Tyne Daly finds the heroic in the characters she plays

December 27, 1991|By Susan King | Susan King,Los Angeles Times

Hollywood - Tyne Daly, who stars in Sunday night's CBS drama, "Face of a Stranger," doesn't mince words.

Just ask her why she returned to Broadway this year to reprise her 1990 Tony-winning role as Mama Rose in "Gypsy." The answer comes rapid-fire:

"We were supposed to go to London, but there were people doing a war. There was a war that happened. The politicians needed to use up a lot of the murder machines that they built, so they wiped out half-a-million people and felt better about themselves and got to say, 'Glory and honor' and wave the flag a bit.

"Meanwhile, people weren't going to the theater in London because terrorism is a reality in Europe, so everybody got a little spooked about it. So we went to New York. I would have rather gone to London since backward is not a direction for me."

Such frankness has cost the 44-year-old actress jobs.

The four-time Emmy winner for "Cagney & Lacey" recalled with great relish a script she received after appearing in the hit Clint Eastwood film "The Enforcer" 15 years ago. It was about people who ate dead human flesh.

"There was a southern sheriff, two rapes and a chase through the woods and a lot of terror and a thing in the basement that was fed dead human beings," Ms. Daly said with a wide grin. "It was going to cost $20 million and it was going to be made."

Ms. Daly refused to even meet with the producers.

"I called them up and said, 'Hello, my name is Tyne Daly. We are supposed to have a meeting on this movie here and I want you to know that with $20 million you can probably make four or possibly five worthy movies.

" 'I think what you are doing is wrong, criminal and amoral and actually bad. I wouldn't make a movie about people who ate dead human flesh if I was starving to death. Goodbye.' I hung up the phone and I felt better for almost four months. I didn't work, but I felt better."

To this day, Ms. Daly sticks by her convictions and refuses to play victimized characters.

"When I got to do 'Cagney & Lacey,' I got to be the hero," she said. "Then all I had to suffer was cancer, my kid missing in action and my friend being an alcoholic. But we were, in fact, sort of heroes."

Ms. Daly turns a potential victim into a hero in "Face of a Stranger." She plays Dollie Madison, a homeless woman befriended by a widow (Gena Rowlands). The women discover a common bond.

"There is a kindred spirit under that mink coat Dollie recognizes and therein hangs the tale," Ms. Daly said. "They know through some kind of human magic they are sisters and can be helpful to each other."

"Face of a Stranger" is based on an article in the New York magazine that was written by actress Mary Stuart about her relationship with a homeless woman who lived across the street from her.

"The truth was that she ended up getting her a job and sees [Ms. Stuart] every now and then," Ms. Daly said. "That would be so neat we couldn't put it on TV. They all would have given us the horse laugh. Truth is stranger than fiction. I said to [director] Claudia Weill, 'This is not so much about huge changes. It is about a little shift in [the point of view] on the part of both of them and if we can accomplish that, we will have a lovely love story.' "

Ms. Daly spent time with homeless women on location in Seattle and worked with the director to transform Dollie into a real person. "We wanted a certain amount of preserved vanity which has to do with a person who wears hats and gloves and carries a variety of purses," Ms. Daly said. And, at the same time, "I wanted a bag lady who had a large bagful of bags."

Ms. Daly's attention to such detail is primarily for her own benefit.

"It is not so important for the audience that I got 49 bags in my bag, but it is important that I know that so I am an individual human being who really exists," she said. "The more particular you make the character, the more individual you make a character and the more universal it becomes."

Now Ms. Daly is starting the ground work for her next role, the musical "Ballroom," in which she plays a widow. The play opens in February at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera in Long Beach, Calif. "I just came from a voice lesson," she said. "It will be a grand total of 19 performances, but it is something close to home and it's fun."

And she won't be going backward. "I am not ready to do 'Gypsy' again," she said firmly. "I don't know if I will ever do 'Gypsy' again."

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