Reinvention & the art of being ribald: A conversation with Constance McCashin
Constance McCashin played Laura Avery Sumner on the long running prime time drama KNOTS LANDING from 1979-1987, spanning nine seasons, two TV husbands and two TV (& real) children, she has become a firm fan favourite and the most requested guest.
The actress has rarely given interviews since leaving the show. Now a successful psychotherapist, Constance graciously agreed to talk to me (Jason Yates) on the telephone for an hour of conversation.
During the hour long chat, Constance spoke generously about her time on KNOTS LANDING and shared a range of memories with me, some touching, funny and wonderfully witty stories. It genuinely felt like a conversation with an old friend.
Here is that conversation, transcribed.
Jason: This is Jason in London…
Constance: This is Constance in West Newton, Massachusetts…
Jason: Thank you so much for talking to me!
Constance: Oh, it’s my pleasure, my dear. Do I have to behave myself? I really do don’t I? I have to be careful what I say (starts laughing)…
Jason: No, no, no…you can say whatever you want!
Constance: (laughing) I wouldn’t go that far… I can be very irreverent.
I always thought Knots Landing was a comedy, I didn’t realise, you know, it was a drama so…
Jason: I need to tell you before we start that there have been messages coming in from all over the world, Australia, Spain, the UK. You are the most requested guest from all of the shows including Dynasty, Falcon Crest, The Colbys, so thanks a lot for talking to me.
Constance: I’m going to lose this cache now, that’s a drag. I was the Greta Garbo of the soaps. I’m going to be totally exposed.
Jason: We’ve been tweeting haven’t we?
Constance: Yes, I have a whopping 700 followers; they’re not followers of me as an actress so much but as a professional therapist.
Jason: And there’s, I think, there’s a funny crack you made about that when you were asked, a couple of years back, to do the reunion and you said, “I don’t want to do that because it might confuse my patients.”
Constance: Well, you know, it’s funny, I worked at the University for 12 years, I recently resigned because my private practice has blossomed which is really wonderful, it’s one of the few professions that no matter how old you get there’s no stigma attached to it, you can basically just sit in the chair and say, “really?”
(Jason starts laughing)
And nobody is going to question you (chuckling). But I… when I was at the University I was not on Facebook intentionally because it seemed too much information to share with students, I taught acting at the same University, it’s called Brandeis , it’s just outside of Boston.
Jason: I’ve been there; it’s absolutely gorgeous that part of Boston.
Constance: Yes, well it’s Waltham, it’s got its moments.
Jason: It’s very Peyton Place territory isn’t it?
Constance: Well you know, Peyton Place is actually… the woman who wrote Peyton Place, Grace, I believe her last name was Metalious, is from Camden Maine, which is a very, very tiny town very much like Peyton Place was.
Constance: And I’ve been to Camden Maine and I can see how she was really inspired to write Peyton Place which was really a pre cursor of Dallas and Knots Landing, all those types of night time soap operas.
Jason: Oh yes…
Constance: I don’t tell my students, I didn’t tell my students, although many of them would Google me and find things out , I didn’t tell them I was an actress, nor do my private clients know that I used to be an actress and I didn’t tell them because, I don’t know, I think it’s .. That was then and this is now. On my website I mention it in passing because clients who are artists, not just actors, dancers, singers and entertainers, people who have that artistic component in their makeup would do better with a therapist who understood that part of them.
Jason: Could you talk a little bit about your second career, what’s happening now?
Constance: Well, I knew as I was getting older I realised that I wasn’t going to work as much as an actress when you hit… well I don’t know, it’s probably not even forty these days, that you’re not going to be as viable a commodity as you might have been and I started going back to graduate school. I did another series, which you’re probably not familiar with, it won the Golden Globe for best comedy and then it was cancelled a year and a half later it was called Brooklyn Bridge.
Jason: Oh, yes, your husband Sam did he…?
Constance: My husband Sam, he produced it. Ok I had to sleep with the producer, I know, I know!
