Emmy Winner HOLLAND TAYLOR Bridges The Generation Gap In “KEPLER’S DREAM”
By Andrew Cristi
They say that behind every great man is an even greater woman, but sometimes, some women are so great that they can actually be the shining light behind not just one great man, but two– and on some occasions? Two and a half. So, for any guy out there who might question why a 74 year-old actress known for playing teachers, mothers, and even grandmothers, could possibly be the star they might want to read about, the highly revered Holland Taylor seems more than appropriate to put them in their place for many reasons.
First off, when it comes to stealing scenes from a pair of Wingmen, no one in the history of television has done so better than the acclaimed actress. From Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari on “Bosom Buddies,” to Mark-Paul Gosselaar on Mario Lopez on “Saved By The Bell: The New Class,” to Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer on “Two And A Half Men,” Taylor has not only been able to match these talents and join-in on their rapid-fire comedic pace, but consistently raise the bar and always prove that she can be a well-respected member of any “boy’s club.” With an unmatchable intellect, the quick-witted actress has been a resident reigning icon in many projects that represent some of the best bromances of all time, and she’s constantly showing how invaluable she is with every scene she’s in. “Bosom Buddies” is nothing short of a masterpiece, and for anyone who hasn’t seen it- check it out, it still holds up today and offers some of the greatest acting television could have ever hoped for. “Two And A Half Man,” will undoubtedly maintain the same appeal as it’s longevity is a testament unto itself, and when it comes to “Saved By The Bell,” anyone who cares to argue what a real gem that show was and what true talent actually existed there has clearly never met a millennial. In each decade, Taylor has managed to find a project where she has cemented her role as the queen of bromance television- and that alone should make her a legend that every man should want to read about.
But, if that’s not enough? The gifted performer has also made her mark in many modern classics that have become iconic to our culture, including “Legally Blonde,” “Romancing The Stone,” “To Die For,” and “The Truman Show.” If for some reason anyone throughout any generation is not familiar with the name “Holland Taylor,” they are undoubtedly familiar with her work as she has been a part of so many phenomenal films that span the interests of everyone; from the “Spy Kids” franchise to the cult classic “D.E.B.S.” After cultivating a long and magnificent body of work filled with beloved hits, the Philadelphia native has become one of those artists that is instantly recognizable by everyone no matter what age or sex, and everyone mutually adores her.
And if there’s still any doubt as to why Taylor might be the most compelling read for any fan- even young men, it’s because the actress herself has been glad to use her career to challenge all stigmas and stereotypes, and she is exhilarated by the fact that our country is maturing and these societal expectations are quickly getting thrown away. The young-spirited star is thrilled to be able to see times changing, and viewers more ready to embrace ideals that are less according to convention. She’s proud to see men finally taken to task for their wrongdoings and misconducts, and she’s overjoyed that people might finally be starting to see these injustices. One of the greatest injustices? The fact that Taylor herself says the roles have been slim pickin’s for her. Read the past few paragraphs and it’s painfully clear that Holland Taylor is a legend in her own right- and damn cool– so, why is it that actors like Jon Voight, Danny DeVito, Patrick Stewart, and Harrison Ford are still being cast in spectacular leading parts while this extremely skilled woman still remains grateful for whatever role might come her way?
A seasoned pro at playing snooty aristocrats, Taylor is very appreciative for the roles that have made her a star, but at this time, she’s eager to break free from her usual wheelhouse and do more– and it would definitely be great to see her tackle whatever character she desires! As the smart star throws out ideas of parts she would love to play ranging from a real historical figure that changed the world, to acting in a Western, it immediately becomes evident that while nothing can take away from the fact that her past work has been outstanding, as an audience, we have been robbed of all the great characters that this well-trained theater veteran could play. And that’s on us, as a society- that’s our fault for not respecting and realizing that an actress who has had almost forty successful years in Hollywood, nothing but hits on her resume, an Emmy, and one memorable performance after the next, must certainly be a bankable actress regardless of age. That’s our fault- and hopefully a slight we are ready to rectify as Ms. Taylor is easily one of the greatest actresses living today.
