A Tempting 'Mooseport' Role

It may not be the biggest role of Christine Baranski's career, but the part of a scheming ex-first lady in "Welcome to Mooseport" was too tempting to pass up.

Baranski stopped by The Early Show's studio on Monday to discuss her career and her new movie.

The movie, which opens Friday, also stars Ray Romano as a plumber and Gene Hackman as a former U.S. president who are both running for mayor of a small town.

Baranski is a seasoned comedic actress who spent the first 20 years of her career doing theatre both on and off Broadway. She won a Tony and two Drama Desk awards and is proud of her early training. She is one of the few actresses who effortlessly crosses between stage, screen and TV.

I just thought that the script was so funny, and I thought well, how cool to be Gene Hackman's wife in a movie," Baranski says. "And he's the ex-president, and I'm a former first lady, and she's got such attitude. And you know, of course it's not a huge role, but whenever she's there she's impacting on the situation."

Baranski played a role very much like that on TV – her scene-stealing turn as Cybill Shepherd's best friend Maryann in the CBS sitcom "Cybill."

"The vengeful ex-wife who's out for the alimony," Baranski says. "It's a lot of fun. People like those ladies."

That role opened the door to parts in such films as "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" with Jim Carrey, "Bowfinger" with Steve Martin and "Chicago" with Richard Gere.

Working with actors like that – and now Hackman - can be intimidating, Baranski admits.

"I think I succeeded in not having those thoughts when I was acting with him," she says. "I tried to have those thoughts as much - you know get them out of the way before we worked. But gearing up to play a scene with Gene, you know where it's just he and I battling it out. It's thrilling when you work with one of the great actors of our time."

Baranski has earned the right to go toe-to-toe with Hollywood's greats. She honed her skills with years of Broadway and Off-Broadway roles.

"I actually didn't come to Hollywood and do a big splashy thing in a sitcom until I was in my 40s," she explains. "And then it was great because I was, like, the new girl in town but I had all this experience. I really knew how to do comedy."

She feels sorry for younger actors who are pushed into movie roles before they can fully mature.

"One of the great things about maturing as an actor, getting older, is you actually know what it is - what it means to be married, to have children, to just have a perspective on life which you don't have in your 20s, she says.

Some highlights from Baranski's life and career:

  • Born in Buffalo, N.Y. on May 2, 1952.
  • Graduated from Juilliard in 1974.
  • Made her Broadway debut in "Hide and Seek" (1980).
  • Won an OBIE for her performance in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1983.
  • Won Drama Desks awards for "The Real Thing" and "Lips Together, Teeth Apart."
  • Made her feature film debut with a bit part in "Soup for One" (1982).
  • Won Tony Awards for "The Real Thing" in 1985 and Neil Simon's "Rumors" in 1989,
  • Made her TV-movie debut in "Playing For Time" (CBS, 1980) about a troupe of concentration camp detainees who play music to distract their captors.
  • Landed a breakthrough role as Maryann Thorpe in the CBS sitcom "Cybill" (1995-98).
  • Won a 1995 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.