Since receiving a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination last year for "The Mirror Has Two Faces," Lauren Bacall confesses she hasn't "had a decent offer of a movie."
"They are not writing wonderful parts for women," Bacall says with a husky sigh. "That is the sad truth. They were certainly not breaking down the doors for me, anyway."
So Bacall is checking into CBS' "Chicago Hope" tonight for a two-episode guest stint. She's playing Samara Visco Klein, a wealthy artist with an inoperable brain tumor who is befriended by Dr. Shutt (Adam Arkin).
The part, she says, is worth doing because "it's not a stereotype. I am not playing somebody's mother or somebody's aunt. It's refreshing to be offered something that is not like that, so I grabbed it. That's all I ask out of life, [something] interesting."
On this late Friday afternoon, Bacall is relaxing in her suite at the Bel Air Hotel before reporting to her final day of shooting on "Chicago Hope."
At 73, the actress seems to have more energy and spunk than women half her age. Despite having worked until 11 the night before on the Santa Monica Pier ("You can't imagine how cold it was"), Bacall is in good spirits.
Over the past two decades, she says, she's been pursued to do guest roles on TV series. But except for a "Rockford Files" 19 years ago with good friend James Garner, she had turned them all down.
"Television--some of it has become awfully arrogant," Bacall says. "They don't offer you much, and there's no point in that kind of exposure unless, first of all, you're paid well and, second of all, it's really good material. I mean, good material comes before anything."
It didn't hurt in this case that Bacall is a big fan of "Chicago Hope."
"I don't watch anything religiously on television," she says, "but when I'm home and that's on, I watch it. I thought it was well written and I always thought the actors were terrific."
Executive producer John Tinker got wind last year that Bacall liked the show. He met with her and developed a story with her input.
"I'm hired to paint a mural and the story evolves from there," she says. "I want to get out of the hospital. I come to California because I want a change. I want to go somewhere there is sun shining."
Though Dr. Shutt follows her to California, Bacall says, their relationship isn't romantic. "It could almost be romantic except for [the fact that] I'm so old!" she says with a hearty laugh.
Bacall wasn't accustomed to a fast-paced television schedule. "They use two cameras a lot, which I am not used to at all," she says. "But the directors have been terrific."
"She hung in there," producer Tinker says. "She was working from morning until night. It was a very new experience for her. She cares about her work and she wanted it to be different and she wanted it to be good."
Bacall has had a film career most actresses would envy. She starred in four classic films with her first husband, the legendary Humphrey Bogart: 1944's "To Have and Have Not," 1946's "The Big Sleep," 1947's "Dark Passage" and 1948's "Key Largo." Among her other hit films are "How to Marry a Millionaire," "Written on the Wind" and "Designing Woman."
Yet Bacall insists she hasn't had a great movie career. "I was never given the opportunity to have any variety," she explains. "It's just a fact of life that I don't think I've ever been taken particularly seriously in movies by movie makers. I don't know why."
The Broadway stage, though, has been a different story, Bacall says. She got to cut loose in the comedies "Goodbye Charlie" and "Cactus Flower" and won Tonys for the musicals "Applause" and "Woman of the Year."
"I just think it's a different mind set," Bacall says. "I don't dwell on myself a lot. I just love to work."
Bacall was considered the shoo-in last year for the supporting actress Oscar as Barbra Streisand's demanding mother in "The Mirror Has Two Faces." She lost out, however, to Juliette Binoche for "The English Patient."
The actress doesn't seem bitter. "The part I had in Barbra's movie was a terrific part just on its own," Bacall says. "The opportunity to work with her was great, but you know, the whole thing of awards is a nightmare, I think. It has gotten out of hand. There are too many awards."
Receiving the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor last December took her by surprise. "It's not a competitive award," she says. "You don't take out ads. It's a very special honor and a wonderful event."
And she enjoyed her time with fellow recipient Bob Dylan. "Everybody thought we were going to run away together," she says with a big smile. "He never goes to anything like that. He was so very kind. I'd be holding his hand and hugging him because he is so great."
Bacall flashes another smile. "Listen, I never went into this business thinking of winning anything," she says. "I went into it because I loved it and I wanted to be good at it. It was a form of expression for me. I love to hide behind characters. So [any recognition] I get is a perk. It's just an extra. Just the fact that all that happened to me last year, it is--well--fabulous."
* "Chicago Hope" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on CBS (Channel 2).