Q&A with Katey Sagal: Singing with Bob Dylan, playing Peg and Rebel on TV, and how she's managed to play leads into her 60s

·7 min read

Like so many, national arts reporter Geoff Edgers has been grounded by the coronavirus shutdown. So he decided to launch an Instagram Live show from his barn in Massachusetts. Every Friday afternoon, Edgers hosts an hour-long interview show he calls "Stuck With Geoff." So far, guests have included rapper Doug E. Fresh, Anthony Fauci, Kinks guitarist Dave Davies and comedian Hannah Gadsby. Recently, Edgers chatted with actress Katey Sagal. Here are excerpts from their conversation.

Q: So your new show "Rebel," on ABC, is based on the life of Erin Brockovich, who we know is the crusading advocate played by Julia Roberts originally in the film and is played here beautifully by you. Did these things actually occur in her life?

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A: No, it's inspired by the life of Erin Brockovich. We don't have her life rights. So I'm not actually playing Erin Brockovich. I am a character that's a consumer advocate, a fighter for social justice. And I'm kind of rude and in your face on the side of right. So the actual cases that we deal with are not what Erin is doing. We have more of a fictitious family life. It's as much a family drama as it is anything. We're not in the courtroom all the time. It's broad strokes, that's what I would say.

Q: I want to make an awkward segue to your musical career. I don't know if everybody knows about it.

A: Which is kind of amazing to me because I talk about it all the time. I started out this whole journey of show business by being a musician. That was kind of where I was headed. That was what I wanted to do. And so as I've transitioned now 30 years ago into being an actor, I still play music all the time. I still have a band and I put out records, and I do it because I really love to play music.

Q: When people ask you about singing backup for Bob Dylan, you just say, "Oh, he fired us all and he was scary." What exactly do you mean by scary?

A: Well, I think it's misinterpreted. I wasn't meaning that he was scary. I was scared of him. I was all of 18 years old and was completely star-struck, which is not something that happens to me a lot. It was just a bit intimidating to even stand in a rehearsal hall and sing "Just like a Woman" with Bob Dylan. This was the part that scared me. After the rehearsals, we'd all sit around - he'd record the rehearsals - and then we'd listen back to the rehearsal. And if you made a mistake, you'd sort of just get a look.

Q: You sang backup for Etta James. Did she inspire you?

A: Musically, she was enormously inspiring. I was in my early 20s, and I was her only background singer. And I went on the road with her, all over the country, just me and Etta and a bunch of guys in a bus. She was absolutely amazing. Sometimes we'd be in a club somewhere and she would send me out onstage and say, "Just warm up and sing a couple of songs."

Q: I have to ask you, there's this other thing that I don't understand it. You were going to marry Gene Simmons, the guy from Kiss?

A: Oh, no, no, no. That gets all blown out of proportion.

Q: OK, let's fix it here.

A: When I would go on the road, I'd come home and I was working at a restaurant where I was a singing waitress. You had to audition at this restaurant to get a gig. So you know it was kind of quality people. Rickie Lee Jones was there and Oingo Boingo started there, Danny Elfman. So you would serve your food and sing a song. So Kiss came in one night and it was right after their first album and they had started happening. So I was their waitress and I sang them a song, and Gene sort of had a feeling toward me. And we struck up a friendship. Then, before I knew it, I was on Casablanca Records. I had taken him to see my band, and he took us to Casablanca and Neil Bogart signed us. The band was called - I'm going to tell you the worst band name ever - it was Neil Bogart's idea, we were called "The Group With No Name," I swear to God.

Q: Yeah. That's not so good.

A: Not so good. So we went to New York and cut this record. We did a song called "Moon Over Brooklyn" that charted a little bit. Then we got dropped and we went to Elektra. The name really didn't help.

Q: If you had a choice to be successful at one of them, would you choose acting over music?

A: At this point in my life, I'm really glad the way things have turned out. I love being an actor. I learned on the job, and now I feel like I know what I'm doing. And also, if I was a musician right now and I had to be on the road 200 days out of the year, I don't think I would like that. So now I just play music because I love music, because I have a calling for it. I don't rely on it for my living. I love them both. I mean, if you'd asked me 20 years ago, 25 years ago when I was just starting out, I mean, I remember my first acting gig with "Married With Children." I had a band that I would play with every weekend because I thought, "Well, this is going away. I better keep my music thing happening because I don't know what's going to happen with this."

Q: These characters - Peg Bundy on "Married With Children" or Annie "Rebel" Bello on "Rebel," how much are you like them? Are there things you draw on from your real life or who you are? I don't sense that you're very much like Rebel in your actual mannerisms and behavior.

A: Well, I'm not as aggressive and I'm not as chatty as Rebel. She's righteous and she's correct. But she doesn't really like to take no for an answer at all. So there's a lot of difference there with me. I'm much more amenable, much more chill about stuff. And the character Rebel is not that. And she fights for things that people feel completely powerless over and have no voice. I'm definitely acting, but there are similarities in my real life. I'm on my third husband. I have three children. Rebel has had three husbands.

Q: You've mentioned this before and we've all grown up seeing things like Clint Eastwood dating Rene Russo in films, or I think Emma Stone has been in like four films where her leading man is 40 years older. But we don't see the reverse. And frankly, we don't see women in their 60s getting lead roles on major television shows. For you, is this a quirky thing or is the world changing in some way?

A: When they approached me about playing the role, they had a conversation that the network's going to want somebody younger, blah, blah, blah. But the network didn't and the network stood behind it. And I think it is a trope that needs to really change.


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