(Jason starts laughing)
But anyway, I was on Brooklyn Bridge. And Jenny Lewis, who has now become an enormous musical phenomenon, played my daughter. It was created by Gary Goldberg, who created Family Ties, he and my husband did a lot of projects together and they did Brooklyn Bridge together. So, I was the little Irish girl’s mom who the little Jewish boy growing up in Brooklyn falls in love with and while I was doing Brooklyn Bridge I went to graduate school and got a masters in Psychology, then after Brooklyn Bridge was cancelled, I was still working once in a while but nothing really substantive, we made this very radical decision to move east for various and sundry reasons, I pursued graduate school here and then I started working at Brandeis and having been an acting teacher there and I sort of segued into the counselling department there and the reason that I gravitated into my specialist subject, which is eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder, is because having been in the business as a performer and also having been a dancer many years before, not a very good one I might add, I really understood first-hand how damaging it can be to be scrutinised on a regular basis for your physical self.
Jason: And boy, were you scrutinised, growing up, having children, blossoming in front of half of the world…
Constance: But that’s true whether you’re male or female, I think that anybody who is in the public eye has a very hard time, although I suppose, there are certainly actors and actresses who have kept their private life private and done it successfully. It’s even worse now, at least when I was working there wasn’t the internet and you didn’t have to deal with people taking pictures of you with your Uggs on and your Pillsbury Doughboy face with no eye make up on…
Jason: yeah haha
Constance: Screaming at your kids!
Jason: So listen, let’s take you back now, to the first, I suppose, the first encounter that you had with a producer, who I presume you didn’t have to sleep with, called David Jacobs when you did his very first show Married: The First Year.
Constance: It really came about through a very circuitous route because my husband was an actor at the time doing a mini-series on the same lot as they were doing Married, and I guess he went over to the casting to sort of kill time and schmooze with the casting women there and they said to him, they said to him “You know we’re looking for a woman to play the younger second wife in a new series who’s kinda bitchy”, he said, “Well, you know, my fiancée would be perfect for the role”, so I ended up reading for David’s series Married: The First Year playing this kind of nouveau riche wife, maybe somewhat the comic relief, and ..ah… it was short lived but it was a lot of fun. And then, really thanks to David, he wrote the part for me on Knots Landing and he gave me the script, I don’t remember the sequence of events, but it was Christmas Day that we went over to his house, it really changed my life…I mean, I guess I could say, in hindsight, that my husband was the one who was instrumental in changing my life but then David ultimately gave me the part on Knots and….you know.
Jason: Ah, that’s so nice…So, the pilot on Knots… can you talk a little about what that was like for you and shooting that first show, of doing that pilot on Knots..?
Constance: Well, it was 1979, it’s a (breathy intonation) long time ago darling. Ironically, Karen Allen played Don Murray’s wayward daughter and I saw Karen a few years ago, she owns a very successful business up in the Berkshires, she’s teaching acting at a school up there and she performs, she’s actually doing a movie now I think, a small film, but I went into the store which is an amazing, amazing clothing store and I said “You probably don’t remember me but I met you on the pilot of Knots Landing 1979”..
… And she did!
Jason: Of course she did!
Constance: She was delightful and looked phenomenal. She went on to enormous success with the whole franchise of the thing with Harrison Ford and….and anyway, it was delightful seeing her, but the pilot was…you know, I was, I hadn’t worked as much as ..of the….really…. maybe except for Kim Lankford and Jim, all the other actors on the show had really worked significantly, some of them even on Broadway and.. I mean Michele, I had seen Michele on Broadway several times and Joanie…you know, they had a much….much more under their belt than I did so I was really working among people who, who were, you know, who I knew their work and I really respected their work…. The most, the most awe inspiring was when I was doing a scene with Don Murray, who, being the good Catholic girl that I was, I had probably seen a movie called The Hoodlum Priest 10 times not to mention Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe and I’m sitting in a car with him, with Mr Murray, who’s, how old would he be now? Gosh….Probably in his mid-eighties… and I was so star struck… I mean (laughing) I was just like ‘Oh my god, Oh my god, I can’t believe it’, but of course I wasn’t saying that.. But, I just, it was….it was amazing. I mean it was just amazing to have that opportunity to work with somebody like him and also other actors and actresses whose work I was familiar with.
Jason: Well, you and Don open the show; you have the first scene together…
Jason: Yeah, he drives into the cul de sac, with a cold, and you have the very first line on Knots Landing….
