Interview Transcript

Best known for her role as Christine Cagney in the CBS police series
She was in Montreal to shoot a CBS made-for-TV movie called
The interview was aired on Wednesday, June 18, 1997
It was conducted by Peter Anthony Holder
the evening talk show host on
CJAD 800 AM, Montreal

CJAD: You're here in Montreal to shoot THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. Tell us about the role you play.

SHARON: Well I'm doing a movie here for CBS, called THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. The girl next door is played by Tracey Gold. It's the story about a young girl who comes into the police station and confesses, or tries to confess, to a murder that happened two years ago. Where I come in is I'm the psychiatrist who is assigned to pull the story out of her.

CJAD: So you are once again working in a police environment.

SHARON: Actually that's true. That's where this character apparently sort of volunteers work for the police department. She has her own practice, but she just happened to be in the police station when the young girl came in. And then the girl, Tracey's character, changes her mind and runs. My character obviously sees the pain she's in and goes to her house to see if she can help.

CJAD: You've had a varied career. Probably the most famous thing you've done is playing Chris Cagney for those years on CAGNEY & LACEY, and I'm just wondering if you find yourself typecast. That people want to put you in that role all the time?

SHARON: No. When I first stopped shooting CAGNEY & LACEY, people came up with sort of ersatz ideas of a police detective and I said, "I've already done that part." But no, I don't think I loose parts because I played Christine. Just sometimes people want to copy it, and you can't copy her. You know the expression, "been there, done that, have the tee-shirt!" (laughter)

CJAD: It's interesting because you made that role your own, but weren't the first person to do that role.

SHARON: That's right, I was the third. First Loretta Swit played it with Tyne Daly. Then Meg Foster played it with Tyne Daly and then Sharon Gless played it with Tyne Daly. Three's the charm I guess (laughter), because it certainly changed my life and everyone else's on the show.

CJAD: How much of yourself is in that particular character that you played? How much of Christine is you?

SHARON: Probably more then, than this is today. Do you know what I mean, because I keep changing. I don't believe there is any character that one can play for that long and not bring a piece of you to it. Unless your schizophrenic. So every role I play there will be a piece of me in here, (points to self), playing my character Gail, (the character in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR). There'll be some piece of me in there. It's in everything I do. I think that's true of just about everybody. You don't have to go somewhere to find it. You have to go inside first, I think.

CJAD: The reason why I mention that is because I remember the other two incarnations of Christine and what you brought to the role. I find in your portrayal of that role, and other roles I've seen you do, there's an intensity but also a sense of fun. There is a balancing act there that you bring to a role that I remember from your days in SWITCH.

SHARON: God, you are old! (laughter). Thank you very much. That's a wonderful memory, SWITCH. That was Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert. Boy, I learned at their knee. I tell you, both of those men taught me a lot when I did that show. And it's true. I played the kookie secretary who wanted to be in on all of the cons and they made her stay at home. Yeah, I've always been accused of having a sense of mischief and I'm very flattered that you say you can see it in the roles I play, because I think that's important, even if I do play intense characters, like especially Christine Cagney. Very intense. A very confused. A very flawed lady, but she was fun. I thought if I could bring the mischief, the fun, the irreverence to Christine....some of the things she did weren't very nice, you know. She would just run over Mary-Beth, (Tyne Daly role), if Mary-Beth were in her way. Not meaning to, you know, but she had her eye on something else. She adored Mary-Beth. I mean, it's not that she would intentionally hurt anybody....well, maybe, but if you do it with a slight spin and there is a sense of humour to it then the people still love her.

CJAD: You've done some TV movies in the CAGNEY & LACEY role after years of not doing the series. Was it like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes again?

SHARON: No. Because.....and it's funny, if you ask Tyne Daly that question, she'd say, "yes, it was just like stepping right back in." But I've always believed that Christine Cagney shouldn't be played past a certain age. And we did these women, we called them CAGNEY & LACEY: THE MENOPAUSE YEARS (laughter). The opening movie was the highest rated movie of the year of all three networks in our country, which is like this bonanza. But it took me awhile to figure out Christine at this age, you know. And they were writing scripts where Christine had hit the glass ceiling. And I always thought Christine would never hit the glass ceiling. I thought her dreams would take her. Maybe her dreams wouldn't take her where she wanted, but she still had her dreams. The way they were writing Christine as this older woman who got married, which she shouldn't have. Obviously got divorced right away. Reached the glass ceiling in the police precinct. So there is a part of her that died because she knows she couldn't go any farther. Well what do you do with a character like Christine Cagney and you tell her she can't have things? And she's older. You told her she couldn't have things when she was younger and she'd say, "yeah, right! Guess so, guess not!" But now it was not as comfortable for me. It was sadder. Not for Mary-Beth, but for Christine, who she was. She wasn't as grounded.

CJAD: How about getting back with the old gang. What was that like?

SHARON: Oh that was great. That was great. Our opening movie opened with Christine having a retirement party for Lt. Samuels, who was played by Al Waxman. So everybody who had been in the precinct was invited to this party to say goodbye to Waxman. So that's how we were able to incorporate it all and get everybody back in. Because the truth is Christine was at a different precinct now, so you couldn't all the cast where she worked. But by having the party for Samuels, everybody got to be in the same room together for awhile.

CJAD: How do you go about choosing the roles you decide to do?

