UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - In this youth-obsessed society actresses often worry they’re too old for a role. But Cheryl Hines was convinced she was too young. For seven years Hines played Larry David’s patient wife on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a role she was sure she wouldn’t win.
“I asked my agent before I went in (to audition), ‘How OLD do you think I am?’ He said, ‘Just go in. Have a great audition and maybe you’ll get cast in something else, at least you’ll get to meet them.’ ... I was pretty relaxed about it. It was improv. I had nothing to prepare. I wasn’t worried about my lines or anything and they told me this character has heard it all from Larry before, she puts up with him. She can call him out on stuff, and that was it.”
Of course, she was right. Hines is 18 years younger than David. But after viewing the first day’s work, she was heading for the elevator when he came running after her. “Which is odd because Larry doesn’t run up to people,” she smiles.
“And he said, ‘If this becomes something else, I’d like you to play my wife.’ I said, ‘OK, I’d love to.’ I got home and I said, ‘I think something just happened. Maybe something’s going on I don’t know about.’ I remember feeling my life just changed, but I didn’t know how.”
Her life did change big time. She went from reciting fewer than five lines on shows to costarring on a cult hit. On March 26 Hines costars on ABC’s new sitcom, “In the Motherhood,” in which she plays a frazzled single mother. Before “Curb” she’d done one re-enactment and bit parts. But she was earning her living as a bartender at the Intercontinental Hotel in Los Angeles. And it had been six years since she’d come to L.A. dreaming of an acting career.
“I was bartending and I had fallen in love with this investment banker I thought was the man of my dreams. He turned out to be a cheater, and I broke up with him,” she says.
“But my spirit was really wounded. And I was so far away from my family and didn’t even have the money to fly home. I came to the crossroads where I thought, ‘Am I just going to die alone in this one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood being a bartender, never having love?’”
She finally decided, “‘It’s OK if I die here in my one bedroom apartment in West Hollywood. I’ll do plays.’ I really had to define what happiness meant to me. I had to know if I could be happy in a one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood. And I could. I realized I have really good friends, love my family and if I never pay my rent acting that’s OK because I feel like I will find success in acting somehow, some way, even if it’s a little theater on Santa Monica Boulevard that nobody goes to on a Saturday night. If you’re there with good people and you’re really making something and you feel it, then that’s what it’s about.”
Ever since she was little, Hines wanted to perform, but she postponed launching her career when she got out of college. “Though I knew I wanted to be an actor I didn’t have it in me to move away from my family to pursue that career. I felt like I’d know when it was time to do that because I really felt I was giving up my life and didn’t want to do that if I felt like I wasn’t ready. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I wanted to be as prepared as I could because it was such a big sacrifice to me.”
Finally she was ready, but her stepfather was stricken with cancer. She stayed on with her family during his illness and after his death, three months later, she still couldn’t leave.
“I’m very close with my mom and about six months later she told me, ‘You have to move. I know you’ve been wanting to do this.’ I said, ‘I don’t know if I can do that.’ She said, ‘I won’t forgive you if you don’t.’ So that’s when I packed up my Toyota Tercel and I had about $2,000 to my name when I moved to Los Angeles.”
In a chance meeting with one of Phil Hartman’s sisters, Hines learned of the Groundlings Theater of improv. She investigated the next night and fell in love with the process. Though she talked about the Groundlings endlessly, she didn’t have the money for classes. Finally her co-workers got together and financed her first session.
It was while she was on the Groundlings Board of Directors that she met her husband, talent manager Paul Young, who also serves as her manager. They have a 4-year-old daughter. Being a team both at work and at home can be a challenge. “It seems to work for us because we’re really on the same page and have a very good shorthand with each other,” she says.
“I’m lucky too that my daughter is very well adjusted and seems to understand that I like to go to work. She comes to the set and hangs out in my trailer and she likes being a part of it. You’re fortunate as an actress and it’s not always the best idea to bring your daughter to your trailer because if you’re working out something sometimes you need that 20 minutes to clear your head. But I would rather spend that 20 minutes with her.”
Andrew Davies, the Welsh writer who has adapted both Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to the small screen with great dexterity, will be showing off again March 29 (check local listings) on PBS with Dickens’ “Little Dorrit.”
The book is well-populated with colorful Dickens characters, though it is not one of his better known novels. As for the 70-year-old Davies, he seems to turn out scripts faster than Dickens himself. “Well, I’ve tried to explain this before,” he says. “I am a very fast writer. I have no private life, and I have no friends, no hobbies. I just sit there, ripping it off. There are rumors that I have six girls chained in the attic - all graduates of Oxford University - typing it out, but that’s not true. I do actually do the scripts myself. I remember Muriel Sparks saying once, you know, ‘You get your novels out pretty regularly,’ and she said, ‘Yes. I write fairly fast, and I never revise.’ I’m trying to follow her example, but people do make me do rewrites now and then.”
CBS is planning to spook everybody with its new “Harper’s Island” thriller premiering April 9. Jon Turteltaub, executive producer of the mystery series says it can be tricky handling the dark side. “It’s television, and so you are somewhat stuck trying to please everybody, and by ‘please everybody,’ what you mean is not get letters from anybody.
“So how do you push the boundaries? And it does get to kind of semantics and demographics. Studies say, if you say ‘horror,’ women won’t watch. OK? Not true, but that was it. But if you say ‘mystery,’ women will come in droves. OK? What does that mean? If you have a ‘murder mystery,’ they will come in even bigger droves. If you say ‘blood and gore,’ then they will stay away. I think that’s a little bit of a fallacy about women, and there’s women who love it, women who don’t, and all of that. Obviously, we can’t do what you would do in a movie like ‘Saw.’ OK? But if we just do ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ then why watch? So, definitely, this is going to push it - we are definitely going to be bringing in a much younger audience than you would get on ‘Diagnosis Murder.’
A special will be woven around Michael J. Fox and his endurable optimism when ABC offers, “Michael J. Fox: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist” on May 7. Fox has been able to keep his stability while fighting Parkinson’s disease, and some of that grit will be shared by the people he talks to on the special - from ordinary folk to high flying names. Fox credits his parents for giving him a grounded commonsense. “And Tracy gave it back to me,” he says of his wife, actress Tracy Pollan. “We’re different. I like sports. I’m more garrulous and demonstrative. She grew up upper middle-class Manhattan and I grew up lower middle-class Canada. But we come from families where family is everything.”