Holland Taylor Puts the Accent on Ann
The Emmy Award-winning actress discusses her fascinating bioplay about former Texas Governor Ann Richards.
But the veteran theater actress is now back on the stage in Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards, the bioplay she has written about the late Texas Governor, which is at the Kennedy Center for a month-long engagement. TheaterMania recently spoke to Holland about this fascinating project.
THEATERMANIA: How does it feel to be in Washington, D.C. with this play?
HOLLAND TAYLOR: I played The Kennedy Center 25 years ago, and I had no sense in my younger years what a privilege it is to be in this place that means so much to America.
TM: Were you close to Ann?
HT: Not at all. I did have lunch with her once later in her life. When I am in New York, I have dinner with Liz Smith regularly. In fact, I don't usually lunch. But then Liz said we'd have to do lunch -- at Le Cirque no less -- and I didn't want to go uptown and get all dressed up. And then she said Ann Richards was coming, and when I found out I couldn't believe my ears. Of course, I was intimidated at first when I met her, but she put me at ease immediately.
TM: So what made you want to do this play?
HT: After she died, I realized how much she meant to me and to America. She lived like nobody lived. A lot of politicians really do want to help, but they lose sight of their goals in their quest for celebrity. Ann never did. She was also very positive about the future of our country and always believed that true leadership was emerging. She wasn't really a public servant until she was in her 40s and left the governor's office at 60. I think had she started earlier she would have been the first female president.
TM: You mentioned Liz Smith before. Was she a big help in putting this together?
HT: I talked to Liz about Ann and I have all their emails. And I also got to know other people who were great friends with Ann as well.
HT: It can be quite a trial to generate everything. Luckily, Julie White was very generous in doing the voice of Ann's secretary during this one 40-minute section. And not only am I very comforted by Julie's voice, but the whole recording system we use makes it seem like we are having a conversation. In fact, many audience members think Julie is offstage. But there is one long chunk of the play when I am onstage by myself, and it can be tough when there's nothing to prompt you or cue you or draw you along. You have to drive it all by yourself. I learned the entire script all before our first rehearsal; I memorized it for eight weeks, three hours a day. Of course, now I have to relearn it every time I rewrite it.
TM: You first did the play in Ann's home state, Texas. What was that experience like?
HT: When we played Austin, that was a rout; audiences loved it. But it was an accident that we started in Texas. I initially reacted with horror when it was suggested. But then I thought, what would Ann do with that opportunity. And I realized she was more than a Texan; this was a woman was who mobbed by the Chinese in Tiananmen Square. Her impact was human and that's what the play is about..
TM: You recently played Chicago. What did you learn about the play from that engagement? HT: I wanted to do Chicago because that audience is really a hard-core theater audience, and they were inspired, affected, moved, comforted, so I learned that I was right in doing this show. But of course, I continued to shape the play while I was there, and having three whole weeks to tinker was incredible. I learned some specific things about the show, like when to delay an entrance or flip a line. Now, I'm so thrilled to have four weeks here!
HT: I have given the accent the shortest shrift. As the writer and producer, the buck stops with me on a lot of things, so I haven't had the time. And while I've worked with a great dialect coach, I'm not a natural mimic. But everyone in Texas told me it was good; even her children said, it was great. But I'll still keep working on it.