Piper Laurie's Peaks and Valleys

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I think wickedness is more effective in an innocent-looking package, don't you?," asked Piper Laurie. "People let themselves become more vulnerable around an innocent-looking package."

Laurie, who looks the innocent even after 40 years in show business, has played her share of wicked ladies-including her Oscar-nominated turn as the religious fanatic mother in Brian De Palma's 1976 thriller, "Carrie," and currently as the scheming Catherine Martell on ABC's "Twin Peaks."

But after playing a bevy of bad ladies, Laurie gets to show her human side in TNT's "Rising Son," which premieres Monday at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.

Brian Dennehy stars with Laurie as her factory foreman husband. Their lives change when the factory closes and he's unemployed. "She is very soft and very open and loving," said Laurie. "It was nice (to play that) for a change."

Laurie is returning to "Twin Peaks," so Catherine Martell must have survived the mill fire of last season's cliffhanger finale, right?

"Just wait," she said with a hearty laugh, "you haven't seen anything yet."

The actress had met David Lynch, "Twin Peaks" co-creator and executive producer, several times. "I was fond of him," she said. "I thought it would be a stimulating, fun thing to work with him and I was right. When I was offered the part, I grabbed it. I didn't think it would go beyond the pilot, because most (pilots) don't."

The actress had no inkling the series would become such a phenomenon. Recently, "a chef popped out of a restaurant kitchen and said, 'I am a 'Twin Peak-er.' Don't die in the fire.' "

Over the past 40 years, Laurie's career has had many peaks and valleys. As a contract player with Universal Studios in the early '50s, the actress was cast as the ingenue in lightweight movies.

Frustrated with one-dimensional roles, Laurie walked out of her contract. She said, "I wouldn't work again unless someone gave me a decent part."

Though Hollywood wasn't willing, live TV was. She got the chance to strut her stuff in the mid-'50s on an episode of "Robert Montgomery Presents."

"I had a couple of flamboyant scenes, very dramatic," she said. "I remember afterwards (director) Joe Mankiewicz called my agent to say what a wonderful young actress I was. It was the beginning of people respecting me at all."

She subsequently received Emmy nominations for her work in "Days of Wine and Roses," "The Deaf Heart" and "The Road That Led After." Her newfound success culminated with her Oscar nomination for best actress as Paul Newman's alcoholic, disabled girlfriend in 1961's "The Hustler."

At the peak of her career, though, Laurie retired from acting, married and gave birth to a daughter. "I was in the McGovern campaign in upstate New York," she said. "We had a group of musicians and actors and we would travel to colleges. There were about a dozen of us and sometimes we played to groups that were smaller than we were."

Laurie said she didn't miss the limelight: "My life was full. I always liked using my hands, and I always painted."

But she finally started to get the urge to act about 15 years ago. "When I was beginning to feel that it would be fun to act again, somebody must have gotten those vibrations out there," she said. The somebody was director Brian De Palma.

Her former agent called her up one day to tell her De Palma was interested in her playing the crazed mother of telekinetic Sissy Spacek in "Carrie."

"I read the script and thought it was a piece of . . . ," Laurie said, laughing. She told her now ex-husband the only way she thought it would work is if she played it as a satire. "He said, 'You know, De Palma has a comedic approach, maybe it's suppose to be that way.' "

But it wasn't. "Sissy and I were rehearsing a scene," she said. "I worked out this piece of business in a dramatic moment and Brian said, 'Wait a minute, Piper, you can't do that. You are going to get a laugh.'

"I stopped," said Laurie. "I had planned it for a laugh. I realized he didn't mean for it to be funny. He has a comedic sensibility that surrounds him, but that's not what I was suppose to be. But I really did't change my approach very much, and I still think I was funny in it."

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