Sharon Gless: The TV Squad Interview
I discovered that as brilliant as she is a performer, Sharon Gless is also a class act with the media. She talked about another Cagney & Lacey, Tyne Daly, acting, playing villains, Kim Cattrall and much more. Read on and you'll see -- as I did -- why you'd gush to if you were face-to-face with Sharon Gless.
Gallery: Sharon Gless: The TV Squad Interview
Q: What's it like to be a TV icon?
Sharon Gless: I don't know if I'm an icon, but I've really been working more than most my age. And I come from gratitude every day – it makes me cry – because I have so many friends my age who aren't working any more.
Q: Do your fellow cast members come to you for career advice?
SG: Jeffrey [Donovan], when we first started, just wanted to know, 'How did you do it?' Just the stamina that it takes to be, as he is, in every single scene, which Tyne [Daly] and I were in Cagney & Lacey -- it was devised that way on purpose, there was never a scene we weren't in. That's how Burn Notice has been devised. This year they're giving him a little break, because you can't kill the golden goose. When he asked me, 'How did you do it?' I said, 'You have to get an assistant. You have to be able to give stuff to other people and just focus on your work.' He's so amazing.
Q: When you first got Burn Notice, did you know it was something you wanted to do?
SG: I read it and laughed out loud. There was nobody around. I loved the voice over. I thought, 'This is so interesting. Everything he's saying has nothing to do with what he's really doing on film.' And the fact that they described my character as a chain-smoking hypochondriac! My husband [producer Barney Rosenzweig] said, 'How happy are you they're paying you to smoke?' So I thought, 'This sounds fun! I'd like to do it!' It was in Miami and I just happen to live in Miami!
Q: Did you think it was going to be a hit?
SG: Television's very different now. You never know what the audience is going to want. Lucky me, it became a hit. I've been very fortunate. There's a chemistry between the actors that's really, really important.
Q: How did you and Jeffrey develop your on-screen relationship? Did you hang out off set...
SG: No, he didn't have time. We do now. I took him and Gabrielle – Bruce couldn't come – on a boat the other weekend for stone crabs. We do really respect and like each other very, very much, but no... I met him, 'Hi, nice to meet you! Wow, you really bit off a lot, didn't you?' He said, 'Yeah, be careful what you ask for.' That was our conversation. We got in a car and did our first scene together.
Q: What was that like?
SG: You have to be very loosey-goosey on this show. I've learned a tremendous amount from Jeffrey, because he and I work differently. He's very spontaneous. Just, 'Let's just see what happens!' And I'm going, 'Well, don't you want to run the lines?' He said, 'I know 'em. Let's just do it.' And it's working! He keeps me on my toes.
Q: What is Madeline like now compared to what she was in the first season?
SG: Madeline's gone through some transitions. I talked to Matt Nix about how she was needy. He wrote it that she wanted Michael's attention. And then the network said, 'We really like what she's doing, but we want more of who she is.' And so then it was discussed that – happily – she's very, very smart. She has a lot of moxie. That's where he gets his stuff; it's really from her. As screwed up as she is, she's got her own thing going and she's manipulative. I love it when they write the directorial suggestions in the script – they'll end the scene with Jeffrey and it'll say, 'She leaves the room and he's still there, wondering why she's the only person who can get to him.'
Q: Do you need to know everything about a character before you can play her?
SG: Well, I do like to have a back story. I make it up myself if it's not given to me. Madeline was smart, she went to college. That's where she met her husband. She had fabulous dreams about his success and what was going to happen with them, and he ended up being a disappointment. It's suggested that he was abusive, and it's a very interesting note, that there was abuse with the children and how much she defended them is questionable. And how much abuse she took.
Q: She strikes me as very, very proud of Michael.