That said, it’s great to see at least one film putting this impressive artist front and center where she belongs. In the new movie “Kepler’s Dream” by Amy Glazer, Taylor takes on the role of a stern grandmother who faces her own rite of passage as she comes to know her granddaughter better and the two teach one another about their respective worlds. With “Stranger Things” and “It” becoming such smash successes, the world has seen that there is not only an audience for older people in film and television- but also for younger people, and “Kepler’s Dream” is the perfect example of that as the film wonderfully blends generations and makes for a movie that both youths and adults can enjoy- something that hasn’t really been achieved since the 80’s and 90’s.
It goes without saying that Taylor is fantastic, as usual, as anything that the actress touches is bound to turn to gold, and even more than being just a good film, the movie serves as an amazing example of the importance of both placing women outside the ingénue stage in central roles, and putting women behind the lens to help tell the story. A huge supporter of all these messages, and a major fan of the Emmy winner’s career, Wingman sat down with Taylor to talk to her a bit about the new movie, her past hits, and what she would love to do in the future. Read below to see what she had to say.
WINGMAN: Let’s discuss “Kepler’s Dream.” Can you tell fans what the movie is about, and what they can expect?
HOLLAND TAYLOR: It is a movie for young people, and by that I mean that it deals with the issues that young people face; the worlds they encounter; older people, changing schools, moving to a different place and leaving their friends behind and acclimating themselves to a new society. It’s essentially a coming of age tale about growing up. It handles these transitions and learning experiences in a very gentle way. For so many people it’s a part of life to have death and separations in their coming of age stories, so this is a very gentle look at that. But, it also has an element of other-worldliness. Here, we find this average girl with normal interests and she encounters this grandmother figure who is very strong, and forbidding, and is interested in this intellectual world that this child doesn’t know anything about. So, it really bridges the enormous gap between the two of them, and serves as a rite of passage for this young girl, but also for the older woman who has to loosen her protections and drop her guard a bit.
WINGMAN: Projects centered around children are getting great new life breathed into them; “Stranger Things,” “It,”– and we haven’t really seen much of that since the 80’s and 90’s where they really knew how to make films like “The Never Ending Story,“ “Jumanji,” “Hook,” or “Angels In The Outfield”– films that both children and adults can enjoy. Can you talk about that?
TAYLOR: I think that from your profession, you must have a better overview of that than I do- I never even thought about anything like that; patterns or experiences in an industry, but I do see that you’re right. You see a film that is made to appeal to kids, and if it’s not broad based and lacks understanding of the larger truths of life then it’s usually not so great, and I imagine it won’t have much longevity to it- those films don’t stand the test of time. But, films that show the bigger picture and show interacting between adults and children- which God knows they do- they’re going to do much better, and I think “Kepler’s Dream” is one of those. And the more, the merrier! I generally think that this country is a very young country, and in some ways we’re immature. One example is how sexes are being challenged and swapped, and how men are now being forced to take responsibility for their actions which are no longer protected and hidden by some unspoken code; “Men can do what they want and women must obey.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true in the European culture to the degree it is here. So, I think that we’re growing up as a culture and we’re getting more mature and responsible, so films that centralize around young people should exist in multitude, as they do in European films. They’re important because we all were young people, they are what we came from! It’s where we were formed. So, you would think that there would be a lot more films that were sophisticated and complicated about young people, and more films that were great, certainly.
WINGMAN: And while you’ve been a part of so many amazing projects, us fans very rarely get to see you in a leading role. Was working with a female writer and director here, Amy Glazer, paramount in making sure that the world knows that women past the ingénue stage are important to the trajectory of stories?
