. First of all I am too old to do a one-person show. I would never say at this time in my life, “I would like to shoulder the complete responsibility for a very expensive production and do it for months and months!” I wouldn’t do that.
JN: Of course not, and you had met her in the past correct?
HT: I was an enormous fan of Ann Richards. She was a profound person that people felt a surge of attraction for. People would yell at her on the street, “I voted for you, Governor” and they were from New Jersey! People wanted to sit in her lap in the theatre because she was just so adorable. When she died she was at the top of her game and spoke all over the place. I had lunch with her and saw heads snap to see her. Liz Smith and I were waiting for her and there was a sudden silence in the restaurant when she arrived.
JN: How soon did she pass away after that?
HT: About a year or so. It was so sudden, she had esophageal cancer and before we knew it she was gone. I was just bereft and though how sad and so young. Ann was gone in a twinkling and really ripped from the bosom of the Texans who loved her. We had lost a heroine.
JN: So now she can live on with this show.
HT: I had a creative urge to do something. If I were a painter I would have painted a portrait of her. So I decided to act her in something since I am an actor, maybe a movie of the week or from the years when she quit drinking and her triumph as governor. I was driving to work and had to pull over when I thought of the play. She is a live person so making a connection with people. I can’t convey to you what a startling discovery this was because the governing principals of this play came to me in those 15 minutes, the structure, where it would be, the occasion of her speaking and that daring turn at the end.
JN: This must have been quite a revelation.
HT: I was in a state of excitement and was stunned at the same time. I never looked back. I started researching her and made contact with her family to let them know I was doing it. If they had not wanted me to then I would not. You don’t need permission for a public person but I wanted the family to be behind it.
JN: That is important. Was she open minded about the LGBT community?
HT: Ann had gay people on her staff. I don’t think she thought about it one way or the other. One thing she made sure to do, you know from seeing the play, is that her appointments were her lasting legacy. She wanted to hire the best person for the job, which is why she put in plenty of republicans as well. She said, “Everyone had the right to screw up as much as everyone else.”
JN: This was very open-minded.
HT: In the ‘90s AIDS was becoming this flare of alarm and fear, confusion and ignorance. She had an ethics office in her treasury office. If people had any concerns then there was a safe place for them to come and talk. She had a gay pastor put on the board for funerals because she felt that with AIDS deaths someone should protect the interests of gay people. That was in 1991. She was a real hero in that sense. She did not judge people and was extraordinarily open hearted and open eyed.
JN: So she has a lot of ideas to bring to modern audiences.
HT: That is just the penny dropping in the slot. I had no idea for it to be appropriate for our times. I was moved by an emotional and creative urge to find out why she had such potency for me and for others. With occupy Wall Street Ann would be out there on the front lines.
JN: It seems like you are having a great time up there portraying her.
HT: I’m starting to. This script has been rewritten three different times. Some areas needed to be more fleshed out, the bout with alcoholism and the loss of her marriage. We have cut out material that people screamed when I did. I wanted it to be under two hours. It is 15 minutes shorter than Carrie Fisher and John Lithgow’s solo shows so I figure I am in a good ballpark now. You saw my show on the third night I had ever performed it.
JN: But you had been rehearsing it in Texas correct?
HT: No, that was a different script. Do you have any idea what it is like to unlearn one script and learn a new one?
JN: That has to be tricky.
HT: It is beyond tricky because it is not really in my muscles yet. If I am not thinking consciously step-by-step my body can flip to an old way of doing something. In about another week I should feel free about worrying if a part is coming that is similar to the other script. Those fleeting thoughts can be destructive so I am looking forward to one more week.
JN: Then the play goes onto Washington.
HT: We will be in the Kennedy Center in a glorious theatre. It is hard to play some of the comic things sometimes at the Bank of America Theatre because the laughter has to come from the far back of the theatre for me to hear it. It slows it down a fraction because it is so big.
JN: It is fun to hear the quotes from her.
HT: It is about 90 percent written and not taken from anything. If you added letters, and quotes that people gave me, it might be ten percent of the play. Everything in the governor’s office happened. Now some of the things happened in person and I just put them on the phone. I was told these stories by the players themselves.
JN: Has the family seen it?
HT: Her sons have seen it in Austin. I think everyone will come to Washington.
JN: The goal is to get this to Broadway?
HT: No the goal is already achieved. The goal is to do it, express it, and have people get it. I have everything I want. I do have a producer who picked up the show named Bob Boyett. He will be bringing it into New York. It is a great reward but not the goal.
JN: We are glad you decided to debut it here first.
HT: I picked Chicago because it is a theatre town. New York caters to many tourists. With the Lookingglass, Goodman, and Steppenwolf you are going to play to a smart, warm, audience, not people that are being dragged to the theatre. Our first preview was gangbusters. I could believe how sharp, eager and fast they were. I could hardly keep up with them.
JN: What good timing to appear locally on The Rosie Show!
HT: I will tell you how that happens is because Ann was born under a special star and this show is catching some of the light. It ain’t me…
JN: Well, I have been watching you since Bosom Buddies.
HT: My friend (shakes hands) that was my first job in LA. I was strictly New York until then.
JN: That was a fun show with drag on major television.
HT: You know it is still playing? I get these residuals for $1.06. Tom Hanks and I see each other periodically and laugh that it is still going. We jumped networks and there wasn’t even a full season. There were only 37 of them.
JN: You have been on Two and a Half Men since the beginning.
HT: I do it whenever I can. I started the play when we were on hiatus. They can use the character when I am available. She is not a full time character. That is why I was able to do this play.
JN: Who would you want to play you if it were a show about your life?
HT: (laughs) My life is not the subject for any theatrical thing that is why this has been such a joy in my life. I have been a hired gun slipping and sliding from show to show. People act like I have designed my career. Shit I have taken pretty much every job I have been offered because I wanted to make a living. Now this play has offered me the opportunity to do something that has meaning and value not just for me but others. I’m 68 and I can’t tell you what that means at this time in my life!