Constance: Wow, I have no memory of that at all….
Jason: Which is…let me see if I can remember your first line on Knots Landing…Err…it’s “Hey Sid, what are you doing home so early?”
Constance: Oh my god, is that how I delivered it Jason?
(Jason bursts out laughing)
I’m surprised I ever worked again!
Jason: I’m a terrible actor.
Constance: We used to see Don, we’d see Don and his wife when we used to go to Santa Barbara a lot during that time, and it was, he was, you know, he is, a really, very classy man, he runs very, very deep. It was, other than knowing him from his films, I felt very blessed to work with him.
Jason: So, let’s talk about the first season because you have the most, possibly the most controversial episode, on that first season with The Lie, which is focused around Laura… and I re watched it recently and I was struck by how complicated that episode is and I wonder if that show could be made today with some of the sexual politics involved, I’m just not sure if a Network would run that show today… and I wonder if you have had a chance to watch it and what you think about it, I think it’s extraordinary television.
Constance: Well, I haven’t seen it in a long time. I do, ironically, what I remember is that the wardrobe mistress at the time who was a very young woman, perhaps she was an assistant, had in fact been raped. She was so sensitive to the procedure and the process and so…umm… solicitous of me and protective of me….she was a very young woman, probably even…I was about 30 or something, she was probably younger than I was but she had had this experience that obviously aged her in many respects so she (trails off)….. Isn’t that funny? I haven’t thought of her in a long time… but she really stands out in my memory of that whole episode. But also, you know, especially working on the college campus the whole sexual assault thing, it’s taken far too long, has finally been brought out into the open, I mean 1 out of 4 women are raped, usually by someone they know and so on a college campus I encountered that a lot and a lot of my clients had been raped, not just….males and females…So, I… you know, it’s a subject that has been dealt with very differently, although her story when she went to the bars and was looking for love in all the wrong places, that’s a …I don’t know how you would categorise that situation.
Jason: Well yes, that was what was so interesting about it, it looked as if, in that first season, Laura was going to become that Looking For Mr Goodbar type, but then they completely switched it around.. and I’m not sure, watching it, that Laura thinks that she’s been raped, because she’s, you know, gone out looking for adventure in bars, because she then is raped, the guilt of that, she almost doesn’t think she’s been raped, everyone else is screaming at the TV ‘you’ve been raped’ she almost doesn’t understand it and it’s really complicated and I think that’s a lot down to your performance because you play it ….you don’t play for sympathy, you play the reality of each moment…. And I think it’s one of the things that is so extraordinary about your performance throughout the whole of Knots…
Constance: But I think today, just to stay on the rape question a little bit, there are still far too many women who just because it was alcohol fuelled, usually from both perspectives, blame themselves and don’t fully acknowledge that what happened to them was not consensual and maybe in the case of Laura’s character she probably didn’t project far enough into the future to realise that this whole dalliance that she was having, or else she was enormously naïve for a woman her age, to think that this man…that actor, unfortunately, is deceased now, it was sad because he was a wonderful, wonderful actor.. But, she… maybe, I guess, maybe she was really naïve enough to think that one thing wasn’t going to lead to another. It was a very different time and she was very unhappy…
Jason: At this point, Constance, are you owning Laura? Are you feeling that you, on the journey of Knots, that you can stand up for the character? At what point did that happen for you, at what point did you really say this is mine?
Constance: Well, when David first wrote the part she was very vague. The brief description I had was that she wore a lot of pastel colours which was, you know, not a lot to go on. It was nobody’s fault. I just think that some characters were more fleshed out than others. I really don’t know what his perspective was, in fact maybe that was a gift because I was able to do more with the character than was put on paper. But I didn’t, you know, I respected the writers and I, you know, in those early days I certainly didn’t have the confidence or, I don’t know if confidence is the word, but I didn’t have the, you know, I just went with whatever was on the page that’s what I went with.
