Renowned British actress Joan Plowright has a lot in common with Dorothy Kilgore, the character she plays in the new “Hallmark Hall of Fame” drama “A Place for Annie.”
They’re both strong-willed widows whose children have left the nest. And both seem to be warm, friendly and good-hearted.
Plowright, who was married for nearly 30 years to legendary British actor Lord Laurence Olivier, has been working almost nonstop in features and TV movies since his death in 1989.
In “A Place for Annie,” Plowright’s Kilgore becomes the nanny for Annie, an HIV-positive baby who is the foster child of Susan Lansing (Sissy Spacek), a supervising nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit.
“Dorothy really wants to be useful,” says Plowright, who received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for 1992’s “Enchanted April.”
“She becomes the kind of linchpin in the household because Susan has to go out to work. In a way, I become a kind of confident because Susan has no family of her own around. Dorothy becomes kind of the older female in the house.”
Plowright was drawn to the project for several reasons, especially its subject matter. “It’s very topical,” she explains. “It’s also about women doing things. I like that. I like a project where the women are kind of in charge of things for once, instead of being men in charge and women being a little bit on the periphery.”
And both Lansing and Kilgore are definitely take-charge women. Kilgore, Plowright explains, “obviously had a good and affluent life, but her children have grown up and her husband had died. She’s now looking for some way of being in the world instead of just sitting back in her large house. Susan is fighting a cause for a baby who would, if she hadn’t brought her home, would be abandoned into a ward where people are expected to die. I was touched by the story.”
In fact, she finds the film to be “illuminating” on the subject of pediatric AIDS. “It’s good entertainment, but it’s very instructive entertainment.”
Plowright’s also thrilled that Kilgore is a three-dimensional character. She frequently gets scripts where that isn’t the case. “Half the time I turn them down,” she says, especially the ones where the male characters have last names and a history and the female is simply identified by her first name.
“You know instantly that the lady’s not going to have much of a history or identity. Who is this woman? I don’t respond because I don’t know her history. The (producers) say thingslike, ‘We thought you could make something from it’ or, ‘There are four wonderful scenes with all of these great gentlemen stars.”’
But with the success of “Enchanted April” and 1993’s “Dennis the Menace,” Plowright is receiving a lot of meaty scripts. “It’s nice to be able to choose the one where I have a last name,” Plowright says, laughing. “It’s not that I’m a kind of militant feminist. But (I prefer scripts) presenting women in the light of being active participants in life and really moving things along, which they are in this script. They fight battles as women do in real life--a lot of them unsung and unheard.”