True Contender : Farrah Fawcett Aims to Pack a Strong Punch in ABC Film

Harvey Solomon is a free-lance writer based in Los Angeles.

A lot of producers still don't get it. They don't realize that when you hire Farrah Fawcett you get a lot more than the knockout good looks and trademark blond tresses.

"I want to collaborate," Fawcett said. "I'm the character--I'm up there. Please! You pay me a lot of money for this. But it seems like they're always thinking, 'OK, she has this opinion. Now she's going to try and fight for it. Uh oh, now she's not going to take our calls. Oh God, now she's going to call the network!'

"I don't want to sound like a feminist, but for women to try to figure out the best time to say what they want to say, to not hurt the man's ego or offend the producer, to not come on too strong or be too abrasive--all this thinking makes you tired when you just want to say what you feel. I said to my father, 'The next time I want to come back as a man!' "

That's a request many men would vehemently veto, but Fawcett perhaps got the next best thing: Her role in the ABC movie "Criminal Behavior" was based on a male lawyer in a Ross Macdonald novel. "That's why this character was so interesting, why she was allowed to do the things she did," Fawcett said. "She moves the story along--she wasn't victimized, she wasn't beaten up or beaten down."

Yet a comment made by the producer during filming about how she "thought too much" still riles her. "My immediate reaction was, 'I bet he wouldn't have said that to a guy.' What did he mean? I think too much for a woman? For a blonde? And the thing is he didn't mean it as a negative. So shoot me. Next time, when you're hiring people, say you're looking for someone who's very creative, very talented, who doesn't think much. Where would that be justified? In what job?"

Producer Preston Fischer, whom Fawcett previously worked with on the television movie "Murder in Texas," did heed her input on "Criminal Behavior." Her character, defense attorney Jessie Lee Stubbs, rebounds from a dysfunctional family upbringing to clear an uncooperative client, tracking a trail of murder and mayhem while simultaneously fending off the advance of a detective (A Martinez of "Santa Barbara") more interested in her than the case.

In her spare time the lawyer pursues a rather unusual sport, boxing, which was suggested by the actress, who had just completed a "boxercise" class. "At first they had her jogging," she said, "and then they had her on a cycling machine, but I wanted to do something you didn't see on every show ... And I particularly did not want to play an attorney who wears an Armani jacket, and an Armani skirt, where it becomes like a fashion show. A guy wouldn't have this trouble. He'd put on his suit and tie and not be judged by it, or by his hairstyle."

Painfully aware of the pitfalls of typecasting, Fawcett weighed several scripts before opting for this headstrong character.

"The last success you have, you just get inundated with those types of scripts," she said. "How quickly the industry just wants to stick you into a category. But there's no challenge in repeating the same thing. Looking through scripts I found myself thinking I'd done a particular scene in 'The Burning Bed' or in 'Small Sacrifices.' I'd already seen the way I thought something should be played and I thought I'd done that."

One of the things she hadn't done, up until last year, was a sitcom. Since she and roommate/partner Ryan O'Neal had been looking for a dual project, they envisioned the love-hate TV anchor team roles in "Good Sports" as a perfect choice both professionally and personally.

After traveling extensively with their son Redmond in his early years, they felt that the permanency of schooling was paramount.

"I wanted him to have a sense of security, to have classmates he would go a few years with, and that he would like school," said Fawcett.

So the sitcom's local locale seemed ideal, but the resulting scenario quickly soured. The CBS show premiered in January, 1991, to negative reviews. Viewership continually dropped and the show was quickly canceled.

"I think if we'd had the chance to shoot a pilot and work on it for a couple of months then things might have been different," she said. "They wanted a more antagonistic, '90s approach and things got out of control.

"You can't expect everything you do to be a huge success, because that's not life. We weren't devastated--actually we were quite relieved because we were never ahead on the scripts enough to relax and get into the characters, and we worked very long hours. We ended up seeing our son less than we'd ever seen him."

So while O'Neal sticks with sitcoms (he has the starring role as a Philadelphia innkeeper in the CBS pilot "1775"), Fawcett has returned to the television arena that earned her newfound respect as a serious actress in films such as "The Burning Bed," "Extremeties" and "Nazi Hunter: The Beate Kiarsfeld Story." Her work has received several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations as well as a cable ACE award for her portrayal of famed photographer Margaret Bourke-White.

Initially such accolades seemed highly unlikely given her storybook saga of being discovered while an art student at the University of Texas in Austin and whisked away to Hollywood. High-visibility commercials for products such as Ultra-Brite toothpaste and Wella Balsam shampoo and a veritable industry of Farrah posters, wigs and dolls led to her role on "Charlie's Angels," a show she's still associated with but actually quit after a single season over its sexist sensibilities.

She has always been outspoken and proud of it. "It was my nature from the very beginning to give my opinion," she said, "only now when I say it I have a little more clout."

"Criminal Behavior" airs Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°