Jason: Oh, that’s interesting, because Kim Lankford, when I spoke to Kim, she said that in retrospect she feels she should have stood up for Ginger more, she felt that Michele, Joan and yourself were stronger in protecting the characters than perhaps she was with Ginger…
Constance: I don’t know, every actor has their own mechanism, the writers words are sacrosanct, writers don’t want to sit, whether it’s David Mamet, whose house I’m sitting in now because we bought this house from David Mamet, whether it’s a lesser known writer on the series team, want their words to be changed if that’s avoidable because the writers word is the bible. They even call the projection of the season the bible. So, I don’t know, maybe like I said I was lucky that the character wasn’t that defined so that whatever I brought to it as an actor, whatever pieces of myself were appropriate, maybe they just used that as a jumping off place, I don’t know, I’m not a writer I just don’t know how that kind of muscle works. Do you write the character and find the right kind of actor to fit into it or do you find the actor you like and write that character around that actor? I guess it’s a little of both.
Jason: Yeah, I think so. When we spoke to Mike Filerman he said that you were as close to Laura as Michele was to Karen and Joan was to Val and that as the show went on you were inseparable in terms of the closeness to the character and he said he watched that go on.
Laura: Really, that’s interesting, no I wasn’t aware of that.
Jason: I’m going to throw a couple of names at you…John Pleshette! Your sparring partner in crime, on the show
Constance: I just saw John. I just had dinner with John and his wife two or three months ago because we were in LA for an extended period of time. John is an amazing gourmet cook but actually we went out to dinner that evening but actually we’ve had dinner at his home before and I think he even has a blog, yes he does. He has a food blog right now. And my husband directed John in a play in a wonderful, wonderful theatre at Cape Cod a few years ago, and in fact we brought Julie as a surprise to see John in the play, it’s a tiny theatre and she was sitting in the front row and John had no idea she was going to be there because Julie lived full time in the Cape, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Cape Jason, it’s a part of Massachusetts that extends out into the Atlantic …by the way , Chatham Massachusetts, where we have a house, is the closest place to England in the United States. A bit of trivia for you.
Jason: I’m going to send you some smoke signals
Constance: So anyway, she came to the play and she has a very infectious laugh, and it was just so funny because when John came on stage she laughed and for a millisecond, just a millisecond cos John is a consummate pro, he got thrown. But, we were an odd couple needless to say and part of it might have been….Well, John was cast before I was, so you know we were sort of, not a couple you would put together predictably.
Jason: You were so interesting together, because he was much smaller than you and you had this incredible energy together, watching those early scenes, the characters never arrive together at the same point, they keep missing each other, it’s uncomfortable viewing at times but because you have this Woody Allen Dianne Keaton thing going on. It’s mesmerising and wacky and funny as well as being heart-breaking.
Constance: I guess, when you describe it like that it sounds like a lot of relationships doesn’t it? I think any two people, even in a long term relationship who are at the same place at the same time, that synchronicity is hard to find in any relationship or friendship.
Jason: What was your working relationship like with John, how did that progress over the years?
Constance: Well, John is very, very smart and I think his intelligence, and he’s a writer…so I think his intelligence and his writing ability made working with him, you know, kind of elevated it in some respects than it would under normal circumstances actor to actor working together.
Jason: And then he left the show and I’m wondering what that’s like being on a show that is essentially about a couple and then he’s gone..?
Constance: Well again, that was the writers choice and I suppose that is what life is like as well, and being a single female in a cul de sac of couples, I don’t know… it didn’t really, it was such a slow deterioration of the relationship that it really had nowhere to go except to be dissolved, in terms of that particular couple.
Jason: And then the show became very glamorous, its fifth year, after John left with Kim and Jim Houghton, and Laura became one of the figureheads of that with Donna Mills, you two became incredibly glamorous, working at the Marina offices together, very powerful women together in business, do you remember all that?
Constance: All I remember darling is a lot of big hair and big shoulder pads.
Jason: Haha (laughing)
Constance: That’s all I remember (laughs)…I guess the bigger the shoulder pads the more powerful the female.
Jason: Was that Barbara Kay Minister doing all that to you?
Constance: Ah…You know, the hair , I mean it was a sign of the times, I don’t think it was hair and makeup it was a reflection of whatever was popular at the time, it’s just so funny to see those.. I mean, you know, the shoulder pads really got me because they were almost like weapons. So funny, I mean, what we were thinking, my god…
Jason: Well, it’s funny cos when the show starts you’re all dressing for the weather in sun dresses and jeans and then season 5 you’re all suddenly in heavy clothing and things and you’re not sweating…
Constance: Oh, honey, I never sweat. I never sweat. I have low blood pressure. It drives my husband crazy when we go to the gym. I don’t know about everybody else.