TAYLOR: I don’t know which came first- I think Amy was instrumental in getting this picture made, but I’m not sure exactly how that went down, but there’s no question in my mind that a female centered picture directed by another woman is very promising to an actor wanting to be in that film. First of all, and I think a lot of men would agree, a good director’s characteristic is maternal. They should have a maternal instinct. One of the greatest directors of all time; Mike Nichols, in his later years he became extremely accessible and was very supportive in a way that could be described as nurturing- and that’s what you want instead of a tyrant of some kind. A director who acts as a puppet-master isn’t helpful because an actor is more than a mindless prop to operate on command. So, I think women by nature are more readily nurturing and supportive. They also listen very well; they listen to the problems the actors bring to them. And I think the men that have those qualities are fantastic. Like Jack Bender who is directing the new “Mr. Mercedes” series- what a fantastic director! It helped that he started as an actor as well- that’s always a plus. Some directors are much more interested in the picture they see, or the field of view, and basically move you around and leave the acting up to you- and they are often gentle and make things possible for you to discover, but they need to see certain things happen in the frame they are establishing. But, a woman director is usually someone who will be very sympathetic and work closely to the actor, and really take to heart the actor’s vision as well.
WINGMAN: Speaking of women taking on more creative and important roles outside of acting; you also wrote and starred in “Ann,” based on Judge Ann Richards. Any intentions on doing more writing, or turning that play into a film?
TAYLOR: Well, there are no intentions on turning that into a film because the whole point of it was that it was a live occasion- the set-up is that she is giving a graduation speech. The character is intended to speak directly to the audience, so that is not material for a film. We did film the play as a play, and it was filmed beautifully. Hopefully that will have some exposure to the world, and we’re working on that now. As far as writing more, you know, that was really something that came to me almost like a vision- almost like an order from above that I should do it. It started some months after her death when I was inconsolable, though I didn’t know her I just thought of her as this person who would always be there, and she was this great American- not only a role-model, but a very comforting figure in the zeitgeist, and when she died I had the reaction almost a child would have as I never thought it could happen. So, I was possessed with thinking about what I could do creatively about her, and this really came in a flood of ideas of how to do a stage play about her. I really didn’t think to myself that I wanted to write a script, but I just wanted to create this hologram of her that could inspire at least a little bit the way she could. I was literally possessed- I threw everything aside and researched quite intensely for several years. I got to know the people closest to her, and that was a pretty surprising aspect- doors just flew open. I don’t know why! I really think Ann was aiding and abetting the whole thing from above because the play had incredible good fortune all the way. My God, we played The Kennedy Center, and had a hundred and fifty performances at Lincoln Center on Broadway. It was just a remarkable occurrence, and I don’t even know if I have it in me, or have the motive to write another play, but that play I somehow mysteriously knew how to do.
WINGMAN: Do you think a large part of why you’ve been so successful is because you’ve taken a lot of roles that many women have refused to play; the judge, the mother, the teacher, the principal, the boss, and now even the grandmother, and gravitated toward these parts rather than the girlfriend or the wife? After all, someone has to play them.
TAYLOR: Frankly, these are the roles that I was offered. So, many actors get the question; “You’ve crafted such a great career and you pick such great roles…,” and a lot of us- even superstars, I’m not even thinking of myself- we take the roles that are offered. At my level, it’s certainly what I can get because there’s an awful lot of us that wouldn’t take these parts. We’re lucky to work at all in this very crowded industry.
WINGMAN: Speaking of crowded- in “Kepler’s Dream” you’re surrounded by a great cast; Sean Patrick Flannery, Kelly Lynch, and Isabella Blake Thomas- talk about your cast.
