Interview with Judith Light of “shining Vale” on Starz by Suzanne 2/7/22
It was lovely to speak to such an amazing actress. I first saw her on “Who’s the Boss?” back in the 80’s. I’ve seen her in so many other great shows, such as “Transparent,” “Law and Order,” “Ugly Betty,” “Dietland,” “Dallas” and so much more. She’s great in this, like usual You may not even recognize her. The first few questions are from me, and the others were from other journalists in this roundtable press junket we did.
Suzanne: Hi. When you’re playing your character, is there anyone in particular that you modeled her after?
Judith: No, no. What an interesting question. No, I think that what happened was that they created her as they saw her. Now, maybe the writers had somebody in mind. Maybe they knew somebody that had had some of these issues, but no. It was just like, there it was, right on the page.
Suzanne: Thank you.
Judith: Yeah, you bet.
Suzanne: I know you got your TV start on One Life to Live. If one of the four remaining daytime soaps were to offer you a really good role, around your schedule, whether it was recurring, or guest starring or long term, would you consider it?
Judith: You know, years ago I used to say I wouldn’t do this, and I’m never going to do that. I’m not going to be in a soap opera, and I’m not going to be in a sitcom, and I’m never going to marry an actor, and I’m never going to move to California. You know, I’m not terribly trustworthy. So, I would only answer that to say to you, I will allow myself to stay open to everything and to see how things evolve and what comes to me. I don’t look at something and say, “I’ll never do that.” It’s just it’s not a way to be as a human being, and it’s not a way to live. Who knows what could happen? I have no idea. So, good questions.
Question: …Tell us a little bit about her. She’s kind of a character, but has a part of her life that we won’t get into, but kind of had a dark period in her life, I guess the best way to put it?
Judith: Yeah, yeah. I love that you’re being deferential to not giving away a lot of the information, which I know they appreciate, and so do I. We’re talking about mental illness. I mean, you’re talking about a woman who, as an adult, a lot of her adult life is she’s dealing with mental illness, and the fact that this show is able to talk about that in such a way within the body and the context of comedy and horror and drama and paranormal is just quite incredible, I think. I just think it’s extraordinary. So, that’s one of the things that we’re dealing with is women and mental illness.
Question: Congratulations on being a part of such an interesting show. How long did you have to keep the secret that you were cast in this series?
Judith: Not for very long. I mean, it really happened quite, quite quickly. I mean, I read the script, and then they sent me the pilot to look at, and I was like, “Oh, I’m in.” So, it wasn’t really a very long time. They send it to me, and then we talked about it, and we shot it.
Question: And to follow up on that, was there a personal highlight for you? Because often things that are funny are not always off camera hilarious, the most fun thing ever, and then, vice versa. You’ll find that in dramas, the second they say cut, everyone is laughing their heads off and having a blast. So, is there a highlight?
Judith: The highlight was really getting to work with Courtney and with Greg and with Gus Birney. And to be in a show, like you say, I mean, that’s written and conceived by Jeff Astrof and Sharon Horgan and such a team of women writers, I mean, literally, this is a question for you and everybody who’s watching the show. “How do you write a show that’s a comedy and a drama and a horror show and paranormal?” I don’t even know how you can think about that. You said congratulations on being a part of this show. I am beside myself. I think people are just – I can’t even say think. I know people are going to be absolutely enchanted by this.
Question: You’ve done a lot of darker roles lately. Is there something about these characters that really makes you want to embody them? Or is it just things that come across your desk, and you’re like, “Okay, that’s an interesting role. I’d love to pursue that.”
Judith: I go for the role. I go for what it says about women and their stories. We’re storytellers, you know, just like you all. You’re the storytellers. You tell our stories, and that’s why talking to you is so interesting; it’s so vital. I look at a character. I look at the story. I look at what it’s saying. I see that women are writing for women about women’s issues, women and their artistry, women and their menopause, women and aging, women and their sexuality, women and their mental illness. So, that’s compelling to me. And to do it within, like I just said before, within the context of a show that’s funny and dramatic and tender and fragile and poignant and scary is just – You’re smiling. It’s true. It’s like it’s it’s a joy. It’s a real joy.
Question: As far as dialogue, do you get a chance to play with the words a little bit? Or do you have to stay verbatim to the script?
Judith: No, there’s no law. I mean, if there’s something that I want to talk to the producers about, they’re incredibly open, but when you see a show like this, and the way this is written, I wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole. I mean, I wouldn’t even think to be able to do that. If I have questions, I’ll ask them, but not with something like this. They’re open and flexible, which is also a dream. It’s really great.
Question: Just a quick follow up, there is a scene where you have a moment with one of your grandchildren, and that was a really serious scene, and I really appreciated that scene. You both brought it, and it was so great to see you flexing those muscles.
Judith: Oh, thank you, thank you so much. That was all as all on the page. That’s all on the page. And you know, you can try something as as an actor, and you can throw it out. They might have said to me, “Don’t go there. Go to the funny, or go to the scary. Don’t do that. Don’t make it that deep or that real,” but they didn’t say that. So, that’s what I was saying. And in responding to your other question, which is, I wouldn’t ask them to change anything or rewrite anything. But if you work the way that I do is you just throw out a lot of stuff, and I say to somebody, “Look, this is the smorgasbord; you choose what you want.” And if they want something else, then they tell you. But thank you for noticing. That is a very powerful scene.
Question: So, when somebody looks at your IMDB or your credits, in general, you’ve been working nonstop, and it’s a variety of genres and projects. There’re not a lot of people who do dramatic stuff like you, yet we’re also on Family Guy. So, you’ve also been prolific as a humanitarian, and charitable work as well and standing up for women’s causes, in a wonderful way. Are there a lot of hobbies for you, or does it really all your free time goes back into the craft?
