"I'd like to be glamorous some time soon," Tyne Daly mused, "I'd like to be done with the sad and frumpy ladies. In some ways, I hope this is my definitive frump."
The frump of the moment is Lola in William Inge's "Come Back, Little Sheba," opening Friday at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. And Daly, the three-time Emmy winner who's spent the past five years pounding the television beat as NYPD detective Mary Beth Lacey, is looking forward to spreading her wings and taking on some uncharted terrain.
"Nobody ever begged me to go out and be an actor," she said philosophically. "I'm the one who's standing out there saying, 'You all watch me try and do this.' " She takes in stride a recent column by Times Theater Critic Dan Sullivan, skeptical of her casting. "Possibly he couldn't imagine Mary Beth as Lola. Well, neither could I. But I think I have more strings to my bow than that. And really, the important thing is that I can imagine myself as Lola--and the more I do it, the more I can convince people I'm right."
Daly, 41, was introduced to the "Sheba" script two years ago by director Ray Danton, with whom she'd worked on a couple of "Cagney & Lacey" episodes. "I made protests that I wasn't old enough to play 'Sheba,' " she recalled with a laugh. "Also, when I got pregnant, I was fearful of playing the violent second act." Now, however, with "Cagney & Lacey" wrapped for the season (and just renewed for the fall), the actress has turned her full attention to "Sheba."
"I didn't really know until we started working what a wonderful play it is," she acknowledged. "The more you look for, the more there is. It's wonderfully layered, beautifully built. I've really fallen in love with the play--and this woman." Of her propensity for playing mothers: "Certainly a lot that goes on for women (is the issue of motherhood.) Mary Beth is a wonderful mother. This woman (Lola) is the other side of the coin: someone who sustains the tragic loss of a baby and the news that there won't be any more."
Although Daly concedes that she never considered herself in this particular role, "I think I'm right for everything," she grinned. "I have proof to the contrary, of course. I've had my share of failures--which is one's right. I had one of the most disastrous readings of my career trying to play one of those ingenues in 'The Importance of Being Earnest' (at the Mark Taper, 1977). In the middle of it, I said to (director) Ed Parone, 'I don't know what I'm doing.' And he said, 'You're right. Go home.' "
Such setbacks have clearly been rare. Born in Madison, Wis., Daly trained at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Suffern, N.Y., (where she met and married actor/director Georg Stanford Brown in 1966) and has since racked up a long list of credits in theater ("Ashes," "Three Sisters," "Birthday Party," "Old Times"); film ("John and Mary," "The Enforcer") and television (more than 100 appearances, including "The Virginian," "The Entertainer" and "Intimate Strangers").
"Sometimes I'm good, sometimes I'm less good," she said of her work in "Cagney & Lacey" (she refers to the episodes as "47-minute movies"). "It depends on how much I like the (script), the mood I'm in, whether I'm ill or well, the season, whether or not my (three) children are being nice to me. An actor brings himself to the deal."
And tries to put on blinders to the surrounding activity.
"One time," she offered, "Mr. Sullivan saw me in 'Gethsemane Springs' and wrote an intriguing little sentence like 'Miss Daly is extraordinary.' Well, for about three days afterward, I tried to be extraordinary--and lost the play completely. So you can't believe reviews. That goes for TV too--believing the ratings. I don't; it's a false standard." And Emmys? "All that other stuff is extra to the work. Sure it affects us, but you have to know what's important and what's less important. The work is important."
Often in her early Hollywood days, the vehicles were not.
"You'd just say, 'Well, at least it'll be the best 'Beverly Hillbillies' this year, because I was in it," she said firmly. "You've got to talk yourself into it, not out of it. There are hundreds of people who'd be happy to knock you out of it. Of course, (nowadays) it can't just be any work. But to work is noble, to work is OK. Maybe because I went into the family business (her father was actor James Daly), I think of it as a profession, not an activity. I honor the work, and it has honored me back. I make a real good living, I get notices and attention for it, money and prizes. The business has been very good to me, honey."
And to her husband as well. Has it felt like one career or two?
"He's directed me more times than we've acted together, and some of those times it's felt very separate," Daly noted. "Sometimes we're on the same wavelength. The first time we played together was on 'The Rookies,' and there was this wonderful rush of 'Hey honey, it's you and me in the movies.' And there were some very good times at the beginning of 'Cagney & Lacey.' He directed two out of the first six (episodes), and we were really working in tandem, style-setting. A lot of people think series spring full blown, but you're really making it up as you go along."
Right now, the actress is clearly enjoying the creative challenges of her newest assignment.
"I have specific fish to fry here in terms of my own growth as an actress," she agreed. "I know more than when I started, which is good. I know less than I need to, which is also good, because I'm waiting for the fill-in of an audience, the communication that will shape the play. See, the biggest difference between movies and theater is the presence of the actor. In movies, you've got costumes, lights, sets, music--but the actor is a shadow on the wall. The best thing about theater is that I get to be here."