In the television series Going Home, Cynthia Geary plays Charley Copeland, a nurse working in a Seattle hospice.
It’s a project she’s extremely enthusiastic about. “I think the subject matter might seem like a downer, but it’s not,” Cynthia tells Closer. “Obviously, it’s fiction, but we took the experiences of real people and the nurses at a hospice in Spokane, Wash., and created these lovely stories. It’s really positive and hopeful.”
Of course, fans of the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure, remember Cynthia, 57, as Cicely, Alaska’s scattered but unexpectedly wise young waitress Shelly Tambo. In the years after the show went off the air, Cynthia married, had two daughters and a second career in business.
An unexpected turn of events brought her back to performing, her first love. “I’m super proud of the example I set for my children, and the best part is that my daughters tell me how proud they are of me!” she says. “Coming from a 16-year-old and a 21-year-old, that’s pretty amazing.”
What did you like most about the role of Charley in Going Home?
Well, I just love messy characters and ones with lots of depth. That’s Charley. She has a great backstory, which gets revealed over time. I love that you see little pieces of her in each show and learn more as you go along.
Did you know anything about hospice going into the show?
I had zero experience with hospice. So, I visited the hospice in Spokane that inspired the show. It was an incredible experience and such a peaceful place. It really made an impact on me.
You grew up in Jackson, Miss. What was your childhood like?
I had the most wonderful childhood. I’m the youngest of four kids. My mom made my siblings and I a hot breakfast every morning. We all had to sit down at the table. We all had dinner together every night, too. We had lunch every Sunday at my grandmother’s. Looking back now, I think I had the greatest parents in the world.
How did you find your way to acting?
I always loved performing. I shared a room with my sister, who is six-and-a-half years older. She still tells the story about how she couldn’t stand that I would wake up singing. I would sing the entire score of The Sound of Music at 6:30 in the morning. She couldn’t take it, so my parents finally gave her her own room!
Were your parents supportive of your acting dreams?
Sort of. I convinced my parents to let me go to summer school at UCLA. There, I immediately started taking acting classes outside of school with a well-known acting teacher. At the end of the summer, I called my parents and said, “I can’t come home.” To their credit, they said, “OK you can do it, but you have to finish college first.” I got my college degree and ended up getting a really fortunate break while waiting tables.
Wow. How did that happen?
I waited on a manager and her husband. Of course, I didn’t know who they were, but she ended up signing me and getting me in a position to audition for Northern Exposure.
Do you keep in touch with the rest of the Northern Exposure cast?
Yes, but I don’t see them that often. If someone is doing something new, I try to text. It’s not like Friends. Our careers, ages and family life are all very different.
You ended up moving permanently to the Pacific Northwest to start your family. Was it hard to leave L.A.?
No. Family has always been my first priority. When I was ready to get married and have a family, it just made sense. Definitely my career suffered for that, but I was OK with that because I feel so lucky; I got to be a really active participant in my children’s lives. I was in their PTA. I volunteered in classrooms. I know all their friends and all their friends’ parents. I feel super lucky that I got to do that.
What made you decide to start acting again?
I was divorced in 2018 after 24 years of marriage. It was a shock and the most scary and difficult time in my life. I think it also played a part in me coming back to acting and gave me the confidence to do this again. The pain and shock of that has given me more depth and understanding of loss.
Do you have any advice on how to handle a life change like divorce?
I don’t know the secret. It was not something I ever expected to happen to me. One of the things I started doing was keeping a gratitude journal. Every day I would get up and write all the things I was grateful for — and there were so many. It made it a lot easier to just start the day and be positive and look at it as a new opportunity.
What did you learn?
I think it’s just to be grateful. I really have not had a lot of challenges. I lived a really happy, fortunate life, and I was happily married. I think I could have gone down the road of “Poor me” or “Why me?” But I never did that. I think the life lesson is to look at challenges as opportunities to grow and make life better.
That’s solid advice.
I’ve really had to reinvent myself, but I’ve got to give kudos to my network of friends and family, who have been my cheerleaders and supporters the whole way. I’ve never been happier. I’m in an amazing relationship with a man that my children love, and it’s pretty great.
Would you ever consider getting married again?
Yes, I definitely would consider marriage again. I think marriage is a great, great thing.
What else would you like to accomplish?
I think the one thing you can expect in life is change, so who knows what’s next? My daughter just graduated magna cum laude from USC film school. I hope to work with her one day. I would like to do more theater. And I would love to do a Northern Exposure reunion at some point!