Holland Taylor's Ann Richards: 'A woman for all seasons'

LYNN ELBER
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TV-Holland Taylor-Ann Richards

This image released by PBS shows Holland Taylor portraying the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards in a scene from "Ann," an adaption of the Tony-nominated play, premiering Friday, June 19. on PBS. (Ave Bonar/PBS via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Holland Taylor earned a Tony nomination for her portrayal of charismatic Texas politician Ann Richards, but the actor deserves acclaim for her research and writing skills as well.

Taylor crafted “Ann” after digging into Richards’ life and character. The reward was a deepened appreciation of the tart-tongued Democrat, who died in 2006, and what turned out to be the highlight of a career that has zigzagged between a dizzying number and variety of movies and TV shows and includes an Emmy Award.

"Ann” proved to be “the most joyous thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Taylor said of her solo play, which has been adapted for PBS “Great Performances” showcase (airing Friday, check local listings for time).

Proof of her years-long dedication to the project: She didn’t renew her contract with the sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” the sort of steady work most actors covet, switching instead to occasional appearances so she could conserve her time and energy to work on “Ann.”

She took advantage of the University of Texas archives — “where all the government records would cover about 10 football fields” — to craft her portrait of Richards, who served as governor of Texas from 1991-95 and whose focus included prison reform and education funding.

“I was looking to films and speeches and writings that would show me who she was, the persona, because I found her the most inspiring person I ever met,” Taylor said. “People would tell me stories about what a colorful and tough (politician) she was. She was quite something to work for, very temperamental at times. But as they would tell the stories, there would be joyous laughter and tears in their eyes because they missed her and valued her so much.”

At the 1988 Democratic National Convention, Richards gave the keynote address and famously mocked then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, saying he was born with “a silver foot in his mouth.” Six years later, she would be unseated as governor by his son and future president George W. Bush in a GOP national wave election.

Taylor kept honing “Ann” through its many performances, including on the main stage of New York’s Lincoln Center, as she attempted to present Richards in full.

“She was a positive person, no matter how canny she was and wise about the ways of the world and ... the dark side of how government and business work,” Taylor said. “She believed in the common good and she believed in a progressive government” and society.

Taylor was to have been on stage with “Ann” this month at Southern California’s Pasadena Playhouse, but the pandemic-forced shutdown interfered. She’s ready to honor the commitment, perhaps in mid-2021 and maybe for the final time, given the demands of memorizing the play’s roughly 40, single-spaced typewritten pages of dialogue.

She last performed it several years ago, in the meantime keeping busy with projects including Ryan Murphy’s recently released series “Hollywood,” in which she has a juicy role, and the upcoming feature “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” opposite the original 1989 film’s stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter.

Age is a factor, said the 77-year-old Taylor, although her career pace would indicate otherwise.

It takes two months to put “this big text in my brain again,” Taylor said of “Ann,” but she’s not surrendering. “I know I have one more run in me.”

She considers the play itself and what Richards represents to be enduring.

“There’s no time where anything Ann says that’s of consequence wouldn’t be valuable,” Taylor said. “A leader who speaks always from the point of view of how can the common good be achieved is always going to be timely.

“I think of her as a woman for all seasons,” she said.

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Lynn Elber can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.