Karen Black
Karen Black
Karen Black is warm and endearing in person, alternating her conversation with funny anecdotes and reflections on her career with sincere questions about your dating status. But that's unsurprisingly appropriate, as she's currently playing Cookie Green, the ultimate Jewish mother, in Ellen Melaver's new comedy, Moses Supposes, at Los Angeles' Zephyr Theater.

Black says she was drawn to the role of Cookie, a woman on the verge of independence -- much to her husband and children's consternation -- for a variety of reasons.

"Three years ago, my mother and I spent a lot of time together while she was ill," she notes. "People are unaware of how much help people need when they're dependent. When I would visit my mother, she would yell about things, and injure herself just to get attention. I tapped into my relationship with my mother when creating Cookie."

That said, Cookie also reflects much of Black's own personality. "I can't believe how much I love her. I can play this character for years," she notes. "I definitely have some of Cookie's characteristics. I talk too much. I have a lot of hope and fun, and I like to do a lot of things. I'm a funny person. In the play, her children and husband keep saying she's pushy, but I think Cookie's exuberant."

However, Black is quick to point out that she does not agree with everything that Cookie does. "I do think that Cookie should be quiet sometimes. If someone starts talking, shut up and listen, especially as a parent and wife. You have to train yourself. Cookie hears but doesn't listen."

Elijah Kranski and Karen Black in Moses Supposes
(© Michael Lamont)
Elijah Kranski and Karen Black in Moses Supposes
(© Michael Lamont)
The actress says, however, she does share her character's maternal instincts. "She worries about her children and I worry about my children too," she notes. "My son is having a baby soon, and I worry if they have enough stuff. That's the joy of having children. My mother used to say, 'Even though you love your child now, you'll not believe how much you're going to adore him eventually.'"

The role is just the latest in a string of memorable turns by Black, which include her Oscar-nominated turn as Rayette in Five Easy Pieces, the airplane-landing Nancy Pryor in Airport 75, and Connie White in Nashville.

But the part she's proudest of is playing the transgendered Joanne in the film and stage versions of Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. "I just recently watched this film. I don't think it was easy. It took months and months and it worked. I did seem to be a man," she recalls.

"I went to gay bars, and studied and researched. I had a transsexual to work with me. Little by little, I tore out of the ground the girly girl I am and replaced the center with a man who became a woman. It was very painful. My transitioning to becoming Joanne was, at times, much like the character's journey. You feel you've done everything and discover it's not enough."