Judith: I wouldn’t say hobbies, but there are things in life that I do that I spend time on that feed my work, a lot of reading, a lot of investigation of psychology. Also, now, I’m starting to produce, and I have a bunch of projects in development. So, those are the things that I’m drawn to doing. I am curious about a lot of different things, and curiosity is the link to me to creativity. If you’re curious about something, you move into a direction of being creative in relation to it. Also, I love working in teams. So, I love being able to be around other people who are also curious and creative, and that’s where a lot of the energy goes. My husband and I are creating a lot of work together. So, that’s also exciting for me.
Question: So, it sounds like stay tuned to keep checking the IMDB to see how much you’re working.
Judith: There you go. There you go. That’s right.
Question: It’s such an honor, I must say to speak with you, and I’ve been a longtime fan of yours. Do you have any favorite projects of yours that truly hold a dear place in your heart? I mean, we recently saw you on American Crime Story. That was a beautiful arc, and there’re so many roles that stand out, of course, over the years, but are there certain roles that still hold a special place for you?
Judith: Oh, you’re so sweet. Thank you. Thank you for saying that. Well, I love American Crime. I love working with Ryan. I mean, talk about a visionary. He’s an incredible person. I would have to say, I did a play years ago, where I took over – I hadn’t been on stage for twenty-two years, and then I took over for a brilliant actor named Kathleen Chalfant in a play called Wit. It was about a woman who was dying of fourth stage ovarian cancer, and that one I hold very close still. I was terrified to do it. I had to shave my head. I had to be naked on stage. There were a lot of things that I had to confront, personally, that were very transformational for me as far as my life was concerned. It wasn’t about my career anymore. It was really about my life and the things that I needed to not be afraid of and to take a chance to take a risk. I did it for almost a year. I did it in New York for about six months. Then, I did it on tour in Boston and San Francisco and Washington, DC, and Florida. Every one of the experiences around that was life changing and affirming for me, and that one I hold I hold very close, very dear. Also, the other things that I’ve done on stage, like Other Desert Cities, just that brilliant, brilliant play by Jon Robin Baitz. I just walked into that family, and that was very, very special to me, getting to work with Joe Mantello and Robbie and then Richard Greenberg, on The Assembled Parties. Those are two other plays that I did. Most of the work that I’ve done stays with me. Not the character; I let go of the character, but the holiness, I guess, is what I would say. And I mean that in a holistic way, that those characters have meant a great deal to me, particularly when you do a long run, like we did with Lombardi. Those things, they stay. They’re embedded, and I really treasure them greatly. I really do.
Question: So, it just seems like the producing side is kind of tapping into a new area for you. How has that been to kind of take a project from an idea and put it together?
Judith: It’s been interesting. It’s more I’m learning from several different producers that I’m working with in the development of these projects. I’m at a place called Brillstein Creative Partners, and I’m working with some really brilliant, extraordinary women producers that I’m learning a lot from, like Amy Powell and Dakota DeBellis. There are people that are on these projects that I’m working on that I’m watching and learning from and seeing how to put something together. Right now we’re in the stages of looking at reading material, finding the writers. Who’s going to be the best team for this? And it takes a long time, and it takes a lot of discipline and diligence and a lot of hard work to put it together. I’m learning, and I’m watching, and I’m seeing that these are people that really know what they’re doing and really know what they’re talking about. So, I’m really in the learning stage. So, I’ll keep you posted. I’ll let you know how it’s going.
Here is the audio version of it.
Interview Transcribed by Jamie of http://www.scifivision.com
“Shining Vale” is a horror comedy about a dysfunctional family that moves from the city to a small town into a house in which terrible atrocities have taken place. But no one seems to notice except for Pat, who’s convinced she’s either depressed or possessed – turns out, the symptoms are exactly the same. Patricia “Pat” Phelps (Courteney Cox) is a former “wild child” who rose to fame by writing a raunchy, drug-and-alcohol-soaked women’s empowerment novel (a.k.a. lady porn). Fast forward 17 years later, Pat is clean and sober but totally unfulfilled. She still hasn’t written her second novel, she can’t remember the last time she had sex with her husband (Greg Kinnear), and her teenage kids are at that stage where they want you dead. She was a faithful wife until her one slip-up: she had a torrid affair with the hot, young handyman who came over to fix the sink while Terry was at work. In a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, she and Terry cash in all their savings and move the family from the “crazy” of the city to a large, old house in the suburbs that has a storied past of its own. Everyone has their demons, but for Pat Phelps, they may be real. Cox plays the lead role of Patricia “Pat” Phelps, with Kinnear playing her ever-optimistic husband, Terry Phelps, whose patience and self-control will be tested like never before. Mira Sorvino plays Rosemary, who is either Pat’s alter ego, a split personality, her id, her muse, or a demon trying to possess her. Dungey plays Kam, Pat’s oldest friend and book editor. Gus Birney and Dylan Gage also star as Pat and Terry’s teenage kids, Gaynor and Jake.
Multiple Tony and Emmy award-winning actress JUDITH LIGHT is known for her extensive body of television, film, and onstage work, for which she recently received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Opposite Bette Midler, Ben Platt, and Gwyneth Paltrow, she currently stars in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series The Politician. Most recently, Light starred in Transparent, Amazon Prime’s Golden Globe-winning series, created by Jill Soloway, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination and multiple Emmy and Critics’ Choice nominations. In 2018, her role in Ryan Murphy’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, garnered her an Emmy and Critics Choice nomination. More here
Proofread and Edited by Brenda