Female Stars Find Fortune On Cable

Actress Glenn Close arrives at the premiere of "Evening" Monday, June 11, 2007 in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
AP Photo/Jason DeCrow
At first glance, they have little in common: the legal eagle, the hell raiser and the head shrinker.

But look again and you'll find a surprising number of ties binding the lead characters of three recently debuted TV dramas: "Damages," "Saving Grace" and "State of Mind."

All are as flawed as they are fabulous. And all are women, over 40 and portrayed by three of the acting world's most highly regarded leading ladies — Glenn Close, Holly Hunter and Lili Taylor. Each, for the first time, is fronting her own series. And each is doing it on cable.

"I guess one thing I'm seeing that's happening is, it feels like some of the obstacles that have presented themselves with film, in terms of financing and so on, are not there with TV," said Taylor, who plays a Connecticut psychotherapist with her own share of personal problems in Lifetime's "State of Mind."

"I'm finding," she added, "that filmmaker friends who are having trouble getting their films made are turning to TV."

More and more, too, they're turning to the cable side.

"Cable is different from network, in my mind," noted Close, who previously guest-starred opposite Michael Chiklis in "The Shield" on FX and now plays a ruthless New York litigator in "Damages." "I've done both, and cable, in my experience, takes more risks."

While "Saving Grace" marks the first series for Hunter ("The Piano"), she's not a stranger to cable, winning an Emmy award for her performance in HBO's 1993 movie, "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom."

Cable can offer material that "is far more adventurous and full — full of conflict, full of opposites," Hunter told AP Television. "People don't have to be just contained in kind of a two-dimensional way for safety. You can really kind of bust it out and be an antihero or be an anti-heroine."

Men have been afforded that luxury for years (think James Gandolfini, Chiklis, Denis Leary), playing characters both revered and revolting. The women are surely catching up, though, with the likes of Mary Louise Parker's pot-selling mom on Showtime's "Weeds" and Kyra Sedgwick's supremely professional but emotionally messy detective on TNT's "The Closer."

Sedgwick's "Closer" is the highest-rated dramatic series on cable, with first-run episodes this summer often clobbering the reruns on broadcast TV.

"To have this character in this kind of venue, is something that I never would have expected," said Sedgwick. "Nor would I ever expect that it would be so well received and gaining audience in its third year. Having this kind of success is something that I would never have expected, so I'm incredibly happy and lucky. And, yes, it is at a wonderful time in my life, when I'm old enough to appreciate it."

Taylor, who for a time was part of the ensemble on HBO's "Six Feet Under," is 40, Sedgwick 41, Hunter 49 and Close is 60. All seem sincere when they say these are among the most fascinating characters of their careers.

Hunter said she took on the role of haunted, hard-drinking Oklahoma City cop Grace Hanadarko because she simply couldn't bear the thought of any other actress playing her.

"She's quite an original creature," Hunter explained. "And she's kind of part fantasy, because a lot of what Grace says `yes' to, people wish they could say `yes' to, but they're too afraid of the consequences. And she's just fashioned an unorthodox life for somebody who is in her 40s. She's not married, she doesn't have children, she doesn't have a huge overhead. She's chosen to be kind of liberated. But with liberation comes a certain confinement, as well, and she finds that out along the way. When you say, `yes' to things, you're saying `no' to a lot of other things."

Cable, with its shorter seasons, sometimes offering just half the number of episodes of a series as broadcast TV does, assures these actors can say "yes" each year to work in other venues, such as movies and theater. But heading up a series where you may be in almost every scene does come at a price.

"It feels like a marathon," said Taylor. "And, in that way, it feels a little closer to a play, in terms of the stamina that's required. It surprised me. I knew it was a lot of work, but I've been a bit surprised by how much energy it's taking, and kind of adapting to the pace of it, and not having a lot of time with the scripts. So, finding how to get in there quickly and deeply is what I've been thinking about lately."

Close said what's so great about cable these days is nothing new, just something rare, regardless of medium. "I really do like the rhythm of television," she elaborated. "It really goes much faster than film. I have huge respect for the kind of writing that's going on in television now. So, for me, it's all about the writing. And this actual project became a no-brainer for me: brilliant scripts, in my home town, with a great group of actors."