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July 30, 2014

Michelle Forbes: In the Limelight

by Allison Waldman, posted Feb 28th 2008 10:01AM
Michelle Forbes - WonderlandMysterious. Mesmerizing. Interesting. Dynamic. Compelling. Any and all of these words accurately describe actress Michelle Forbes. She is one of the finest actresses in television, and yet she has maintained a distinct quality that makes her as elusive a performer to come around since Garbo! Intensely private, there's not much known about the Austin, Texas native. (However, I can tell you that she collects clocks -- broken clocks. As she told me, quoting the movie Withnail and I, "Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.")

She's currently making HBO's new drama In Treatment appointment TV, drawing her loyal following to find her latest work as she did in 24, Prison Break, Homicide and Battlestar Galactica. And that doesn't even take into account the millions who first discovered this chameleon when she first burst onto the scene in Guiding Light, and then Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Through all the years, though, Michelle Forbes has continued to defy categorization, refusing to become typecast or trapped by stardom, let alone celebrity. Indeed, you could even say that she's a star in spite of herself.

Michelle Forbes was an instant sensation on Guiding Light in 1987 as Sonni Carrera Lewis. It didn't take long before the powers that be realized she was a cut above the usual neophyte daytime actor. She'd been given a character that was introduced as one thing, a brilliant Venezuelan psychiatrist, who turned out to be impersonating her twin sister, Solita -- or was she? Michelle was playing a good girl who was in fact a vixen, who had good reasons for the evil she did. This was not what 20-year-old Michelle expected to play: "When I got hired, I thought I'd get to wear pretty clothes and talk about who's sleeping with whom. [Instead] we're talking religion, sex, guilt, rejection, loyalty, greed; there are some serious issues here," she said of her role as Sonni/Solita on Guiding Light.

Still, she handled it all brilliantly, and her performance reminded viewers of Bette Davis in her prime. She was nominated for a Daytime Emmy, and GL tried to sign her up for a long-term deal. In a move that would prefigure the rest of her career, Michelle left the soaps after just a couple of years. If she'd wanted to, she could have made a career out of soaps, like Kim Zimmer and Robert Newman, both of whom she played opposite, did. However, Michelle Forbes wanted something more, something different.

In 1991, after guesting on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the producers were so impressed that they created a role for her on the show and in season five, she was introduced as a feisty, Bajoran officer, Ensign Ro Laren. She was a strong character, one who challenged authority, and the fans responded to her immediately. When Paramount greenlighted a spin-off called Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Forbes was offered the chance to take Ro to the space station and become that show's female lead.

Trekkers were astonished that she would turn down the role; was she crazy? No, she wasn't; she simply didn't want to commit to a seven-year contract, which is what she was asked to sign in order to take the role. In her place, Nana Visitor was signed and a new Bajoran character, Kira Nerys, was created. Reflecting on her decision not to do DS9, she told TV Zone Magazine: "There were all sorts of rumors about why I didn't take it, that I was quite arrogant about the whole thing. It wasn't that at all. It was, again, about wanting variety in my career. ...That's not to say I wasn't grateful for the opportunity; I genuinely was. However, I had to make a choice that felt right for me, which was a difficult one, especially as a young actor being offered a steady job."

That quote is 100% accurate. When I knew the actress, her during her time on the soap, she told me that she was not interested in celebrity. She loved acting and the challenge of playing different characters. All the hoopla and stardom was not her thing. A few years later, we met again and she reiterated to me that she didn't regret her choice. In fact, she was more excited that ever about her career and told me she had just finished making a movie with Brad Pitt and David Duchovny called Kalifornia. Clearly, Michelle was doing just fine plotting her own career course.

As an actress, Michelle has handled all kinds of parts. In 1994, for instance, she took to comedy when she appeared on a classic Seinfeld episode, "The Big Salad," as George's girlfriend. And she more than held her own opposite Kevin Spacey and Frank Whaley in the satiric feature Swimming with Sharks.

Dramatically, the actress made notable additions to Homicide: Life on the Street, as M.E. Dr. Juliana Cox, and on the hit series 24, as presidential aide Lynne Kresge. One series that didn't make it was Wonderland, a grim, dark drama set in a mental institution in which she played Dr. Lyla Garrity. The subject matter proved too controversial for ABC.

