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Holland Taylor on Embracing Sexy Roles at 74

The star of Stephen King's upcoming "Mr. Mercedes" opens up about avoiding formulaic roles for women and her life as one half of a Hollywood power couple with Sarah Paulson.

At 74 years old with a career spanning five decades, Holland Taylor has played several memorable roles in television, film and the stage, and most of them can be described as self-assured, strong, and sexually active. While most women her age are relegated to playing sassy grandmas or overbearing mothers of adult children, Taylor joins contemporaries like Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in the ability to turn stereotypes on their heads and create fully-fleshed post-menopausal women who not only have something to say, but also do more than nag, parent, or serve as an out-of-touch elder. From her Emmy-winning role as Judge Roberta Kittleson on The Practice to the narcissistic bisexual Evelyn Harper on Two and Half Men, Taylor is a consistent scene stealer, and her part in the new EPIX series Mr. Mercedes (which premieres August 9) is no different.


As Ida Silver, Taylor's on-screen priority is to keep everything in her life impeccable—and that includes not just her house and yard, but her super banging body and sex life, too. In the first episode of the adaptation of Stephen King's horror trilogy, Ida shows a nude to her neighbor Bill (series star Brendan Gleeson) and demands a positive reaction. She then offers him sex, because she can see that he is in need, and she can be of service.

"That happens to Holland Taylor. Not to be Trump-like in quoting myself in the third person, but yeah, yeah I'm very lucky," Taylor told Broadly during the Television Critics summer press tour. "I'm lucky big time."

Taylor's character wasn't in the original novel, so when series EP David E. Kelley called her and said he had her in mind for the role, she trusted him like she had before. "I think I just said yes," she described. "I don't even think I read it. I said I'd do anything with him, if he felt I was the one to do something. And then Stephen King added to the attraction tremendously. He's a creative genius."

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Kelley was the man behind her award-winning role as a driven and unapologetic judge on The Practice, which she played from 1998 to 2003. "David wrote a very provocative character and women my age don't play characters like that," Taylor said of Roberta, her character that was initially a one-episode bit part but turned into a series regular. "It was a groundbreaker, so I got some personal pleasure forging and digging up new dirt. And it was complicated because she was a very, very good judge and very smart woman, and to play this combination of someone who also has a personal life—it gets difficult and challenging at the same time."


As Ida, Taylor is just as much of a go-getter, the kind of woman who says exactly what she needs or wants, which is not unlike the actress herself.

Mr. Mercedes follows Gleeson's Bill Hodges, a retired cop who is haunted by the cold case of a man who drove a stolen Mercedes into a crowd, murdering several people. The violence doesn't end in the pilot, however, and a lot of the show is just as creepily King-esque as fans might expect. Taylor said she hasn't had to do anything quite as scary as when she came across a scene in the script that required her to drop her robe in front of Bill.

"I think I instantly called up the producer and said 'You know, I can't do that. I mean if I were 35, maybe—and I don't even know if I would do it then. 'You gotta use a double,'" she said. "Fortunately, the double had this rocking body and was probably 45. I said, 'OK. Alright. I can live with that!'"

Still, she noted, Mr. Mercedes is a thriller, and Ida will undoubtedly face some threats in the future, as anyone who is close to Bill "is in jeopardy." But she's not looking to be a scream queen if it means she has to engage in some combat.

"I once in a television show had to do a violent thing—I was attacked by a man and I had to scratch his face and beat him off of me," she said, "and it was shattering. It's really shattering." She says she can't even watch some of the scenes her co-star Kelly Lynch has to film for Mr. Mercedes. "She goes above and beyond what any actress should do. It was upsetting to me," Taylor said. "And my first thought was, 'Oh my god, Kelly, this is gonna be so hard for you.' She has guts."


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Taylor and Lynch have been a part of an ensemble cast before, as both had recurring roles on Showtime's The L Word, which the network has recently announced has a chance at being rebooted with cameos from former characters. Taylor played Peggy Peabody on the lesbian drama, a billionaire who had a thing for modern art and much younger men (as well as a same-sex dalliance herself). "Ain't nobody called me!" Taylor said of the reboot, but added that she'd be wiling to return "on the same basis I did before—which was when available." That's the kind of commitment she's looking for with projects now, which is to say, nothing that will tie her down.

"At my age, it's crazy to be signed and sealed and delivered in anything exclusively," she said. "You never know what will happen and want to have your options open."

Outside of Mr. Mercedes, Taylor will pop up on Seth MacFarlane's new live-action series The Orville, a Star Trek-esque comedy coming to Fox this September. "It's gonna be funny as shit," Taylor said. "He's written something so charming and out of the box… The message of it is life never really changes. It's set like 300 years in the future, and it was a lot of fun." Taylor plays MacFarlane's mother on the show, but she said the character, in typical Holland Taylor fashion, is not a typical mom.

"I just want characters that are real," she said. "I don't want characters that are formulaic or cliche. And too often, roles for women are. But they're getting much better. I don't want to play a nice mother. I want to play an interesting person. If she's a wife, that's got to be secondary to who she is. If she's a mother, it's got to be secondary to why she exists. You don't want to play a job or position."


Taylor has excelled in several mother roles, despite never having been one herself. The actress is currently in a power couple partnership with actress Sarah Paulson, and in her free time, enjoys a happy, childless life of hiking, traveling, and reading—although she says the election and subsequent fallout has "destroyed" her reading habits.

"When I think of the hours I spend watching the damn news," she said, "It's really like an addiction. But our nation—we're about to be in a constitutional crisis. You've gotta be interested. And I wonder what is the best way to be interested."

Taylor said she checks her Twitter feed for news ("I might just in the morning check out Reuters and the Post and the Times. I also see right away people's reactions—global reactions to things—which is very interesting. Talk about living in interesting times!"), and that if she were "younger," she would "absolutely run for office—no question."

"If I were in my 40s, I'd go into politics," she said, adding that her experience playing Governor Ann Richards in her Tony-nominated stage play Ann inspired her to be more politically conscious. "She was a politically active housewife. She was a housewife until she was 40-something, and then she ran for city council and she became a county commissioner, which was a very important powerful role in the state with big responsibilities. Had she been 10 years younger when she left the governor's mansion, she would have been the first woman president. No question in my mind."

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Writing and playing Ann was "an achievement of a lifetime," Taylor said, adding that she almost didn't feel the need to find that kind of role again. But she keeps getting offers for things that are too good to pass up—opportunities to play that unconventional, unexpected woman that has kept Taylor as part of the zeitgeist for more than 50 years.

"I'm of a certain age where you're not going to just give me some formulaic part because you know I'm not going to take it," she said. "I've been around for a while."