She endeared herself to audiences when she won her first Emmy at 56 in 1999 for The Practice, jokingly shouting “Overnight!” onstage. But Holland Taylor’s success was well worth the wait. Since then, the 77-year-old star has taken on many hard-edged, funny roles in films like Legally Blonde and shows like Two and a Half Men, earning six more Emmy nominations. Now she delivers a larger-than-life performance as Texas governor Ann Richards in Ann (the first play Holland has written), airing on PBS June 19. “It is the accomplishment of my life,” she tells Closer. And with partner Sarah Paulson by her side, life’s never been better. “Follow your heart and your dream,” she says. “Commit to it and make something happen for yourself!”
What inspired you to write Ann?
“Ann Richards really changed my life. She died in 2006, and I was overwhelmed with sadness that was a little unnatural, since I had only met her once. I admired her more than anyone I’ve known personally, because I’ve never been so struck by a life fully dedicated to making a difference for the common good. My unhappiness persisted for so long, I had to do something. It fell on me like a mission to convey the inspiration this person brought to everyone, to lift people up, to give them hope, to give them confidence that life can improve, that government can be good, that life is positive and funny and wonderful.”
How did you go about creating it?
“I started deep, immersive research about her in 2007, and after two-and-a-half years, I began to craft a play. It took about a year. 2010 was the first performance in Texas. Then I did big theaters in America developing it, and then we came to NYC.”
You earned a 2013 Tony nomination. Does it feel complete now?
“It will never be complete. I’m going to do it one more time in Pasadena, [California]. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to, so I want to do it while I can.”
Let’s talk about your roles in The Practice, Legally Blonde and Two and a Half Men … One great role after the other.
“That I got to play them always surprised me. I finally had to see that there’s some quality I have an ability to play: a kind of leadership, strength and confidence. Like, ‘This is the way it’s going to be, and I don’t care what anybody says!’ I don’t think I’m particularly that way in life, but I love to act it, so I must wish that I were. [Laughs] I wish it so bad that I’ve gotten very good at making it happen.”
Funny, I was going to ask why you seem so confident and where it comes from!
“It’s actually easy when I appear in Ann. But I don’t regard most other things I’ve done as accomplishments. I’ve done a lot of things of middling quality, and I’ve been a gun for hire. But I also had blessings along the way that made it all come true, which had nothing to do with me. Things just fell into place. That’s what makes me feel like there’s some power afoot beyond me, paving the way for this to happen.”
What are your other new projects?
“I’ve probably never worked this much! I play The Great Leader in Bill & Ted Face the Music. I’m on Hollywood right now, and I did the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before [To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You], both on Netflix. And something else even I forgot. I’m [all over], like horses — at the rodeo! So it’s kind of amazing.”
How would you describe this time?
“Horses — at the rodeo! [Laughs] Ha!”
When did you start acting?
“Well, I’m 77. I started when I was about 16. So you do the math: 60 years ago.”
Any moment that set you on your path?
“I was a young teenager when I knew I was going to be an actress. We didn’t get TV until I was 12 or 13, and suddenly I saw all these live performance shows like The United States Steel Hour. I saw Jackie Gleason’s live variety show one night, and he broke his leg on camera! I started acting stuff out at the breakfast table and that was that.”
If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?
“I was beset by so many choices of what to do, I could never decide. I wasted a lot of time because I wouldn’t commit to doing something, even reading a book. So I would’ve said, ‘Slow down, calm down, stop. Do something that nourishes you.’”
Your relationship with Sarah Paulson does that. What makes it work?
“We are very different. The fact that I am older makes me steadier. I don’t worry about some of the things that she may worry about. I might be a steadying influence. She’s very excitable. I think I’m the person she can quiet down with. I’m hopefully that sense of home.”
Is the nearly 32-year age difference between you ever an issue?
“I’m surprised by Sarah. Not that we love and respond to each other, but that she would make a commitment like this and share her life with me. It’s a constant surprise, every day. I used to joke about it: ‘Well, if she dies, she dies.’ But the truth is, she’s very, very brave, because it has its problems. And she is very truthful, and she’s going to live her truth, so I basically am following her lead. I’m blessed to have the life I have now, which no one could’ve predicted. But she’s at the center of my life.”
Are there any life lessons you can share?
“That’s something I’m not good at, but: Be here now. All fear and anxiety is not about what’s right now. When I’m managing it well, I say to myself: ‘Is there anything I can do about this situation coming up?’ If there is, I try to take that action. Otherwise, don’t scare yourself for no good reason. Nine times out of 10, it’s never going to happen. I wish I had followed my own advice. I spent a lot of my life worrying about events that never happened or, when they did, weren’t at all like I expected. I regret the wasted time.”
What’s the best part about being 77?
“It’s nice to know things. I think I have very good judgment about people and am very good at making a quick acquaintance. If I get a vibe on a person, I’ve had the most wonderful engagements with people because I trust my instincts.”
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