Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker don’t mind sharing a dressing room. They’re just an old happily married couple who happen to be at the same success level in their careers--a rarity in Hollywood. But it wasn’t always so.
“Ten years ago, my career was taking off,” Eikenberry remembers, “and Mike’s wasn’t, so he went to a psychiatrist to help him work through it.” Eventually “L.A. Law” came along and evened everything out.
“Now we’re not suffering from that problem,” says Eikenberry, who plays attorney Ann Kelsey alongside Tucker’s Stuart Markowitz. “Now we have to deal with the overwhelmingness of success--just balancing it and getting it in perspective. The business of celebrity sometimes becomes too much.”
On the other hand, it also gives them bountiful opportunities--not only to exercise their professional talents but also to address social issues that concern them. They seem to be making the most of this side of their success: They’ll be all over the tube this month--and “L.A. Law” doesn’t even return until Nov. 3.
Eikenberry will host and co-produce a prime-time special on NBC Oct. 12 about breast cancer (a disease from which she has recovered). She stars in a TV movie called “A Stoning in Fulham County” that will air Oct. 24 on NBC. The two of them are featured in an ABC family drama on Oct. 15.
And they’ll also be seen throughout the month in a series of commercials (as will Burt Lancaster) defending the American Civil Liberties Union against the verbal assault that Vice President George Bush has waged on the organization in his presidential campaign against Democrat Michael Dukakis.
“We feel it’s important to get the proper message to the American public as to what the ACLU is and what it stands for,” they said in a joint statement this week about the commercials, which they will write.
“We believe what Vice President Bush is saying is devastating for the country. Like Gov. Dukakis, we are proud to be supportive of the ACLU and its efforts on behalf of all Americans.”
W hat drew them to the most unlikely of star vehicles, an “ABC Afterschool Special,” was something else that is important to them: “Finding good words, so then we can look like good actors,” Tucker summed up in an earlier interview.
“A Family Again,” which ABC has decided to give a prime-time airing on Oct. 15 instead of the usual weekday afternoon slot, deals with a family coping with the accidental death of their eldest teen-age daughter.
“It wasn’t the kind of work I was looking for,” Tucker said. “When Henry (Winkler, the producer) mentioned it, I thought, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Then I read it. I was shocked at how good the script (by Camille Thomasson) was and how it moved me. It approaches death and dealing with death in an honest way--something we should all do. If we accept our inevitable death, we can live.”
“I think kids will like and be affected by this program,” Eikenberry said. “But it will speak to anyone who’s had any kind of loss. It’s a unique approach to a subject that’s been done before.
“The parents aren’t the wise ones here. The mother tries so hard not to fall apart, and in so doing falls completely apart. The father pretends it didn’t happen and goes off to the office all the time. The middle sister forces the parents to find each other and get help from each other.”
(In a bizarre and tragic analogue, the actress who played the youngest daughter in the program, Judith Barsi, was shot and killed July 27 by her real-life father, who also shot his wife before taking his own life. “A Family Again” will be dedicated to Barsi.)
The Oct. 12 documentary about breast cancer, “Destined to Live: 100 Roads to Recovery,” which Eikenberry is producing with Linda Otto, will include interviews with First Lady Nancy Reagan, Gloria Steinem, Julie Harris and Vonette McGee.
“We’re all standing up and being counted so other women won’t feel there’s a stigma involved,” Eikenberry said. “We want to show there’s life and success after breast cancer, so people won’t be afraid to do those precautionary things (mammograms, self-examinations).
“It’s also for women who have already been diagnosed, so they won’t feel so alone. One thing that got me into a hopeful frame of mind (with her own breast cancer) was talking to other women.
“I remember one woman took me into the ladies room and hiked up her dress and showed me her scar and said, ‘This happened seven years ago.’ You see someone who lived through it and is in great shape, and you’re encouraged. That’s what this documentary hopes to be.”
Eikenberry has fully recovered from the radiation therapy she received early in the first season of “L.A. Law.” Her prognosis is excellent, she said.
“It was very important for me to do this documentary,” she said. “On a personal level I have a tendency, because I’m optimistic, to put it away and pretend it didn’t happen. But being able to face one’s own mortality does give one a new lease on life.”
She also feels a responsibility to other women.
“My mother is an activist in terms of the community, the environment and politics, so I have it in my genes. I do have my share of guilt about the inordinate amount of money, fame and publicity that goes with being a celebrity. With this documentary, I’m not just serving myself.”
As with many of Eikenberry’s projects, Tucker will also be part of “Destined to Live.”
“We’ll be talking to husbands (including Tucker) because they’re profoundly affected by breast cancer,” she said. “Mike has been really helpful with the planning. He produced an off-Broadway play a couple years ago, and he enjoys organizing things.”
Working together is not a requirement for the couple, but “we do enjoy it,” Eikenberry said. They were apart for a time this summer when she was in North Carolina making “A Stoning in Fulham County” for NBC and he was in Canada working on a movie for CBS, “Day One.” Their 6-year-old son Max visited one, then the other.
“Working together gives us a kind of freedom we don’t always have under other circumstances,” Eikenberry said. “We do work well together. But basically we’re committed to finding good scripts. That’s the challenge.”
“She has no standards,” Tucker quipped, baiting his wife of 15 years. Her response was a smile. “We’re competitive,” he continued. “We both have healthy actor egos.”
“He has a phone in his car,” Eikenberry mock-complained. “I don’t have one.”
“You can use mine,” Tucker teased. After a pause, he added: “We do get along really well. We don’t take anything too seriously.”
“If one of us loses perspective, the other helps us get it back,” Eikenberry said. “If we both lose it, God forbid!”
Working together on “L.A. Law” has been a satisfying experience for them both.
“There are no stars,” Tucker said, “and we all take pride in that. The show is the thing that gets heat. I think we both feel we’ll stay with it as long as it goes.”
“We could be really egomaniacal by that time,” Eikenberry joked.
“You look at people who leave shows,” Tucker continued. “Usually it’s a dumb move.”
“Everybody is such a good guy on ‘L.A. Law,’ ” Eikenberry said. “Nobody’s saying, ‘What is he making?’ I feel everybody is happy for everybody else. During the hiatus, we’ve called each other.”
“And the producers are really smart,” Tucker added. “They let the actors out to do other projects. So we can make movies, have a family and still find time to play golf.”