SG: Yeah, I think she loves both her boys. She knows she screwed up, but she did the best she could. She thought she may have lost one, but she really hasn't, because Michael loves her. You know he loves her – you can see it. It's frustrating, but it's his mom. And the other one, Nate, that's her baby. There's love in this family. They're just very, very dysfunctional. And that's what makes it interesting. This isn't Father Knows Best.
Q: Last season, you worked with Bruce when Madeline's life when she was in danger...
SG: When I got to work with Bruce, I thought, 'Well, she's often being babysat.' I said to Matt, 'Could he come to babysit and the two of us just get ripped? And we discuss nothing that has to do with the case. Just talk about life.' And they loved it, so we're looking forward to seeing it someday.
Q: What about Madeline and Fiona?
SG: Last week I got to do a wonderful scene with Gabrielle. We had a wonderful scene of two women. I felt like I was doing a Cagney & Lacey, it was that kind of caliber of writing of two totally different generations and me wanting her to be with Michael.
Q: If they're trying to give Jeffrey a break, will you get a chance to work more?
SG: Well, I love to work. I don't care what they hand me. I love working with the other actors, but Jeffrey and I have a thing going now. We're good at it! Obviously the more you work, the better at it you get. But most of my scenes are with Jeffrey; the show is not about Madeline. I hope I'm one of the reasons they watch, but Jeffrey is carrying it, you know, and brilliantly.
Q: How much like Madeline are you?
SG: I'm not Madeline. I think my humor is hers, but I'm not a manipulative person. But that's the comedy, you know? I really think her manipulation can be dark, but it's still funny. That's all the brilliance of Matt Nix, who gives you a character like that. But is she like me? I think when she loves him, the love I feel for him, I'm capable of. That's who I am. I think there's a piece of an actor or actress in everything that they play.
Other points of interest
Chemistry with other actors: Did you know that I was offered Cagney twice and turned it down? So actors are not always the best judges of material. It's true! Tyne was so generous. And I can say that about Jeffrey and Gabrielle and Bruce, because I think it matters. You don't do this alone. You just don't. To answer your question about chemistry, I don't believe that actors can take credit for chemistry. I never have believed that. It's the person who thinks to put you together; who sees that... Tyne and I may have just adored each other, but on film we could have sucked. It may not have worked.
Taking over for Meg Foster, the first Cagney in the TV series: It was difficult for me, because I knew what Tyne was going through. But she was wonderful, very generous in accepting me. Obviously, she loved Meg and had to swallow her friend being fired and then bringing in the blond.
Tyne Daly guesting on Burn Notice: I'm trying; Matt says that he'd like to have her on the show. I want her to play my sister. Tyne is very funny and smokes Camels, so the two of us could be doing this scene where Michael comes in and he hates smoking, and it would be funny, because you can't see anything in the house because it's the two of us in there smoking. Anyway, Tyne said, 'I'll do it, but I want to play her as a mute.' Only Tyne Daly! And believe me, she'll steal the show. Matt said he wants to use her -- but not as a mute!
Another Cagney & Lacey: There's been talk about it. There's some interest in England to do one. Not with us, certainly, but it's probably timely. Tyne's character had two boys and a girl, and I had a niece, Bridget Cagney. If they were going to call them Cagney & Lacey, it could be relatives, you know?
Playing a villain on Nip/Tuck: I was very proud of that. Ryan Murphy, who created the show, said it's the sickest arc he's ever written. She clearly was a villain, but I learned something. I don't have a lot of training, but I steal from the best. I always have. I mean, when I was a kid I'd go to movies and watch actresses. For this particular role, I read Judi Dench's book. She said nobody is born a villain. She said that person became that way because of whatever they've gone through, something happened to damage them.
Starting at Universal Studios in the 1970s with Kim Cattrall: We were under contract together! I just saw Sex & the City. I said to my friend, 'I know her.' I was doing a series called Switch with Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert, and Kim played a Salvation Army girl. She was wonderful and sweet and just heartbreaking -- as a Salvation Army lady! That's what a good actress she is.