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Actress Judith Light prefers roles with roots in real life [ - ]
by mich_l81
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Author: Jane Ardmore
Source: Lawrence Journal-World
Date: 01/20/1988
Topic: Judith Light, Who's the Boss?, Tony Danza
Submitted by: mich_l81

Actress Judith Light prefers roles with roots in real life

By Jane Ardmore

 

 

What a smashing lady — Judith Light — moving swiftly, light and free as a dancer in her beige silk duster and graceful freeform straw hat. You know her, of course, as Angela Bower, successful career woman of ABC’s hit comedy series “Who’s the Boss?”, but wait until you see her as Cathy Proctor, “a real no-nonsense and vulnerable girl, owning herself,” as Light puts it, in “Hit and Run,” the comedy-drama-mystery-thriller on NBC.

 

“I’m so excited to talk for the first time about this movie,” she says, “because with it I feel I’m owning my self and my success — something it hasn’t been easy for me to do. ‘Who’s the Boss?’ has been such an experience, such an unexpected (for me) triumph, not in the least the way I expected to find what I suppose you’d call ‘stardom,’ that it’s not easy to take it all in, appreciate and believe. But ‘Hit and Run’ is the absolute next step in terms of the extraordinary experiences of my career.

 

“Every character I’ve played from the call-girl/housewife Karen Wolek on ‘One Life to Live’ has reflected what is happening to women in today’s world. It’s been one of my favorite things about my career, and now I get to play this girl, who has such spunk and verve and tenacity, married, with a small boy and a husband who leaves her eight and a half months pregnant, who then gets involved in a freak accident which involves her in a maze of repercussions that actually threaten her life. En route to womanhood, this girl is a victim of circumstances who doesn’t regard herself as a victim in any way. She just plows through.”

 

Judith Light had to have strength to follow the dream that started when she was exactly 3 years old and recited “’Twas the Night Before Christmas’ for her father. “I remember thinking, ‘This is what I will do.’”

 

An only child, she grew up in Trenton, N.J. Her dad worked for an institutional food business (he’s now an accountant), her mother was a women’s wear buyer for a department store. “They liked my dream. They thought it was terrific.” Her father would drive her to rehearsals in local theater productions.

 

She went to school and acted in plays. There wasn’t really the usual child playtime. “I was so interested in drama. I was so determined to become a theater star, I didn’t have time for friends, and I had strong feeling, anger, at not having friends. Acting became the great escape. I had this huge emotional life inside of me and no other place to let it out.”

 

She studied classical piano, performed in oratorical contests in junior high, and was one of six Jewish girls to attend an Episcopalian girls high school. She would come home, eat dinner, and her father would drive her 45 minutes away to the Burlington County Footlighters where she performed in plays such as “Take Her She’s Mine” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

 

As it was, she sailed off in triumph after high school. She’d been accepted at Carnegie-Mellon University, where she obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, but there “they really want you to come crashing into reality, which was very difficult for a person like myself who was living on a summit of creativity. You know Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘Renascence?’

 

All I could see from where I stood

was three long mountains and a wood

… The world stands out on either side,

no wider than the heart is wide;

Above the world is stretched the sky

— No higher than the soul is high.

… The soul can split the sky in two,

and let the face of God shine through.

But East and West will pinch the heart

That can not keep them pushed apart;

And he whose soul is flat — the sky

Will cave in on him by and by.

 

“That poem was so important to me. I didn’t know exactly why, but when you have your heart set in living up there, you have this idea that theater is where you’ll find it, or feature films, and you don’t realize that your heart is where you find it inside you.

 

“You have to come to grips with life inclusive of reality, and reality is tough. I was finally doing what I had most wanted to do in the world, but at Carnegie, you study acting, and they don’t put you on a stage for two years. That almost killed me. They break you down and teach you a new way of talking and walking and looking at life.

 

“Plus I didn’t know how to handle my peers, not to mention that half of them were men. There was a whole world of sexuality I knew nothing about. It was frightening. I felt pressed upon by so many things, the weight of the world, I guess, and in my anger — and to relieve the anxieties, the worries and the strain, I ate.

 

“Oh my God, how I ate. I just played those food machines like the slot machines at Las Vegas, until they came up empty. The ice cream machine! The microwave and sandwich machine was a disaster. I just ate my way through Carnegie until I was all puffed up. I didn’t know how to express anger and stand up for myself. Eating was my way of rebellion. I had this picture of how my life was going to be and when the reality didn’t match up, it was difficult. And then all of a sudden, I was out of school and in New York.

 

“I think it was really harder for my mother and dad than it was for me. I’ve told you that they shared my dream. It was hard for me when I didn’t work. For them it was frightening and frustrating. It was ‘our little girl is having a hard time.’

 

“And it was doubly frustrating because they weren’t out there having the experience of doing it as I was. They didn’t go to those tryouts, they didn’t get those rejections and learn from them. I couldn’t explain to them that hard as it was, it was O.K. It was going to turn out O.K. I had the sense that I would be able to use this experience and grow. But this is a strange business, and I was fat.

 

“Everything came to me as I began to discover and feel different inside. And those discoveries came during the periods when I wasn’t working, wasn’t successful, and began to investigate why not. How was I stopping myself from the good that I dreamed? The time finally came when I was no longer going to blame the director or the producer or the scripts.”

