She’s won an Academy Award and spent a decade on one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, but Estelle Parsons has never liked very much about Hollywood. “I don’t spend any more time there than I have to,” says Estelle, 95, who is best known to television viewers for playing irascible matriarch Beverly Harris on Roseanne. “It was a bit of a dalliance for me. I just went out for the fun of it,” Estelle admits of her decision to do the show. “And now I’m on The Conners.”

Despite her success in television and film, Estelle’s greatest love has always been theater. “My work is my fun,” she says. “I’m very active at the Actors Studio in New York. I hope to produce a show this fall. I also do more directing now. I quite enjoy that.”

When did you realize you were a born performer?

“When I was about 7 and I was in my first community theater show. I played a frog — it involved a frog head, of course. The minute I got out on stage in that frog head, I said to myself, “I’m never wearing anything over my head on a stage again.’ And I never have!”

Were your parents supportive of your acting dreams?

“I am a New Englander. My family goes back to 1632. That means that I didn’t have dreams except to grow up and have my daddy give me a house and get married to the boy next door. But the other part of being a New Englander is that it was all right to be literary, although it was not all right to go on the stage.”

You knew Jack Lemmon from childhood, didn’t you?

“Yes. We both had houses on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. He lived about four houses from me when I was about 12. I played the piano, and he played the piano. I thought he was going to grow up to be a musician. We connected again when he was at Harvard. He was a little older than me, and he went to New York to be an actor before I got there. My mother said to me at one point, ‘He’s not good enough for you, Estelle.’ When I look back on that, it’s kind of funny.”

In the 1950s, you were one of the first female reporters on TV on Today. How did that happen?

“I worked on Today because nobody who was in TV wanted to be on it! I was visiting New York and got it through a college acquaintance. I was with NBC for five years — but it was always only a job. I was singing with bands all that time.”

Did you do anything exciting during your time with NBC?

“I got the plum assignment to go to the Grace Kelly wedding. Oh, I had to interview Marilyn Monroe, and I didn’t know what the hell to say to her.”

How did that go?

“She was marrying Arthur Miller at the time. So, I said, ‘Oh, well, I’m going to have children.’ And she looked at me so scathingly and said, ‘And not even married yet!’ They put that on the air, and they laughed at Estelle because she was so inept in her interviewing!”

How did you finally move into theater?

“Abe Burrows [was a friend of my husband’s]. He was doing a new musical with Ethel Merman. I went and sang for him, and he hired me. I’ve been on the stage ever since.”

Estelle Parsons Roseanne
Warner Bros/Seven Arts/Tatira-Hiller Productions/Kobal/Shutterstock

In 1968, you won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Blanche in Bonnie and Clyde. Did it change your life?

“Sure, that changes anybody’s life. And that’s the whole point if you want to be in the movie business, but I didn’t want to be. So, I sort of kept quiet about it. For me, it was like getting a big stick of candy. Of course, after that, I got a raft of film offers that were almost the same part I played in Bonnie and Clyde. I felt I had already done that.”

Did you enjoy working with Warren Beatty and Gene Hackman in that film?

“They were terrific. Nobody thought Warren had a brain because he was so handsome. But he did have a brain. He was a wonderful producer. I got Gene that job because I’d been working with him in New York on stage. I was doing a play with him and Dusty Hoffman. Gene wanted to be a movie star. And I kept trying to talk him out of wanting to be a movie star!”

What do you dislike about the movie business?

“I just did not like working in Hollywood. I made a few more movies to put my kids through college, but I didn’t like it. I remember one day I was walking out of my trailer, and the woman who was my wardrobe person, she was talking to me like I was royalty or something. I thought, ‘I can’t really live with people who are going to treat me like this. I don’t like it.’ I’m a person, and I want to be treated like a person. I don’t want to be treated like the queen of England.”

How did you wind up on Roseanne? Was it just another job?

“It was never just a job. It was the number one sitcom on TV when I got the call. I told my agent ‘I don’t want to do it.’ But my son was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia and a million other dysses. So, for about three years, I couldn’t work on stage because that is a full-time commitment of eight shows a week. You sleep all day, work all night, and you can’t be a good parent under those conditions.”

Estelle Parsons Roseanne
Eric McCandless/ABC/Kobal/Shutterstock

So, guest-starring on TV made sense.

“I thought I could go out there for four days, do that program and keep my hand in. It worked out great. We had that kind of relationship where [Roseanne] would say, ‘Can you come out and do our Christmas show?’ I’d go and it was fun. It didn’t feel like a job.”

And now you’re playing Bev on The Conners.

“Yeah, they told me they were going ahead with Sara [Gilbert] producing. They said, ‘It won’t be forever.’ But they keep having a last season and then they get a call from the network, so they keep on going.”

Do you plan to keep working?

“Why wouldn’t I keep working? I think everybody in theater wants to keep working until they drop dead on stage. That’s the ideal. Die with your boots on!”