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Marcia Gay Harden on a role you may not know: herself

Marcia Gay Harden on a life lived off-screen
Marcia Gay Harden on a life lived off-screen 08:04

One Marcia Gay Harden role you may not be familiar with? Amateur potter. The Oscar-and Tony Award-winning actor had come on vacation with her kids – Eulala, Julitta, and Hudson Harden Scheel – to Faenza, Italy, where local artisans been making ceramics since the first century B.C.

Harden's love of pottery began in the 1990s in New York, while in a Broadway show. "I'm a practical potter; I like to make things you can use," she said. "The main thing our teacher said to us was, Calma, calma. 'Cause we're all Americans who are, like, 'Ooh, hurry it up!'"

Marcia Gay Harden at the Faenza Art Ceramic Center in Faenza, Italy. CBS News

At Faenza Art Ceramic Center, they were revealing a week's work – and another side of Harden. "When I think of my mom, I think of her in her, you know, clay-covered pants and bandana and, like, some old sweatshirt, throwing pots," said daughter Eulala. "Sort of being that, like, down-to-earth person that we know intimately."

Harden's playful side does not often come across in her roles. "I used to say it's 'cause I'm brunette; you always cast brunettes as the serious woman," she said. "But that's not necessarily true. But I just think I've been cast in a way that has a lot of gravitas."

Harden got her break playing the femme fatale in the 1990 film, "Miller's Crossing" opposite Gabriel Byrne.

Watch a scene with Marcia Gay Harden and Gabriel Byrne in "Miller's Crossing" (1990):

"Miller's Crossing" clip: Marcia Gay Harden and Gabriel Byrne by CBS Sunday Morning on YouTube

The Coen Brothers gave her a chance for the world to see what she could do. "Yeah, they opened a door," Harden said. "They gave me a chance to play. You know, you want to be seen. And I think that's one of the best gifts we can give to somebody, is to see them: I see you."

And she's been seen in a lot. She won her Oscar for portraying artist Lee Krasner in "Pollock."

Watch a scene with Marcia Gay Harden and Ed Harris in "Pollock" (2000):

"Pollock" clip: Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden by CBS Sunday Morning on YouTube

She got the Tony for "God of Carnage" on Broadway. On TV she's been a socialite ("Uncoupled") and a hard-edged reporter ("The Morning Show"). There have been crime dramas ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"), medical dramas ("Code Black"), and just drama-dramas ("Mystic River"). "I'm a bit of a workaholic," she said.

But she's never counted up her credits. "Hell, no," she said. "I think I'm not interested. Is that awful?"

She's now on to her next role: lawyer Margaret Wright in CBS' "So Help Me Todd." Harden's character hires her son to be a private investigator for her firm. "I like that she is hoity-toity and flawed at the same time," she said.

Family drama, and a fair share of mishaps, ensue, with lots of physical comedy. "Isn't it fun? I love the physical comedy," Harden said. "For me, it's a blast. After a cut is finished, I just feel like I can hear someone going, 'Shameless. Shameless.' 'What do you mean it's too much? What do you mean falling over the chair and showing my panties is too much?' You know what I mean? Like, 'Well, was it funny? Was it funny?'"

Watch a scene with Marcia Gay Harden and Skylar Astin from "So Help Me Todd":

So Help Me Todd - Mother-Son Negotiations by CBS on YouTube

Until now, that side of Harden's personality has largely been reserved for her off-screen life. "This is the first time I've sort of opened up my private life to so many people," she said.

Why? "To protect me and my kids. Because [going public] seems more like a celebrity than an actor to me. An actor works. An actor has a script. An actor approaches the role. A celebrity is sort of – it's who they are, it's their life. And to me, they don't really need to go together."

But Harden has been uncharacteristically public about her family recently, sharing, during a televised fundraiser, that all three of her kids identify as queer. "Of which I've been accused of being a groomer," she said. "Wouldn't we all be so lucky if we could just groom our little children to be whatever, like, it's such bulls***. As if people's gender identities are able to be manipulated.

"My eldest child uses they/them pronouns. And my son is gay. And my youngest daughter, I would say, is fluid, understands loving a human being. So, I love that about them."

"But it was a process for you?" asked Doane.

"It's a process to be the parent I wanna be in it."

Marcia Gay Harden with her children Eulala, Julitta and Hudson. Marcia Gay Harden

So, what guides her? "They, they guide me," she said. "And my love of them guides me, because what's the alternative? Well, you be who you are and go outside of this house then. Where'd my kids go?"

Harden divorced in 2012 from director Thaddaus Scheel. Now 64, she calls herself a single mom.

From what we saw, on the Vancouver set of "So Help Me Todd," the role of caregiver comes naturally – chocolates for the TV crew in her fake office. "When I come back after a week or two and they are empty, I feel so happy," she said.

They can be long days of shooting, And she's on location sometimes for months. So, she finds community in something familiar: a local pottery studio in Vancouver.

She showed Doane some samples, stamped with her initials. "My daughter gave me this little stamp that I have," she said.

CBS News

Marcia Gay Harden does put her own stamp on whatever she does, even if it means removing a bit of herself in the process. "I like to garden, I like to do pottery. These are slightly isolationist things to do," she said. "Because otherwise, I do think one can start worrying too much about what 'they' all think, right? What people say about me, and do they like my whatever? It's not me."

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Story produced by Sara Kugel. Editor: George Pozderec. 

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