The “Two and a Half Men” and “The Practice” star, 68, takes on the role of the colorful former governor of Texas, Ann Richards, in a new play at the Kennedy Center simply titled “Ann.”
“Ann,” which was written by Taylor following years of research, makes its pre-Broadway engagement at the Kennedy Center from Dec. 17 to Jan. 15.
Q: What inspired you to create the show?
I discovered when Ann Richards died that she meant much more to me than I had known. It was really a very forceful feeling that it left me very mournful for months after her death.
And I think that when you have these feelings, you want to do something with them. Creative people who paint make portraits. People who write music write symphonies. So I just thought, “Well, I could act her, but how and where?”
I was driving to work one day, and the idea came to me so forcefully that I had to pull off the highway and onto a service road to absorb the sudden blinding realization that no one was more suited to the theater than Ann Richards. She was about a personal, one-on-one connection. And that’s what happens in the theater.
Q: You’ve said in interviews that you met Ann Richards only one time. What was that meeting like?
I only met her once, and that has actually nothing to do with why I’m doing this. It’s not the reason. Having met her once was just something wonderful that happened to me.
I was going to have lunch with [longtime New York Post gossip columnist] Liz Smith, who is a very old friend … and she said we were going to be joined by someone. I was quite annoyed, because I hadn’t seen her in a long time and I wanted to have an intimate conversation about our lives. And I said sulkily, “Well, who?” And she said, “Gov. Richards.” And I was so thrilled, but I was intimidated, and I said, “Oh, my God, don’t seat me next to her.” And she said, “Well, I can hardly help it, can I?”
And we were at [the New York restaurant] Le Cirque … and we waited for Gov. Richards to appear. And when she did, we knew it because the restaurant fell silent, except for the snapping of heads. She was a rock star.
Q: You’ve done the show in Texas and in Chicago. Do you think the D.C. audience will be different in any way?
Yes, I think because there will be so many people who have drawn themselves to public service. I think because Ann was such a passionate public servant and worked so very hard and she was able to never forget what she was up to or why she was there.
I think a lot of people in Hollywood lose sight of their basic creative impulses, and I’m sure it’s very easy in Washington, compellingly easy, to lose sight of why you’re here. And I’m confident that many in political life or in public service who see this play will have that spirit they came here for rekindled, because Ann was really a wonderful public servant.
Q: Were you interested in politics before this show?
I’m much more interested now. I’ll tell you — there’s so much about politics that we all don’t like. The way I matured in my life, I was a senior in college when Jack Kennedy was assassinated. And Malcolm X, who was someone I admired very much, was assassinated after that. And then Martin Luther King was assassinated after that. And then within the year Robert Kennedy was assassinated. And it just came at a certain time in my maturation, from age 20 to 25, where four people I revered and held as hopes for us all were assassinated.
And I just dropped out. I spent a lot of time in Europe, I never read the paper, I didn’t vote for 10 years … then I slowly came back.
And still I’m very jaded about politics. And it’s actually been my exposure to Ann, who had an infinitely greater understanding than I do, and she had plenty of disdain and judgment about some behaviors in the political world. But she was not negative about it, she didn’t turn her back on it, she was not Chicken Little. She never had a dim view of the future. She always thought there would be new leaders who would emerge.
I’m much more interested and positive now than when I started this project.
Q: Do you agree with Richards’s politics?
I don’t know exactly what her point would be about everything. I’m certainly pro-choice. I’m certainly a Democrat. I’ve always been a Democrat.
There are certain individuals who I really admire on both sides of the aisle, and I’m very interested in the persons who are leaders, as well as their policies. Frankly, in the past couple of years, I’ve been so busy with this that I do not have a really sophisticated view of the current scene, because I don’t know enough.
Q: Any interest in getting into politics after playing this role?
First of all, I’ll be doing this play for the next two years, in all likelihood. We’ll do a limited engagement in New York in the spring.
Then I will probably do a loose stop-and-start tour of the great American cities of this play, which is something I’m very determined to do.
First of all, I have enormous respect for what people in government do. It’s like, for instance, Ann herself — when she ran for governor, she had been state treasurer for six or seven years. She had raised more non-tax money for Texas than all the treasurers in the history of the state combined. She was a highly gifted and hardworking public servant. She was county commissioner for six years before she was state treasurer. So she didn’t just look in the mirror one day and say, “I’m so pretty, I’m going to run for governor.”
It would take years to learn what would have to be learned to go into public service. I just want to remain ambulatory long enough to do this play satisfactorily. I can’t imagine starting a new career.