Today we are talking to a very busy and very recognizable actress who has appeared in over a hundred TV and film properties since her debut in the 1970s and just this year played arcs on both the freshly-minted 2012 Emmy-winning Best Drama HOMELAND, as well as HBO's hit nighttime vampire series TRUE BLOOD - the accomplished and arresting Linda Purl. Discussing her roles on the hit HBO and Showtime series she has appeared on this season as well as her recent multi-episode stint on NBC's THE OFFICE, Purl sheds some light on her long and rich career and also shares stories from the sets of some of her most famous forays - Happy Days to HOMELAND and beyond. Additionally, we shed some light on her upcoming two-night-stand at Feinstein's At Loews Regency, MIDNIGHT CARAVAN… TRAVELS THROUGH THE GREAT NEW YORK NIGHTCLUBS, with special guest Desi Arnaz, Jr., and she sets the stage for what we can expect from the noir-inspired cabaret piece featuring songs of the 1940s and 1950s. Furthermore, Purl opens up about her theatrical roots - starring in plays and musicals lIke Oliver, THE KING & I and THE MIRACLE WORKER growing up overseas, as well as observing no less than Tennessee Williams, a friend of her parents, as he oversaw a Tokyo production of IN THE BAR OF A TOKYO HOTEL and resided with the clan (unexpectedly); and, later, starring on Broadway in THE ADVENTURES OF Tom Sawyer, GETTING AND SPENDING and in regional revivals, such as six seasons at Williamstown and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at LA's Rubicon. Additionally, she gives illuminating insight into many notable friends and collaborators - Edith Head, Angela Lansbury, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Laurence Olivier, Kim Hunter, Mandy Patinkin, Gregory Harrison, Robby Benson and others. Plus, first news on the forthcoming studio album of MIDNIGHT CARAVAN - and much, much more!
More information on Linda Purl's MIDNIGHT CARAVAN… TRAVELS THROUGH THE GREAT NEW YORK NIGHTCLUBS this week at Feinstein's At Loews Regency is available here.
For even more information, visit her official site here.
I Feel A Song Coming On
PC: Congratulations to you and the rest of The Cast and crew on the big Emmy night for HOMELAND earlier this week - what a sweep!
LP: Thank you! I think it really deserves all of the accolades it is receiving, too - I think it is a really great show.
PC: It was quite an upset - many expected MAD MEN to break the record.
LP: Oh, absolutely! But, I am so happy for everybody, though.
PC: Were you watching the awards at home?
LP: Well, we had some stuff going on that night so I actually heard about it through someone else and didn't see it myself, but I had been keeping my eye on the news and I got the whole briefing first thing the next morning, for sure.
PC: What can you tell me about working with Mandy Patinkin?
LP: Oh, well, he's just extraordinary! I mean, I still think about his performance in EVITA as being one of the great moments of being in the audience - just seeing and hearing Mandy in that role. So, working with beside him on HOMELAND, I finally thought, "Oh, OK. Now I know why he has such acclaim in musical theatre - he really is a phenomenal actor." He can do anything.
PC: He's known for being a bit eccentric - was it all a good experience for you, then?
LP: It was fantastic! It was a privilege! You know, when you get to Mandy's stature and place, I would say that perhaps another actor who has had that kind of beautiful success would take a role like this and just give it eighty percent - well, Mandy gives it two hundred percent! Every time.
PC: He really brings it.
LP: Yeah - I am so inspired by his work ethic. He's really, really done his homework and he has really, really given things a lot of thought, and, so, when you jump into a scene with him he is just so alive with the material - and, I'm not a writer, but I have to think that, as a writer, it is just astonishing to see what he does with your lines! [Laughs.]
PC: A lot of inventiveness.
LP: Oh, yeah - no two takes are ever the same! I mean that in the sense that he is so filled with ideas and willing to go with the moment, not that he is inconsistent - which he definitely is; consistent.
PC: How did you get involved with HOMELAND? It wasn't as a result of your connection with Mandy from CRIMINAL MINDS, was it?
LP: No - it was unrelated. I just auditioned for it and I ended up getting the role.
PC: You've had a remarkable year - multi-episode arcs on NBC's THE OFFICE, Showtime's HOMELAND and HBO's TRUE BLOOD. Which did you film first?
LP: I filmed THE OFFICE first. You know, that was just a blast - it was quite reminiscent to me of my years on Happy Days, actually.
PC: In what way?
LP: Well, again, it's a hard-working group - and they are all smart and funny and friends.
PC: A real camaraderie.
LP: Definitely. Very much in the same way that Garry Marshall set the tone for Happy Days, Steve [Carell] set the tone on that show - he was humble and smart and down-to-earth and on-time; just great. Also, it was a different way of working than I was used to on that set - I had never been on a set where the camera is as much a character in the scene as your fellow actors are.
PC: On that topic: what do you think of HD filming in general? How do you compare how most shows are filmed now compared to the three-camera set-ups on a studio show like Happy Days way back when?
