For actress Judith Ivey, TV role helps sustain theatrical career

November 15, 1992|By Newsday

To hear Judith Ivey tell it, she needs television to give her the celebrity to sustain her theatrical career.

"In the theater now, there's more casting emphasis on celebrity than ability," says Ms. Ivey, who this season joined the cast of CBS' "Designing Women."

She plays former court reporter B. J. Poteet, a rich Texas widow who buys into Sugarbakers, the series' Atlanta-based interior-design business. Ms. Ivey, a native Texan, finds it amusing she now has to employ a Texas accent after having worked so hard to be rid of it.

Ms. Ivey was asked to join the show last season but would not, having agreed to co-star on stage with Jason Robards in "Park Your Car in Harvard Yard."

"The theater now is using people who are proven celebrities," she says, because producers want to take less risk as costs have risen astronomically to mount a Broadway play. "Talented unknowns find it harder than ever to get a foothold. Nobody's taking chances on new faces. TV brings broad audience recognition. It's gotten so you need TV popularity so you can do plays."

Ms. Ivey, 41, twice a Tony winner ("Steaming," 1985; "Hurlyburly," 1987), is a longtime star not just on Broadway but in films and TV movies. Earlier this month, she appeared as the prosecuting attorney in CBS' "Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, the Last Chapter," sequel to last March's film about a woman who murdered her ex-husband and his second wife.

There are other reasons she's gone into TV: "I'm getting rich, which I've never done before. There's no way theater ever pays what TV does. Eight performances a week is more difficult than )) acting in a TV series. It may be logical to be paid in proportion to the work you do, but it doesn't always work that way, does it?"

Ms. Ivey says that she has "the wonderful curse" of being a character actress.

"I'm not recognizable from role to role," she says. "It doesn't help the recognition factor. All along, I was one of the lucky ones to keep acting. But it crossed my mind, if I continued to reject TV, would I have the power to sustain my career?"

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