Sean was pretty amazing. He’s a very experienced film actor, and he’s one of the kind of actors that the camera has to find. I am by nature, training and quantity of my experience, a stage actress, so, while acting is acting and I can act perfectly well on film, I tend to be more on display and readable. Someone like Sean makes it so that the camera has to explore him, and that was very interesting- he is very good. Kelly Lynch and I didn’t get to work together, and I have no scenes with her here or on “Mr. Mercedes” either! Funny how that works out that we have two projects together and share no screen time. But, she’s a marvelous actress and very daring in everything she does. And Isabella is a young actress that is just finding her way, so it was really interesting to work with her because there are things she doesn’t know yet, so it’s wonderful to watch someone grow as they are only developing their technique. That’s also very interesting.
WINGMAN: Let’s talk about a real television game changer- “Bosom Buddies.” What a fantastic show filled with talent- Tom hanks and Peter Scolari of course, but also Thelma Hopkins…
TAYLOR: YES! Thelma!
WINGMAN: Donna Dixon…
WINGMAN:…and the late great Wendi Jo Sperber…
TAYLOR: Oh, yes! The late great Wendi Jo!
WINGMAN:… and of course Robert L. Boyett and Thomas Miller, who went on to create “Step By Step,” and “Full House.” That must have been the most fun in the world playing comedic acting tennis with such incredible pros.
TAYLOR: It was! First of all, Tom Miller and Rob Boyett were wonderful bosses; they were affectionate, respectful and kind. And what’s really fascinating is that Rob Boyett went on to become a great Broadway producer- very highly respected. It was he who produced “Ann”! Him wanting to produce the show was one of the greatest honors imaginable. But, “Bosom Buddies” was really special. And not really a lark- because it is hard work- but, Tom and Peter were so dear, and so fun, and so accessible. They were just beginning- it was Tom’s second job in LA, and my first. Now, tons of people saw this- I’m not claiming anything special here, but I totally saw him as one of the greatest talents I had ever seen in my life. There was no question he was just a major star in his technique, ability and appeal.
WINGMAN: Would you want to see a reboot, or do a reunion?
TAYLOR: Well, I can’t quite imagine it happening. I can imagine it happening on “Saturday Night Live” or something. But, Peter is also quite a busy and accomplished actor, and Tom is not only one of the great movie stars of the time- but, he’s also a mogul. He’s a great producer, and even an author!
WINGMAN: I think it’s one of the greatest shows ever made.
TAYLOR: Me too! It was way ahead of its time!
WINGMAN: WAY ahead of its time! And it was so much more than just the gimmick of them dressing up as women, it had so much more to it. It was very smart.
TAYLOR: I agree- I totally agree. Alas, the creator of that show; Chris Thompson, he was a wonderful man- he died last year. That was very painful- a terrible loss.
WINGMAN: Do you think “Bosom Buddies” paved the way for shows like “Two And A Half Men,” and did it pave the way for you taking a role on that show?
TAYLOR: I don’t know. It’s quite a distance in time- I don’t know if they are necessarily connected. But, “Two And A Half Men” was definitely an example of a role that was offered to me due to some other kinds of roles I played. Ruth Dunbar and the mother on that show are absolutely in the same wheelhouse, but Evelyn was a really special creation by Chuck Lorre who has a whole thing about mothers [laughs,] he’s created a bunch of extraordinary mothers, and Evelyn was truly a great role. She was very unique and not cookie-cutter at all.
WINGMAN: The style of “Bosom Buddies” is reflective in tons of sitcoms that have been successful- “Friends,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and even shows like “Saved By The Bell”– which you were EXCELLENT on during “Saved By The Bell: The College Years.“ You really elevated that material! Did you see the dynamic between Zack and Dean McMann as a similar sparring between Ruth and Kip? Mark-Paul Gosselaar is a really fantastic actor who absolutely needs more credit.
TAYLOR: Oh, yes- absolutely! It’s funny, I think that show happened right after the loss of “The Powers That Be,” if I have my chronology right. “The Powers That Be” was an extremely brilliant satirical comedy created by Norman Leer and Marta Kauffman and David Krane. It was so witty and clever- it was a political satire, and it just didn’t catch on. I don’t think it was promoted well enough because I don’t think the network realized what they had on their hands. It didn’t last long, but it was so brilliant. I think my disappointment when that folded was just massive and I don’t really remember those years very well because it was simply awful. But, I think maybe “Saved By The Bell” was during that period, and the people were lovely- that entire cast was simply lovely.
