She’s spent four decades on Broadway, but television viewers know Tovah Feldshuh best for playing memorable women on Law & Order, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and The Walking Dead. As former Congresswoman Deanna Monroe on seasons five and six of that post-apocalyptic series, her character’s death at the hands of her own son after being turned broke viewers’ hearts. “I enjoyed my time tremendously on The Walking Dead,” Tovah, 68, exclusively tells Closer. “The people are very serious about their work. There is a reason it was the number one cable show in the world.”
On April 13, Tovah’s funny and heartwarming family memoir Lilyville: Mother, Daughter and Other Roles I’ve Played was released by Hachette Books. “My mother lived to be 103 years old. This was a fantastic opportunity to share her caustic wit and wisdom,” Tovah explains. “I wrote this book to immortalize my mother and to leave a footprint of our family legacy, which I feel is part of the American story of people coming to this country for a new life.”
Keep scrolling below for Closer’s exclusive Q&A interview with Tovah Feldshuh.
What was your relationship with your mother like?
I had a mother who never told me she loved me until I asked her when I was 18 years old. It was like right out of Fiddler, except we lived in Scarsdale, so it was upper class Fiddler. She said: “Of course I love you, who takes you to Hebrew school? Who takes you to singing lessons?” But my mother not being able to communicate her love to me in a way I could understand caused me great difficulty in the first years of my life. [Pauses] I survived.
Is there anything that your mother taught you that still resonates with you today?
There are many, but the first one is that happiness is a choice. You wake up in the morning and it is a choice. Sometimes you have to will it.
What else do you remember fondly about your mother?
My mother was very, very funny. She came to every show I did. Then she said to me: “Tovah, I’m not going to come see you in the ‘Virginia’ Monologues — I can’t say the other word! Three women on stage talking about their chachkies! Forget it!” She was a riot.
Were your parents supportive of your desire to be an actress?
My father never obstructed me. He loved me unconditionally. I knew the deep, dirty secret that he preferred me to everybody else in the family! My mother was a real puncturer of my balloon, but still I survived. In a way, her undaunted lack of support for my career and my desire to follow it prepared me to stand alone very early in my life.
What have been some of your most favorite roles?
Yentl was my first starring role on Broadway in 1975. So, of course, I love her. Then Helena Slomova in Holocaust. I also loved doing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with Rachel Bloom. A musical comedy, it was a television series filled with highly skilled people.
Do you prefer stage work to working in films and television?
No, they are all like different children. I love doing a live show. I was classically trained and I began my career on the toughest stuff. I do love it all. I really would love to turn Lilyville into a series. I would love to play my mother!
What else are you looking forward to doing once the pandemic is over?
My last great role on stage in Los Angles right before the pandemic was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg [in Sisters In Law.] I hope that play will come to New York in 2022. I have also been offered to play Dr. Ruth Westheimer. I have to do a lot of work on her accent, but I am very excited. She’s a friend and the most brilliant, accessible, decent, charitable person. I would like to do a film of her play called Becoming Dr. Ruth.
You’ve been married for 44 years to a lawyer who has no connection to show business. Was that difficult?
I have a very wonderful husband. He has been able to withstand my comings and goings for 44 years. I was all over the world and tried to bring him with me, but he had a major career himself. Now he is newly retired so we are more available to each other. I say this to all my friends: If you marry for love the empty nest is highly underrated. This is a very romantic time in our marriage!
It must have been very challenging to raise two children with such demanding careers.
When I was busy starring on Broadway in Lend Me a Tenor [in 1989], one of my children didn’t learn to read and I didn’t catch it. I was so busy. But when that happened, I stopped doing Broadway for 13 years. [After they went to college] I went back to acting full out.
And how are they today?
My children are marvelous! Brandon was the ideal son. He graduated the top of his class and got into Harvard early. Amanda was at MIT in physics, so I really can’t complain academically about those two.
And you recently became a grandmother again. Congratulations!
Thank you. Brandon’s beautiful wife Jamie gave birth to a little girl in August named Sidney, after my father. Then in December, Amanda had her second child named Camille Willa. Her Hebrew name is Lila — she was named after my mother. It was very emotional.
How do you like being a grandmother?
It’s very exciting. The best part is rediscovering the world through the eyes of children, the greatest explorers. You see their sense of simple joy at things like a tennis ball or a box.
What else should our readers know about you?
I play more serious roles but I love a good laugh. I plan to live to 104 — if Mommy lived to 103, I can live to 104! When it’s my time, please do my memorial service at the O’Neill Theater where Yentl debuted and please make it funny.
— Reporting by Katie Bruno