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!”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Interview: Mariette Hartley on Surviving, Understanding and Forgiving, Part 1

Mariette Hartley has been the comedic darling of television and movies for decades. She has starred in “Ride the High Country,” “Marnie,” “Peyton Place,” “One Life to Live” and the uber-popular series of Polaroid commercials with “Maverick” actor James Garner. Behind the smiles, she was hiding devastating secrets: familial suicide, bipolar disorder, physical abuse. It all came out when she wrote her autobiography, “Breaking the Silence,” which was initially released in 1990 and has been re-released to reach a whole new audience.

Mariette was kind enough to open up with me about her life.

Daytime Dial: What made you decide to put your life story out there in a book for all to read?

Mariette Hartley: Putnam Publishing called me in. This is when I was very, very actively involved in a career, although I still am, but people are not that sure of it anymore. And Putnam called me in, and nobody knew my life because I had been sworn to secrecy by my mother about my dad’s suicide. I was sitting there with all these big, big agents, and I didn’t have a clue about who these people were. And there was my publisher, Neil Nyren, and a couple of other people and my manager all in a small room in New York. I told them my story, and they all about fell off their chairs. And they decided they wanted to do it.

DD: Tell me about the different organizations you are involved with that help other people who are dealing with familial suicide.

MH: I co-founded the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 1987 and am the national spokesperson, although they don’t really use me enough. So, I don’t really do it through them; I kind of do it on my own. I have survivor groups. That has had a profound affect on my life. I’ve met the most extraordinary people. Some people I have no idea, honest to God, how they’re walking on this earth still — people who have had multiple suicides in their lives. I’ve learned a great deal about it. I don’t know if the right word is “healing,” but certainly listening and sharing my experiences and strength and hope with others about it. That has kind of become my life now, and I love it. It’s wonderful when you have a book out that kind of really supports that. And I love speaking to young people too about it. Secrets don’t work; you have to talk about it. For all that, and that’s kind of what it’s become. Who knew, you know? All I wanted to do was be Ingrid Bergman.

DD: You are still doing a lot of incredible acting work too. Tell me about your one-woman show, “If You Get to Bethlehem, You’ve Gone Too Far,” which you put on a few years ago to rave reviews and sold-out audiences.

MH: What I tried to do with my one-woman show is to have people pulled into a life so profoundly that they could not shake it loose. That they could not say, “Oh well, that’s an interesting play,” and go home and go to sleep. People were so pulled in by the short hairs because I really took people into my world as a 4-year-old. I became that 4-year-old girl, and I was looking up to these two parents who were played by me. I think it is extremely healing, not just for me but for others. There was one person in the audience who came to see it twice, and he was ready to die. That was the main reason why I did everything ... to show people the effect it has on one’s life, one who’s still alive and well, and had been deeply enlightened by the experience.

But even so, when you go through that experience, it’s excruciating. It’s something in which you can hardly explain to anybody unless they’ve gone through it. The problem is that there is such a sense of isolation with it that you don’t know who to talk to. You really begin to feel that there is nobody there. And of course, when my mother swore me to secrecy, there was nobody there but me. And I had no answers for it. So that is one of the reasons why I am so deeply committed to the groups, because of the people who I call my daily survivors, who have experienced it three months ago, five months ago, six months ago. I really wanted the show to be a lifesaver if it could be. And I do know it was for at least one person.

DD: Because you are opening up about your struggles with suicide and mental illness, it really lets others know that it’s OK for them to be open as well.

MH: It’s more than OK; it’s lifesaving. And I think that’s what people have to know. You can’t keep quiet about this stuff — especially mental illness. I go up and down the countryside trying to erase the stigma of mental illness, because that’s basically what my family had. My parents were not just alcoholics, they were both profoundly mentally ill. And they were covering it up because they didn’t know it, bless their hearts. They had no concept of mental illness in those days, although my father was painting a picture of manic depression. He was trying to tell us, but even then we weren’t educated. My mission now is to educate. And what the ASFP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) does, which is quite wonderful, is to support research. We support grants for college graduates or students who are studying the brain. There is a young woman at Johns Hopkins who received one of our research grants, and she is studying the suicide gene.

DD: And if they can find a physical cause, maybe they won’t have to prescribe all these drugs left and right, especially if you are misdiagnosed, like you were.

MH: Yes, and it’s very dangerous because it happens with many people. As you know, I was one of them, and that will probably be my next book. During my divorce — which was just awful, and it brought back so many memories — I ended up being diagnosed as depressed. I was given Prozac and I was given Zoloft, and this is what happens also to young people. Now they have the warning on the box, because those straight depression medicines can be extremely dangerous for bipolar. It can also show you if you are bipolar, but you don’t want to go through that. So what I tell people is that if you need to, find a psychiatrist who’s really good and give an entire family history — no holds barred. My diagnosis was absolutely by accident. But I kept after it, and it took me a good year to find out what was going on.

