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Small Screen: Holland Taylor rides out roller-coaster life

BEVERLY HILLS, California — Multitasking isn’t a choice for actor Holland Taylor. It’s a necessity. It’s impossible for her to focus on just one thing, she says.
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Holland Taylor: Emmy Award for The Practice, memorable role in Two and a Half Men.

BEVERLY HILLS, California — Multitasking isn’t a choice for actor Holland Taylor. It’s a necessity. It’s impossible for her to focus on just one thing, she says.

“I think variety and change and mixing things up is essential for me because I have a kind of mild ADD and I jump from thing to thing,” she says.

“It’s very hard for me to do one thing for a long period of time. I’m much better if I have multitasking projects. If I’m involved in a project in which I apply myself in many different ways I do much better than somebody who just, like — I could not be a lawyer,” she shakes her head.

She grew up the youngest of three daughters of an attorney and a painter. She attended a Quaker boarding school where she was “a fair student.”

But she has managed to multitask her way through an enviable career. Taylor earned an Emmy for The Practice in 1999, conjured her own one-woman show on Broadway and memorably portrayed the self-absorbed mom on Two and a Half Men.

Now as the ginger-haired Ida on AT&T Audience Network’s Mr. Mercedes, (Super Channel Fuse in Canada) Taylor is usurping herself once again. She plays the straight-talking neighbour who slowly infiltrates the macho guard of her friend, a former policeman who’s under threat.

When Taylor graduated from college (where she was a drama major), she headed straight for New York and captured her first role almost immediately. She played a nun (among 20 other nuns) and earned a massive $125 a week. “That was 1965, and exactly the price of a Philips Norelco radio I wanted to buy,” says Taylor.

“I bought that radio. I think my rent was $140 month, the top floor of a very tiny little brownstone in Greenwich Village, and it was owned by the parents of a girlfriend of mine from Bennington (College) and she didn’t live there. This top floor had probably been an attic or laundry, I don’t know what the hell it was up there, but it was not a normal layout,” she recalls.

“It didn’t have working fireplaces, but for decor, you had fireplaces. It had little dormer windows that looked out on MacDougal Street. My bedroom looked out on a handkerchief park — it was a dream way of life.”

Her dream way of life was later shattered, she says, when her heroes of the period — Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. — were all assassinated within a short period of
time.

“I dropped out,” she sighs. “I just dropped out of public life. I did not read about politics. I did not vote. Didn’t read the newspaper. I just dropped out because I couldn’t live in an environment where my leaders — one after the other — were going to be assassinated, murdered. It’s almost like the Hitlers and the Mussolinis don’t get assassinated — I mean they get killed in the end — the good ones that stir passions for the common good, for some reason, they are the ones that draw the fire.”

She eventually regained her stability and continued to pursue acting, which she calls “being a gun for hire.

“And a gun for hire is not a career,” she says. “A doctor is a career. A lawyer is a career. An archeologist is a career. The work builds, and it’s a ladder, and you climb and you broaden and increase in your abilities and increase in your accomplishments, an actor’s life — from that angle — is a joke, is a sad joke.

“I’ve had situations where I’d audition for things where they would say to me later, ‘We’ve made such a mistake. We’re sorry we didn’t go with you for this other reason.’ Or sometimes it’s not a mistake, it just doesn’t go your way. It has nothing to do with your abilities. They say, ‘We actually needed a brunette.’ I’ve had that said to me and justifiably. There are very stupid reasons why you don’t get work.”

One of her proudest moments arrived when she wrote and starred in her solo show, “Ann,” about the late Texas governor Ann Richards. But she admits it exhausted her. “I literally think I had a true case of PTSD. I’d lost 20 pounds on that job. My doctor said, ‘You’re unable to eat enough to support this work.’ I became really frail after that long run, then my world disappearing, all those people gone, all the joy gone. I had a serious, serious depression afterward, which I believe was physical as well. I was in the hospital for a while. I just needed time, contemplation, and then back to work.”

Among her joys is her four-year relationship with sweetheart actress Sarah Paulson. “Talk about taking you off the beaten path,” she grins. “It’s something that I still have to shake my head and say, ‘Wait, wait, this is amazing because it’s just so unlike what life would normally expect to be for me at this time of your life. It’s completely opposite.’

“Here’s this very busy person all over the map working like crazy, but I can hardly keep up with her. There’s quite an age difference, but she certainly keeps me alert and on my toes. And she demands I be on my toes, and that I keep going strong ... It’s wonderful to have a mate who will acknowledge something you’ve done and who understands what an achievement it was. She knows exactly what you go through for everything. She’s very wise ...”