Sharon Lawrence has always been good at multitasking. After she came to fame as assistant DA Sylvia Costas on the cop drama NYPD Blue, she proved her talent for comedy on her sitcom Fired Up, shuttling between the two shows in the late ’90s. And at 58, she hasn’t slowed down a bit, starring on the new Apple TV+ series Home Before Dark and the CW’s Dynasty reboot while championing a charity dear to her heart, Cancer Support Community Los Angeles (CSCLA).
“I learned a life lesson from an aunt I’m very close to: Enjoy right now!” the four-time Emmy nominee tells Closer. “Everything will change and it won’t happen again. When life gets hard, it won’t stay hard. And you better enjoy now, because it also won’t stay good!” One exception is her 18-year marriage to Dr. Tom Apostle, 57, “a warm, giving man,” says Sharon. “His Midwestern roots and values felt closer to my Southern values than many people I’ve met.”
Keep scrolling for Closer‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Sharon!
How is everything going with you, Sharon?
We are fine, and I’m grateful for that. My parents live in North Carolina, and I’m the only one in my family that doesn’t, so 3,000 miles seems a lot further than it used to. My husband’s a doctor and my best friend’s an ER doc, and it’s so risky for them right now.
You’re involved with CSCLA — is there a personal connection?
What got me involved is that both of my in-laws passed away from cancer, and my dear aunt survived breast cancer. I was fascinated by how CSCLA began with Gilda Radner, who realized she didn’t have a network of people she could relate to, so she helped create this. When you go through [cancer], you see the fear, but CSCLA and all its other chapters provide hope. Whatever you’re feeling, there’s someone who understands it, whether you’re a patient, relative or caregiver.
Many people relate to you from your 1993–’99 role on NYPD Blue. How did you get it?
The casting director saw me when I was auditioning for [1991–’93’s] Civil Wars. Both were produced by Steven Bochco’s company. When they were ready to film the pilot, they didn’t have enough professional women populating the world of New York, so they changed the gender of the role and called women in to audition. My character didn’t have a name but it was clearly written for a man, because Andy Sipowicz [Dennis Franz] calls me a little bastard. [Laughs] They liked the chemistry Dennis and I had, and decided it would be interesting for this loose cannon of an alcoholic misanthrope to be seen through Sylvia’s eyes. This way, the audience could fall in love with Andy.
The show’s brief nudity was groundbreaking for network TV. How did you handle it?
I never expected it. There are careers modeled on sex appeal, and I never thought about myself as the “beauty girl.” I was a pixie kind of girl. It was a scene about intimacy and the awkwardness of that. So not only did it not feel exploitive, but there was value in the vulnerability those characters embodied. I’m proud of how it turned out.
Have you kept in touch with any co-stars?
A lot of us were reunited for a sad reason: Steven Bochco’s memorial. But I do talk to Sip … I mean, Dennis. He’s pretty much retired, but he’s come to see me in some plays. Jimmy Smits has, too — we were both on How to Get Away With Murder. And Gail O’Grady and I were both on the set when I guest-starred on Criminal Minds.
You were so funny on Fired Up. Where do you get your sense of humor?
My dad! He’s a ham, and that whole side of his family has good timing. He was a TV journalist and stayed active in community theater.
Any moment that put you on your path?
I suppose you could say it was when my parents met in the college choir — two people with gene pools in performance. And I think I was 4 when I saw a musical my dad was in, The Fantasticks. The minute it was over, I knew I wanted to be a girl singing and dancing onstage.
You won Raleigh, North Carolina’s Junior Miss pageant in high school. What was that experience like?
We moved to another city when I was a junior in high school. I didn’t know anybody and felt a little adrift. My mom wasn’t a pageant girl, either, but she had heard it was scholarship-based and said, “This would be a way to meet some girls your age, too.” That I won was a big surprise to us, and I paid for two years of college with the money. It’s now called the Distinguished Young Women of America and it’s not a pageant anymore, it’s a program.
After majoring in journalism, why did you decide to pursue acting?
I’d continued to earn money doing summer stock rather than intern at a TV station, which I could have because my dad’s business would’ve been an avenue to explore that. But my passion was theater, and the creative staff said, “You should give this a shot.” I’m glad that I did!
Any funny stories over the years?
Well, I danced backwards off the stage doing [my Broadway debut in] Cabaret and almost landed in the orchestra pit! I was one of the Kit Kat Girls, wearing a garter belt, a bra and a G-string with smeared lipstick. So I ran out an exit door and down 45th Street to go back in the stage door…and nobody bats an eye on the street! This was back in the ’80s, when Times Square was seedy. [Laughs]
You just celebrated 18 years of marriage to Tom. Why did you two click?
It was timing, as much as our similar commitment to our families. We met when we were both ready to settle down. That meant everything. We both dated people long-term before, but never married. I do wish we’d had even more years together.
Any reason you decided not to have kids?
I was 40 years old when we met. That’s life!
You have so many new projects…
Yes, you can stream all 10 episodes of Home Before Dark, based on the life of a young journalist, on Apple TV+. I still play a villain on Dynasty — that’s a lot of fun. And my movie The Lost Husband was just the number-one streaming independent film in the country! I’m happy.
How does this period in your life feel?
Rich with history, and an appreciation for that. The wisdom that has brought, and inspiration from my elders, let me know that there’s a lot of good left to come. And that serving other people gives me great joy.
Reporting by Lexi Ciccone