SHARON: Oh, something inside here in the heart area. Something just happens when you read a part. You know, if you'd like to do it or if you don't believe it. That's the only way I know how to explain it. In my early days I was a contract player at Universal and I had a wonderful mentor named Monique James, who was head of talent there, and she used to drag me on sets to do parts. I would say, "no, no, no, I don't want to do that! I shouldn't do that!" If I hadn't listened to her I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you today. So my judgement alone hasn't always been....what's the word I want....if I had listened to myself every time, I probably wouldn't be working.

CJAD: I have had the opportunity to talk to many people who have worked through either the contract days of television or the contract days of movies and they get misty-eyed about what they learned going through the contract system, which we do not have anymore. Do you think the loss of that has changed the industry?

SHARON: Well the whole industry has changed, not because of that though. It's just a whole different place now. The studio system just isn't the way it was anymore. Do you are talking to the last contract playing in the history of Hollywood? Did you know that? I was the last one to leave. Then they didn't have them anymore after that. It was just a different time, but I don't know if the ceasing of contract players caused it. Studios were just run differently. There really was a head of a studio. There were people who loved their studios. Who worked for their studios and were loaned out to other people and everybody sort of got a piece. Well now there's a handful now.

CJAD: But as an actress, didn't that help you? Because as you say, you got to do things that maybe you wouldn't have chosen to do and you learned to do everything.

SHARON: Oh yeah, absolutely. I learned to do everything right...that people would believe.....yeah. I would never trade those years. When I was first offered the contract, people would say to me, "Oh my God, don't go there! You'll never be heard from again! That's what happens to contract players and studio!" And I said, "Well, it's not like anybody else has asked me!" You know, they were the first to invite me and they took me from behind a secretary's desk and put me in front of a camera. So I went with it. I would have paid them. I was so excited, I thought I would die. And I was there ten years. That's a long time to be at a studio.

CJAD: As I mentioned earlier, I've always noticed your sense of fun in all the characters you've played and I was just wondering if you have any desire to do just a bang out comedy?

SHARON: They make me nervous, especially because there are so many of them now. I don't know. I know on my network, which was CBS. I'm not really there anymore. Tyne and I were asked to leave, because of our age, along with Angela Lansbury. So I don't know how receptive they would be for doing a comedy with someone my age. There are only about three really, really good sitcoms on the air. So, I think there's too many of them. If it could be something really, really special. Really, really unusual. You know what I would really like to do? I'd like to do a half hour drama with comedy in it. You know what I'm saying? But not the typical ba-boom boom, you set the joke up and then the lead gets to say the line.....

CJAD: In other words, no laugh track, no audience. A dramatic comedy so to speak, or dramedy.

SHARON: Yeah, even a black comedy. Where it's a little eerie. I'd love to do that. But there are about three really fabulous ones on the air now and I don't know if I can do any better than that. I'd like to sort of forge new ground.

CJAD: Some of the comedy you are referring to actually exists in cable. Have you ventured into those areas. HBO...

SHARON: No, HBO will not allow....I've looked into their movies. HBO will not allow television people on their network. Did you know that? Even though it's television. Oh yeah, HBO movies only can have motion picture actresses in it. That's how they became as big as they are. If they didn't want.....they say, "we're not TV." Well, yeah they are! They don't want television actress on their channel. Michael Fuchs started that, but they've kept it now that he's gone.

CJAD: You've mentioned, several times now, the limitations of age, the limitations of roles, and I'm just wondering....

SHARON: Only for women though, it seems. It never seems to deter men. Network heads don't seemed to be turned off by the men who get older. But they have this belief that.....They say that Madison Avenue will only pay high dollars in advertising if they get the 18-35 age range. That's really what happened to Angela. Angela Lansbury had the highest rated show on Sunday night and held that spot for years and years and years, but ABC had LOIS & CLARK....

CJAD: Which is now cancelled, ironically.

SHARON: Well here's what happened to Angela. She had the highest numbers of anyone on a Sunday night, and did, always. LOIS & CLARK had lower numbers, but their viewing audience was 18-35, and Angela's was an older audience. She included even the young ones but she also held an older audience. So even is she had another 30% more than LOIS & CLARK the sponsors would pay more to be on LOIS & CLARK then to be on Angela's show.

CJAD: But I think a lot of that had to do as far as Angela's show is concerned, is not that it was a television show that had an older actress. But it was a television show that was geared towards an older audience, based on the way it was written. In the whole fabric of life, there are younger people and there are older people. If you just write the fabric of life, I think you'll attract an audience of all ranges. I don't necessarily think her show attracted a younger crowd because that the way the show was. Not because of her age.

SHARON: It may not have. No, I wasn't talking about Angela. I was talking about her show. Her show had older viewers and LOIS & CLARK had younger viewers. But Angela had at least 30% more viewers on the same night at the same time. I mean, she wiped everybody out. But the sponsors don't care when she had the most people. They only care about if there was only a handful of young viewers on the other one. That's what they wanted to go to.

CJAD: I think maybe it's the networks that don't understand that maybe if they write a show with older characters that was written in a younger way, perse, if that could be done. Maybe they are the ones who are misguided.

SHARON: I think you're right. I mean, the networks are only "yes men." They will do whatever Madison Avenue tells them too because Madison Avenue has the money and let's be serious, or honest. It's all about money.

CJAD: Well they're calling you back on the set, so I'm going to let you go.....

SHARON: I wanted to end on an up note!

CJAD: What do you have coming up next?

SHARON: That's not an up note! (laughter) I'm going to New York for my birthday and seeing for plays in three days. That's what I'm doing.

CJAD: Thank you very much for the time.

SHARON: Okay, bye.

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