Your eyes are not deceiving you. That blonde, slim, quiet woman in the ABC movie “The Last To Go” really is Tyne Daly.
Daly is best remembered for her role on “Cagney & Lacey” as Mary Beth Lacey, a detective who was dark-haired, square-bodied and outspoken.
“An actor should change his persona every 90 days,” said Daly, who changed her hair color and shed an unspecified number of pounds (“Not as much as people think”).
“It’s startling to people when actors change,” she said. “I like to work on the exterior of a character as well as the interior. I like the surprise of a change. I’m an actor. I like wigs and makeup and costumes and all the accouterments you work with.”
In the Monday night movie, Daly plays a woman who sees her life, marriage and family change over a 22-year period. Her children leave, then eventually her husband goes, leaving her alone in a big Connecticut home. She hangs onto the house as long as she can.
The movie also features Terry O’Quinn as her husband and Annabeth Gish, Tim Ransom and Julianne Moore as the children.
Daly transformed herself into a quiet Eastern woman for this equally quiet and somewhat melancholy drama. It is her first dramatic appearance since her Tony award-winning role in Broadway’s “Gypsy.”
“Mary Ellen is spare and still, which makes it fun because she’s so different from the lady I played in ‘Gypsy,”’ Daly said.
“Rose was bold and brassy, the ultimate stage mother. But Mary Ellen became an exercise in stillness. She was brought up differently from the women I played on television.”
Daly said she wanted Mary Ellen to be a complex and complete character who was passionate beneath the still surface.
“I didn’t want her to be a typical anything,” she said, “anymore than Mary Beth was a typical cop from Queens. If I had played Mary Beth as a role model I wouldn’t have touched anyone, any more than I could play Rose as a monster. It’s much deeper than that. You have to make a woman who’s only herself.”
Daly spent more than 14 months in “Gypsy” as Rose, the mother of Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc. Before Broadway, she toured. Among her stops was the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at Los Angeles’s Music Center.
“Fifteen cities,” she said. “It was a 19th-Century fantasy of touring. If I’d died on Broadway I would have still had the fabulous experience of the tour. People see me on television, but on tour I got to see the people. I loved the different ways different audiences reacted.”
Daly, in a sense, was born into acting. Her parents were on the stage, and her late father, James Daly, starred in the TV series “Medical Center.” Her brother Tim is in the NBC comedy series “Wings.”
She’ll be reunited with her former police partner, Sharon Gless, in the Jan. 28 episode of Gless’ new CBS series “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill.” For that appearance, Daly will make yet another transformation.
“It’s kind of a trick, but it’ll be fun,” she said. “They’re doing a reunion. I play Vicki Lindman, an old school mate who’s since become a star of Broadway musicals. I’m still inventing her. I’ve already figured out she’s in a tryout of a musical based on the life of Eva Tanguay, who was the ‘I Don’t Care’ girl on Broadway in the ‘20s.
“Vicki and Rosie are enemies, and Rosie can’t remember why. But Vicki remembers every detail of their breakup.”
Will she do another series? “They ask me regularly,” she said. “But they asked me regularly before ‘Cagney & Lacey.”’
“The Last to Go” airs Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC.