PASADENA, Calif. - Actress Gabrielle Anwar has always been a rebel. It plunged her into trouble when she was a teen-ager and again as an adult.
She’s the first to admit that with a laugh. “I’ve been hounded by a reputation of being difficult when really what I’m being is truthful and honest,” says Anwar, alighting on a mahogany chair in a dining room at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel here.
“And I think that’s been a thorn in my side. I auditioned for a lot of work and got some good feedback, and then was told I wasn’t the choice.”
After a memorable performance as the murderous Princess Margaret in “The Tudors,” Anwar is costarring in USA’s new caper series, “Burn Notice,” premiering June 28. Anwar plays the sassy Irish girlfriend of a CIA agent who is terminated under mysterious circumstances. He often enlists her help in his odyssey to ferret out the truth.
Anwar is back after an extensive hiatus. One day she was dancing the tango with Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman,” and the next day, poof! - she was the invisible woman. Her absence was her choice, she insists.
She was only 19 when she followed her sweetheart, actor Craig Sheffer, to L.A. from her native England. “I fell in love with this incredible man who is the father of my daughter. I remember saying to him, `I don’t want to be yet another fish in such a huge pond. I want to have babies. I want to be a mommy, I want to do REAL LIFE.’ I’m not believing in the word coincidence these days,” she laughs, “but I suddenly found myself caught up in this industry.”
Almost immediately she snagged a role in a feature film and found herself inundated with lawyers, publicists, managers and agents. But Anwar had a mind of her own.
“I went against the advice of that entire team who were pocketing my paycheck making their quote-unquote executive decisions, and I remember saying, `I’m having a baby.’ And I remember one person within that team saying to me, `Is that a choice you want to make right now?’ And I said, `It’s already in my belly. The choice has been made.’
“I fired everyone and (ticked) a lot of people off. And I’m still paying for it,” she leans her elbows on the table. “I’m still reaping the repercussions of a choice that was made out of - I feel - out of a good place.”
Anwar is the daughter of a British actress and film editor Tariq Anwar, who was born in India of Persian descent. She has three children, a 13-year-old daughter with Sheffer and a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter with actor John Verea, from whom she’s divorced.
Dressed in a lacy camisole with narrow pink straps and blue denims, Anwar says, “Being married is something I don’t care to repeat because, for me, it’s been an idea of something that is an unfair ritual ... This sounds like something out of a film,” she chuckles, “I remember thinking, `This is not fair, this is not right. I’m raising children, which is the most difficult job on the planet and the most rewarding, the hardest job that one isn’t compensated for.’
“I remember thinking, `That is not what my husband is doing, despite what a wonderful man he is. He was raised to believe this is woman’s work. And even though he participates and is incredibly supportive - compared to most fathers - I’m doing this work. I’m making dinner. I’m being a wife, trying to be as attractive as I can, trying to put out with my sexuality to the degree that will keep my husband interested in me and not in other women. I’m pulling my weight financially. I’m doing all this stuff, and I’m feeling this incredible inequality ... And I’m a pagan. I’m a ... pagan and this isn’t for me. This institution that was invented to control women and I’m not willing to be controlled any longer.’”
After juicy roles in “Love or Money,” “Things to Do in Denver when You’re Dead” and “The Three Musketeers,” parts became more sporadic as Anwar, 37, concentrated on her kids.
Once they were in school, she had time to resume acting. But it wasn’t easy muscling her way back. All that changed with TNT’s “The Librarian: The Return to King Solomon’s Mines,’ she thinks.
“The director and producer insisted I be cast regardless of what may have been said about my reputation. And for those two wonderful gentlemen I’m eternally grateful because I feel I haven’t made poor choices, I’ve just made choices that were important to me as a woman.”
With this new role as the feisty Fiona on “Burn Notice,” she says, “I’m loving everything about it. But I declare absolute narcissism. I’m so taken by my character - particularly having hungered for something that was worth getting my teeth into for an awfully long time.
“At the end of the day I feel I’ve been independent, steadfast and proud. Unfortunately for a woman, that equals bitch or diva. For a man it seems to elicit respect ... I can’t raise children without teaching them that what is important to somebody is worth fighting for, even if it means putting your career on the back-burner and having it fizzle and burn.”
Viewers are going to have to look a little farther this fall to find the best shows. Not only is cable creeping up on the networks in every category, some of the also-rans are turning in some first place entries. Take the CW for instance. This network, which was an uneasy alliance between the the WB and UPN, has come up with a couple of winners. “Reaper,” is a hilarious show about a poor bumbling lad who discovers that, before his birth, his parents accidentally sold his soul to the devil. Ray Wise (“The Closer”) conjures up a saucy devil and Bret Harrison plays the hapless guy who’s forced to play the devil’s advocate. Also on the little-network-that-could look for “Aliens in America,” in which a teenager finds himself big brother to a Muslim teen in an exchange-student program. Both are funny and both appropriate for the whole family.
Bill Paxton, who’s so great at the patriarch of a polygamous family on HBO’s “Big Love,” has already earned his kudos in films like “Twister” and “Titanic.” But his life nearly took a right-angle turn. “My senior year I was studying chemistry and wanted to be a marine biologist, but math and science kinda killed me so I transferred into drama class,” he says.
“I thought it would be easy and I could just skate through it. But I had one of most inspirational teachers of my life, a woman named Rosemary Burton ... She compelled you on a personal level to not show up to class unless you’d prepared your homework. She would let us do any scene from any play. So we were doing scenes from `Hair’ and things. She was one of these people you’d be so ashamed if you didn’t do your best for her. I never forgot her. And I liked it.”
Lisa Ling may have ankled “The View,” but she hasn’t been dragging her feet. Her documentary “Slave Girls of India,” arriving June 24 on Oxygen, explores the practice in India of trafficking young girls either as workers or prostitutes. Helming this kind of project is Indian Oceans away from “The View.”
“I’ve had a great time at `The View,”` and honestly, had I not done `The View,’ I don’t know that I would be able to do the kinds of stories that I’m able to do for Oxygen and on `Oprah,’” says Ling.
“But it’s just a very different kind of job. And a lot of people don’t realize that I worked as a journalist for seven years prior to going to `The View,’ and I’d always had every intention of getting back into the field. So I am honestly the lucky one. I get to do stories that I’m extremely passionate about, and my hope is that we will be able to raise awareness about these issues.”
Ling says she’s as puzzled as anyone as to why such an inane program as “The View” is suddenly hot news. “I actually have no idea. You know, I’m confounded by that question. Yet I’m asked that question every day. I’m really - I’m astounded that people really care. I really am. I have to be frank.”