Saturday, July 24, 2010

Interview: Mariette Hartley Reflects on Her Acting Career, Part 2

Mariette Hartley has done and been through it all. She details how she survived abuse, mental illness and familial suicide in her memoir, “Breaking the Silence.” But it isn’t all calamity and heartbreak. Mariette has wonderful memories of just starting out in the business, of wonderful times with family and friends, and especially of those infamous series of Polaroid commercials she made with “The Rockford Files” star James Garner.

“I started acting when I was 10,” Mariette tells me. “It was so exciting, so fulfilling. I came to Hollywood and met Sam Peckinpah (legendary Western writer, director and producer who directed her in “Ride the High Country”) — it was terrifying, yet exciting. Back then, television was new and powerful. Robert Redford was doing episodics; Leo Penn, Sean Penn’s father, was a terrific director.”

Mariette credits her agent with keeping her on the Hollywood map: “I had a very good agent, and I just kept working. I was very much a character actress. But I’ve never stopped doing theater. I did four plays with John Houseman’s theater group. Theater has always been my less-fickle friend.”

On those famous Polaroid commercials — where Mariette and James Garner were a playful, bickering husband-and-wife team — Mariette has fond memories. “Jack Dillon, who was one of the great advertising men, came up with the commercials. He wrote about 250 of them. I loved working with Jimmy; he was wonderful.”

In fact, Mariette and Garner were so convincing as husband and wife that people thought they were married in real life. They were also early victims of the now ubiquitous paparazzi: While filming a kissing scene for “The Rockford Files,” which she was co-starring in with James, a photog snapped a pic of the kiss and passed it off as a “real” kiss, insinuating that the actors were cheating on their spouses with one another.

Mariette remembers hearing that the picture was going to be in the next day’s newspaper. “Nothing like that had ever happened to me. I’d never been a great sex symbol, but I was flattered.”

Lately, Mariette has been doing a lot of series work, including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Law and Order: SVU.” She tells me, “I loved my part on ‘Grey’s.’ I had just come out of the hospital with a scare, so I could really relate to that fear. I love those kinds of parts that don’t seem to be huge, but they really strike a chord with the audience. I wanted to bring my experience to it, the terror of not knowing where your life is going to go. I hope I brought that to the role for the audience to see.

“I also love the character I did on ‘SVU.’ I would like to do it more; I’m greedy, I know. I just really love them at the show. Mariska (Hargitay) is terrific, and Chris (Meloni) is just nuts — I adore them both.”

Acting seems to run in the family: Her daughter, Justine, played a rape victim on an episode of “SVU.” Mariette recalls: “I’m watching her film her scene, and I see Chris coming on to her. I said, ‘Chris, I am that beautiful young woman’s mother!’ The look on his face — I laughed so hard.”

As for her future in acting, Mariette doesn’t plan to slow down. “My dream is to do my own series again. I just love to work, and I am always interested to see how an ensemble works together. I also love hosting shows. I love to be the host and make people feel comfortable. So, we’ll see!”