LP: Well, you know, much of the process is the same - I would say it is much less obtrusive now; certainly arc lights and all of that are a thing of the past now with HD because, for the most part, you can use available lighting. Things move much more quickly now. So, from that point of view, I guess it is pretty fascinating that you can keep getting closer and closer to real-life because the equipment is so small compared to even how big it was a decade ago.
PC: It allows so much more freedom.
LP: It does - but, I have to say, from a vanity point of view? HD TV is really harsh! [Laughs.]
PC: You looks so fantastic, though! What's your secret?
LP: Thank you. I have a teenage son, so I have to keep up with him.
PC: What do you think of the generation now and the one coming up, like your son - the Bieber generation?
LP: It's exciting - I mean, the world is changing so quickly, but they will have a big tool belt to help navigate what's happening in the world. I think it's a fabulous time for maverick mindsets and entrepreneurial mindsets because the tools for people to express their own identities and build their own companies and networks are pretty much infinite now, so I think it's really exciting that the playing field has been leveled to the extent that it has; and, it seems to only be going further in that direction.
PC: What are your thoughts on the success of reality TV?
LP: [Sighs.] It's heartbreaking to me. It doesn't have anything to do with anything, does it?
PC: Most of the shows do not.
LP: Yeah, I mean, I look at all of those out-of-work designers and location scouts and writers and directors and you-name-it - the craftsmanship of storytelling and the care put into storytelling by all of those individuals is just cast to the side in favor of… [Pause.] I mean, far be it from me to judge somebody else's entertainment, but I don't get it - I don't seek it out and it doesn't interest me and I think we are losing a lot as an industry as a result of reality shows.
PC: You have headlined many TV movies and miniseries - what are your thoughts on them now as a seemingly non-existent genre outside of the occasion exception to the general rule on cable?
LP: Well, I think that a lot of that has to do with the sheer amount of excellent television that is out there now - as we witnessed with the Emmy nominations; there is some incredible writing going on right now and some fantastic acting on TV these days. To be honest, it's probably better writing than what was going on on the best shows in the 1960s and 70s - and I can say that because I was a part of it! [Laughs.]
PC: You certainly have earned the right.
LP: I mean, there were people who did such beautiful work then, but it's so much more prevalent now. But, getting back to my son and how I see his generation reacting to it, I have to say that I don't see them watching a lot of television series - I guess they don't necessarily have the time for it or the interest in it or they would just rather be doing more interactive things with on-screen stuff; they spend a lot of time with virtual reality and texting and Facebook and Instagram. You know, their entertainment comes from very, very different forms than what we sought out in my generation, and, I'd dare even say, your generation and the people your age.
PC: Do you think TV has the best storytelling of any format right now?
LP: I do.
PC: The best scripts and the best roles, too?
LP: I do. I really do.
PC: Do you prefer one format to another? Since you've worked more extensively in TV than film or stage, I'd assume TV - true?
LP: No - not at all, actually. I have always considered myself a journeyman actor, so I honestly like working in all mediums equally. In many ways, the process is the same whether you are working onstage on a play or on film or on TV or on cable - you have your alchemy with the script and the character and you sort of go through your creative process in finding who that character is and how that that character serves the storyline and you give it your best shot! That's all it is, really, I think.
PC: All of acting in a one-sentence nutshell!
LP: [Laughs.] That's what it comes down to usually - whatever it is.
PC: Is it easier now to transition from one format to another or do you find you have done it all all along so it is difficult to have any perspective on it?
LP: Yes, I do think I have been lucky in that regard - I have been lucky enough to do it all and I just love it all, so I feel lucky to have been able to work in many mediums and on all different type of shows.
PC: TRUE BLOOD is quite unlike anything on TV before in a number of ways - it pushes the limits of TV. Did Alan Ball seek you out to appear on it?
LP: Yes, he did. So, then, I went in and I met with them. Now, that was interesting!
PC: Why so?
LP: Well, first of all, Joe [Manganiello] could just stand there and we could just look at him and that would be enough. [Laughs.] He's just gorgeous!
PC: He's having a big career year, too - MAGIC MIKE, as well.
LP: Joe is a fantastic, fantastic actor. You know, he is really interesting to me because he could have just gone to the modeling agency or the acting agency and said, "Here I am! Let's go!" and he would have gotten something. But, the dude has major chops - he is a classically-trained actor. The doors were flung open for him for football, too, at one point, but he said, "No. I think I want to be an actor," so, you know, that took some chutzpah! So, he's got the training to back it all up and that is a very unusual combination to have everything he has, I think.
PC: Was it a bit harried since they fit so much into every eight-day-shoot for every episode?
LP: Actually, no - it was more like a feature film pace to me. But, you know, maybe things were going particularly well the days I was there! [Laughs.]
PC: That could be, too.
LP: Again, like on HOMELAND, I was just really, really impressed with the writing and the care that was taken by the producers and director and crew when we were there. It was wonderful.
PC: Are you a fan of the show or is it too scary for you?
LP: Well, I'll be honest and say that I hadn't really been a fan before I was cast, but that was mostly just because of time constraints and I just hadn't had the chance to watch it.
PC: Life precluded it.