 

Actually, Light’s tough times were the usual. She worked her apprenticeship in regional theater, repertory in Milwaukee, in Seattle, in Toronto, and finally a lead on Broadway in a play, “Herzi,” which closed in one week. “I came close to giving up. But there was that dream. All I could see from where I stood were three long mountains and a wood.”

 

And at the moment she thought of trying another field, psychology or law, the phone rang. Her agent was calling. She was wanted as an understudy on a soap opera. “I had told my parents and myself, never, never was I going to end up on a soap opera — and as an understudy yet!”

 

As it turned out, they didn’t need an understudy. They needed a new actress on “One Life to Live” for the part of Karen Wolek, the lonely housewife who spends her days working as a prostitute — the part that turned Light’s life around.

 

“Oh, yes, it did. For Karen I had to go inside and see how much pain was actually there. I had to be willing to expose it, give it to the world to share, let it come out no matter how unattractive it might have been. Karen wasn’t everybody’s favorite perky little girl. She was angry and manipulative, and Larry Wolek was a darling, a kind, good man. You didn’t go turning tricks behind his back. But I was able to show why she was that way. People began to understand her loneliness, wanted Larry to understand about her, and wanted her to be able to change her life.

 

“I think off of the responsibility for what happens with us in our lives is a result of the way we view life and the way we put that view in action. Because of Karen, I stopped pushing against the river and started swimming with it. Life wasn’t dealing me exactly the hand I’d had in mind, but it was giving me something else.

 

“If I wanted to be unhappy about it, I could; but I could also be happy, enjoy creating rich, full-dimensional character, make good money, and stop fighting every inch of the way. It was probably the major lesson of my life: acceptance. Very important. I’m still doing that. I have ideas, I have goals; but I no longer am locking myself in.”

 

She had always said she’d never do a soap. She’d always said she’d never marry an actor. But when Light left “One Life to Live,” the script had Karen running off with her lover who in real life was Judith’s husband, Robert Desiderio. She’d met him on that soap!

 

“Robert has been an extraordinary support for me,” she says. “If I find myself getting too far into the future, he will pull me back on track. He says, ‘Just stay in the present. Go with what your heart tells you — your experience, your gut.’ He understands, of course, because he has faced the same challenges, the same highs and lows. He was starring on the series ‘Heart of the City.’ It was canceled. And make no mistake, that was difficult. It is difficult when one partner is working and the other isn’t. You just have to keep talking, telling each other your feelings. Now he’s doing the lead in Gordon Miller’s play ‘Room Service’ at the Pasadena Playhouse. It’s great!

 

“We love each other very much and are totally committed to making our lives work individually and together. He is a constant source of joy to me. He’s — I don’t know how to put it without making it sound soppy — so willing to be himself.”

 

In person, she looks much younger than Angela Bower, and when you say so, she explains that for Angela she wears “a lot more makeup and much more sophisticated clothes. She’s uptight and more controlled, more conservative than I. Those traits have a tendency to make one look older, and in life I’m not like that. Really, ever since Robert and I came to California in late ’82, I’ve been on what you might call an energy flow. I began to notice that I was doing something differently.”

 

She did one movie, “The Intimate Agony,” and had two parts in TV after coming west on “St. Elsewhere” and on “Family Ties,” and then nothing until the summer of ’83 when she was called in to read for the pilot of “Who’s the Boss?” ABC was building this comedy series around “Taxi” star Tony Danza.

 

“I used to say I’d never do a sitcom, but by now I was concerned with only one thing: with what energy am I walking into this audition? I had decided that it was too easy to put the blame on scripts or executives. No blaming the script. If they were looking for a girl with a mole on the left cheek of her derriere, I wasn’t their girl; but I certainly could feel good about the way I read and the way I felt. So it worked.

 

“Oh, and Tony Danza. I love him, I love him. I don’t know anyone in the world like him. He’s smart, he’s fast, he’s funny, he teaches. A really powerful man. He’s taught me a lot about comedy. So has Katherine Helmond. I’d been doing drama for so long, and you couldn’t ask for better people to teach you about comedy.

 

“Women have all been desperate to be independent, strong and powerful, to work in the marketplace and be accepted. So here’s a woman who does that, but now she’ learning something I think important we all learn again — that it’s not just a matter of women and men, we’re all people, and we can be dependent on someone and allow them to support and help us.

 

“Angela is a very independent woman who feels good about herself but now is allowing herself to lean a little, to let someone come into her life and be supportive, and enjoy that strength. We have a different kind of family. We are together not by blood, but because we want to be together. And viewers write in to say they’d love to live in a family like that.

 

 

“Well, I am, and I love it. I want to live this moment. This now. I want to keep on living happily with ‘Who’s the Boss?’ — feeling good about that, feeling terrific about ‘Hit and Run,’ feeling wonderfully fulfilled and loving with Robert. If you have this moment, then the next moment takes care of itself. If you’re not living now, if you’re thinking about what you did or what you’re going to do, you’re not ‘now.’ All the moments add up, and you have your life. Right at this moment, mine has come around full circle.”