DD: Your grandfather, Dr. John B. Watson, the founder of Behaviorism, was of the school of thought that children should receive minimal affection. How has that affected you and how you look at parenting?

MH: I think it has affected whole eras, whole decades of childrearing, and we’ve swung back and forth and back and forth, and I really went the opposite way. I nursed my kids until they were 2 or 3, and I loved that. It was the most wonderful and nourishing experience for me and for them. And it has held all of us in good stead, I’ll tell you.

When Dad died, I was in such a state of shock about all of it. The book actually gave me a sense of perspective. I realized I did blame my mother; I did blame Big John for that. I felt that on some level Dad was really misrepresented in that household. He was also so deeply ill. And my mother just didn’t have a chance. It makes me so sad today. I was so grateful that when she did pass, our relationship had completely healed. And I was so grateful for that. She died in my arms, and my brother came down, and people were around her. It was a totally inclusive passing.

When I let myself, I can get pretty angry at the son of a gun (Dr. Watson). But I also realize that he was sick. I’ve seen his lab experiments since then with “Little Albert,” which was the famous one, all of these kids were orphans basically. When he made them afraid of these things in the experiments, he never unconditioned them. They went back to the orphanage scared to death of dogs or whatever the hell he was conditioning them to be afraid of. That was the cruelty to me. It was along with the books about not touching and not holding and all that. That must have come from his own background; I always tried to understand it with him. This strange background that he had with his Baptist fanatic mother and this father who had all these Native-American mistresses. Very strange. I have a very colorful background.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of my interview where Mariette discusses the wonderful change in her life now, the projects she is working on and those infamous series of Polaroid commercials with James Garner.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Interview: Catching Up With Leven Rambin

“All My Children” fans will remember Leven Rambin, who juggled the roles of half sisters Lily Montgomery and Ava Benton on the show. Now Leven plays the scatterbrained aspiring actress/model daughter of David James Elliott and Virginia Madsen on the new ABC show “Scoundrels” (airing Sunday nights at 9/8c). I caught up with her recently to discuss “AMC,” “Scoundrels” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Daytime Dial: Your big break was as Lily/Ava on “All My Children.” What was that experience like for you?

Leven Rambin: They taught me everything I know. I’ll always be so grateful for that opportunity and that experience. It’s a lot different than prime time or any other show that I’ve done, but I’ve definitely learned everything I know from there — from working those hours and working with those people and learning all of those lines and being those two different characters. Everything else seems kind of different and easier — the hours are also pretty grueling and demanding here on “Scoundrels” and on “Grey,” but it’s just different. I think that soaps are a really good place to start, and I’m really grateful to have been there.

DD: “AMC” is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. That is quite an accomplishment — you must be proud to have come from that.

LR: I was so honored that they wanted me to be a part of the 40th anniversary of the soap. Some people have been watching it from the very beginning, so for people to have liked me enough to want me to be a part of a big episode like that was really cool, and I’ll always remember that.

DD: You played Eric Dane’s daughter, Sloan, on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Tell me about that experience.

LR: It was crazy being on “Grey’s Anatomy” and working with those people who are movie stars. That show is just so successful. It was definitely the most high-profile thing I’ve ever done, and it really taught me a lot. I’m just so grateful to have been there and to have learned from all of those people, and to have worked with Shonda (Rhimes) and Eric (Dane) and Ellen Pompeo. That was just the experience of a lifetime.

DD: Tell me about your new show, “Scoundrels.” Is that a fun show to work on? How is your new cast to work with?

LR: Yeah, totally. The cast is amazing, and Virginia, obviously, is a legend. She is so inspiring and so creative and so nurturing, and she really took care of all of us while we were there in Albuquerque shooting. I had a great time just talking and getting to know everyone and being a part of something like that. The material was awesome and the producers were great. It was the best time that I’ve had on a show. I’m really grateful to have been a part of it.

The show has a really awesome blend of comedy and drama and intrigue and kind of a different family dynamic than what you’re used to seeing on TV. I just thought it was kind of edgy for ABC, and I thought that the characters were so distinct and so different. I was really drawn to the writing, too. When I saw everyone together, it was perfect.

DD: Jason Priestley joined the cast, and he becomes smitten with your character, Heather. Were you excited to learn that Jason was joining the show, and what is he like to work with?

LR: He was so fun. He just came in and really embraced it, and really got the joke of the character. The character is an ’80s washed-up TV star who is now doing a reality-hosting-type show. He came in and was such a pro, and I got along with him really well.