WINGMAN: Of course, everyone knows you from “Legally Blonde” as the scene-stealing Professor Stromwell. That movie must have been really important to you as it represented so much of what you seem to be about; that a woman shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything about herself or be held to any stigmas in order to achieve the title of feminist.
TAYLOR: That movie was so well made. The director, Robert Luketic, was so great. I remember that one very well. That movie was a very big movie, and it was very effective- and it’s always great to be part of something where all the elements work because a film is always a very collaborative medium. Usually, a hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty people go into making a movie, and when it all comes together as perfectly as that did you’re really lucky. So, I love the message and I was thrilled to be in it- I think it’s a classic.
WINGMAN: And of course, you were in one of the greatest modern classics of all time, “The Truman Show.” That film predicted so much of what our world would become with reality TV and social media. It’s said that the cast all had intricate back stories for your characters as the actors within the show- that Laura Linney was a driven Kim Kardashian type, and Noah Emmerich felt tons of remorse about what they were doing to Truman. What was your character’s back story?
TAYLOR: Oh, that was a great experience! Peter Weir is a towering film director, and he and his wife often collaborate, and they really created a world- like “Master And Commander”– the whole world is something you get to understand profoundly, and in “The Truman Show,” that’s really a world too. It’s really fun to be part of something that is such a major design. My character was really this actress who, as you know, played his mother- and she was literally false. Very much an actress in that sense. It was very odd to do in fact- think of like a soap opera that would last twenty or thirty years where the actor gets identified as the character. But, I didn’t play it that way, I played it more that she is playing this role and nothing about her on-screen persona is real. It was a very strange experience- kind of creepy actually!
WINGMAN: Of course, you’re also an Emmy winner for your work on David E. Kelly’s “The Practice”– and his new hit “Big Little Lies” cleaned up at The Emmys this season. Any interest in teaming up again, or joining in if they are to do a sequel to “Big Little Lies”?
TAYLOR: Well, David E. Kelly is producing “Mr. Mercedes”– he’s the executive and creative producer along with Jack Bender. It’s this great new Stephen King series that we did this year. I was very flattered when David asked me to do that. I am pretty sure that will have a second year, so, I think I’ll already be working for him- and there’s no greater privilege, believe me!
WINGMAN: You have had a long career filled with success and legendary performances. What other types of roles would you love to play, and who else would you love to work with, or work with again?
TAYLOR: Well, I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful directors. I’ve particularly enjoyed Robert Zemeckis on “Romancing The Stone,” and I would love to be in one of the big pictures that he did. The occasional big picture that Hollywood makes- it’s really extraordinary to be in those. But as for specific roles; to play a role that is of very big personage- a historical person, as I did with Judge Richards, or someone whose work is a major part of their life, as an actress I feel I am built well to play a professional person; a doctor, lawyer, governor, whatever. I think I have abilities to do that and I would love to play a very big, accomplished person who has a complicated life because I really think I could really bring something to the party there. [Laughs, changing tunes] But, I’d also love to play a character where I get to ride a horse and do something just heroic! I really want to be in a Western! I’d love to do something off the charts and out of the ordinary, something out of my usual wheelhouse- that’s what Governor Richards was in a way, and I would love to do more of that. I would really rather not play anymore rich, bitter, sophisticated women- I’d rather play a Supreme Court Justice, or a pioneer woman in the 1800’s, or someone from European history- something really out of my usual world. That would be great fun!
And if there’s anyone that could transform themselves into any role and bring the most possible to any party, it is definitely esteemed Emmy-winner Holland Taylor. Next party in question? “Kepler’s Dream,” premiering November 30th.