LP: Right. But, once I was put on as a recurring role, I thought, "I better do my homework!" And, I'll admit, I was a little bit "Umm…," at the start, but I realized how nuanced and creative it was as I continued to watch it. And, before I knew it, I got drawn in!
PC: Did you shoot more than what made it into the show - or, maybe material that will show up next season?
LP: Yes. Mostly it was just longer versions of the scenes, but there might have been a few scenes that didn't end up in there at all - but, you know, that's always par for the course.
PC: Will there be a return for your character next year?
LP: Well, they have said yes, but they are not contractually obligated to bring me back, so we will just hold onto hope until then. [Laughs.]
PC: Have you ever played a vampire or a werewolf?
LP: No, I haven't! I haven't played an alien, either! This was another notch in the belt for me.
PC: You also appeared in the final season of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. What was your experience like on that set?
LP: Oh, well, heavens, that was fun! Just to be part of such an iconic show was lovely for me. It was great - a lot of fun to do. All The Cast was great to me.
PC: Speaking of dynamic leading ladies of TV history: what can you reveal about working with fellow InDepth InterView participant Angela Lansbury on MURDER, SHE WROTE?
LP: Oh, well, Angela is just in a league of her own!
PC: You can say that again.
LP: You know, there have been a couple of times when you work with the best of the best people and you realize, "Oh, oh, so that's how it's supposed to be done." The first of my experiences like that was with Edith Head - I had a costume fitting with Edith Head for a film called W.C. Fields AND ME. It was a tiny little role and I came in for the fitting at Western Costumes, next to Paramount, and she had pulled a whole bunch of costumes for me to look at So, you know, there I am and I just feel like, "I'm such a nobody," and she sweetly looks at me and says, "Now, dear, which of these would you like to try on?" Like, she's asking me for my opinion!
PC: How generous of her.
LP: It was - and it was very important for her that I felt comfortable and that we settle on something together. She wanted to make me feel comfortable, and, to be honest, she could have dressed me in a pumpkin suit and I would have been thrilled! [Laughs.]
PC: Who wouldn't? It's Edith Head.
LP: She really understood the old adage that unless the actress is comfortable in the costume then the costume will not look good. You know: the costume can never wear the actress, the actress has to wear the costume.
PC: What do you take away from your experience with her at that fitting?
LP: I felt like she really had the humility to talk to me on her level - she was secure enough in the work that she didn't need to override the actor, she could just complement their work. So, when you come out of a meeting like that one, you say to yourself, "OK - note to self: that's how it should be done."
PC: On that note: do you generally consider yourself an internal or an external actress? Does the costume play a significant role in how you shape your character - and, also, how you see it yourself?
LP: Hmm. [Pause.] Well, there are those times when you have an idea of a character and then you put on the costume for the character designed by a brilliant designer and you realize, "Oh, thank you!" because it is that missing chunk that makes you come alive. It is a very important part of the process, that moment when you get your costume, and, I do think that sometimes costumes can help draw a character out of you. It was the same with Angela as it was with Edith - she was just so generous.
PC: Tell me about your time spent with Angela.
LP: She was always there onset, just off-camera. Besides being just wonderful on the show, she was so, so gracious to the people who came in - she made it a point when she was doing it to hire friends and contemporaries who were older and might not have been making their insurance to see that they would come on the show and do some good work and by doing that she would make sure they would keep up their health insurance. It wasn't handouts or anything, but she did it out of her own good nature.
PC: How unbelievably magnanimous of her.
LP: The sound man also told me that if somebody in the crew wanted to move up she would see to it that they had a break - for instance, the ADs would have a chance to direct. The sound man said, "I know I'm a sound man, but I have a writer in me; I've been listening to other people's dialogue for thirty years!" And, Angela got wind of the fact that he wanted to be a writer and she saw to it that he was able to write an episode to submit - and they shot the episode!
PC: What a heartwarming tale.
LP: Again, she would never say anything about this herself, but she really got the journey of an artist in a holistic sense and really tried to do something about it when she could, in the most gracious and professional way.
PC: Another great lady of the stage and screen I would love to hear your recollections of is your former mother-in-law Lucille Ball. What was she like one-on-one?
LP: Oh, she was great. You know, I knew her after she had not been working for a certain amount of time - she had chosen to stop working. In my interactions with her, I found that she was a very strong woman who was very smart, very loving, extremely family-orientated and a great backgammon player.
PC: She had had quite a life. Was she hard on you at all?
LP: Well, I honestly have to say that I never saw any of that with her - I can't speak to any of that, but she really struck me as a very strong woman with a lot of strength of character. She had a beautiful life and really treasured her family - and she was always very loving to me.
PC: Desi, Jr. will be joining you at Feinstein's, correct?
LP: Yes. Desi, Jr. will be on percussion.
PC: Obviously, your relationship remains amicable, post-divorce.
LP: Oh, of course - I've just been so blessed to have such a close friendship with him, and, also his lovely wife, Amy. They have been together for more than twenty-five years now. Desi, Jr. is just an incredible musician - he is phenomenal.
Pat Cerasaro is a playwright and screenwriter currently in pre-production on his first feature film.|