As a professional actress, Michelle Forbes always seems to be doing interesting work. In 2004, she learned British Sign Language (in just six days!) for a role in the BBC drama, Messiah. She was a semi-regular on Prison Break in 2006, and did a memorable two-parter in Waking the Dead in 2007.

However, it was her characterization at Admiral Helena Cain on Battlestar Galactica starting in 2005 (which she recently reprised in 2007's Razor episode), that's brought her tremendous acclaim. Speaking of Battlestar Galactica's Cain, a tough-minded, ruthless, militaristic hawk, she told the Chicago Tribune, "I think that there is something compelling... about her sense of duty, and her sense of getting the job done at whatever cost. There is comfort in that in difficult times, in times of war. But people like that may be misguided."

Right now, Michelle is appearing as therapist Paul's (Gabriel Byrne) wife, Kate, on HBO's In Treatment. As with so many of her characters, there's nothing simple about Kate and her complicated relationship with Paul makes for fascinating drama.

Fascinating, in fact, may be the perfect word to describe Michelle Forbes. She never fails to be a fascinating presence in whatever endeavor in which she participates. And that, although she may not like to hear it, is why she's a star. Just don't expect her to ever play the same role in the same way. That's not her style. In her own words, she states it clearly: "As an actor, you want as much variety as you can muster up. Otherwise you just keep playing the same chord over and over again."

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Paul

Saw her in the movie Kalifornia that she did back in 1993. She blew me away with her performance. It's hard to figure how some of these "big name actresses" receive $10 million per movie, and yet a high school play would represent a considerable challenging for them.

November 25 2011 at 1:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tim McCleese

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

to exceptionally gorgeous, incredibly gifted, and outstanding lady.....GRACE PARK!

March 14 2008 at 12:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gottacook

And let's don't forget her episode of the 1990s Outer Limits, in which she pursues Amanda Plummer's character through time. A fine SF script made quite plausible by those two.
I like that she first appeared in Homicide in the midst of a season, and left the same way a little over a year later - nothing neatly timed, a reflection on her and on her character Dr. Cox, blasting on the interstate into and then out of Baltimore.

February 29 2008 at 12:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tim McCleese

When speaking of Michelle Forbes, one can only think of a talented, hard-working, and lovely actress. Like others, I first came to see her when she appeared on Star Trek TNG. I must say, it was a huge blow to Star Trek TNG when she left that show. I like her in anything she is in. Of course, we already know of her first-rate performance in Battlestar Galactica. I will always wish the very best to the talented Michelle Forbes.

February 28 2008 at 4:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BC McKinney

"quoting the movie Withnail and I"

Are you sure? That aphorism long predates that movie. The earliest citation I could find in a quick web search is Austrian novelist Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach, whose dates are 1830-1916. Michelle Forbes seems like the rare actor who might actually know that.

February 28 2008 at 3:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to BC McKinney's comment
Allison Solow

BC - Allison here. Yes, Michelle referred to "Withnail and I" when she shared that quote with me. The line may have come from an early source, but Michelle was talking about the movie in particular. Thanks for commenting -- and reading!

February 28 2008 at 4:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Argus

If you think In Treatment is appointment tv would you mind picking up the reviews then?

February 28 2008 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy

I couldn't agree with you more. Forbes is an excellent actress and she's the best thing In Treatment has going for it.

February 28 2008 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gooby

THANK YOU! Michelle Forbes is awesome and such an underrated actress. And I love that she's not in the tabloids and that we don't know much anything about her private life.

I've been a fan of her ever since I saw her in Star Trek:TNG and I have to say, she did an amazing job in Battlestar Galactica, especially in the movie Razor. She just keeps blowing me away with her performance. I wish she'd get her own show so we'd see her regularly.

February 28 2008 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joe Siegler

Hey, what about those of us who discovered her in "Escape from LA"? I mean - Snake Plissken! :)

Not really, I first saw her in TNG, but I had to get a shout out for that.

February 28 2008 at 11:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Will

I have loved her and have been following her since she was Ensign Ro on TNG. I like the fact that she likes variety and doesn't stay on any one show for very long.

Lyla Garrity is also the name of a character on Friday Night Lights. I did some imdb work and saw that Peter Berg was a writer/director on both shows. Coincidence?

February 28 2008 at 10:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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