Jason: You never sweat (chuckling)…
Constance: Plus, you have someone standing round ready to pat you at any given moment so…
Jason: Hey, tell me about this, cos you guys on Knots had an incredibly long shooting day, you went on 5 hours or so past the Dallas and Falcon Crest lot, why did it take so long to shoot?
Constance: I don’t know. I don’t know what the scheduling was like on other series. I just know that the location where the cul de sac was, was pretty far away from where everybody lived and normally worked and then of course during the 84 Olympics they took us up to Oregon trying to avoid whatever congestion and whatever mess might have been caused by the Olympics and in fact it turned out not to be that bad so…That was a big move to take the entire show out of state like that. I don’t know, the thing about Knots even though it was a night time soap I never got the feeling that anybody ever phoned it in, not that other shows I’m just saying that the level was really, really, consummate and consistently good and that the actors perhaps, I don’t know perhaps the actors and directors dictated that the days become a little longer because we were trying to achieve something that was a level of excellence.
Jason: You certainly did, and when Julie Harris came along, did that change the chemistry?
Constance: I think Julie, who was the all-time top Tony winner at that time, I think that record has been broken recently, I think by Audra McDonald, but she was….it was like having Mother Teresa come on the set, well she actually loves Mother Teresa, she named her dog Teresa, but that’s beside the point, Julie had an aura about her and a light about her, which she had her entire career and when that came on the set everybody was enormously respectful of her and… Not that she wasn’t down to earth, she was very down to earth. Oh my god she was funny. She was funny. I was just thinking… When we shot the haunted house episode, there were these naked statues outside the house. I can’t remember where the house was Altadena, Pasadena …. And they were really, you know, I made some comment and she goes, “Oh, you’re so ribald!”
(Inserted trivia, adjective referring to sexual matters in an amusingly rude or irreverent way)
I don’t even think I knew what ribald meant, I had been an English major, she just was… She had a wicked sense of humor, a wicked sense of humor, and a delightful laugh, as John found out when she came to see him in that play, and she never did anything halfway, none of the actors did, everybody gave their all, I mean, I feel everybody gave 100 plus per cent. My husband directed Julie in an episode of Family Ties and he used to call her an acting machine. She was. She was an acting machine. Basically, you knew you were in good hands when Julie was working with you, you knew you didn’t have to worry, you knew you didn’t have to hold your breath, you knew that all you had to do was just kind of gently push her forward and everything was going to be Ok.
Jason: Wow, tell me about… in the early days, something struck me rewatching it recently, you and Joan Van Ark had a lot of scenes together, and Laura and Val were best friends and then you come back to the second season and it’s Karen and Val and Karen and Laura and it’s almost as if the writers decided to have two separate sets of friends……can you talk a bit about Joan and Michele and your working relationship with them?
Jason: Well I think they are two examples of actors who had done a significant body of work before I ever met them, so both of them knew their craft, know their craft, know their strong suit and you know, have a lot of ground to stand on with what they feel is right or wrong for their characters or the show. I just think their experience and their instincts served them very well. I mean, I saw Michele on Broadway in How To Succeed long, long before I ever met her…. I went with my family, I saw her in See Saw with Ken Howard. She was a Broadway star…. I hadn’t seen Joanie on Broadway, I know she had done Barefoot in The Park, I knew of her… so, you know, they had a lot of heft coming into the show , which I’m sure is.. I mean, Joanie had the connection to Dallas, but they brought that heft with them and even though I’m only a few years younger than them I felt light years younger in terms of my experience.
Jason: Wow, well certainly on screen there’s no trace of that, I mean…. Laura as a character, the slight brittleness with a wise cracking thing and a slight defensiveness, she comes out fully formed, and I don’t think there’s any character like her on night time soap opera.
Constance: Well, I credit my acting teacher Larry Moss. I don’t know if you know who Larry is?
Jason: No, no talk about that a little…
Constance: Larry has become an acting coach now, he coached Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry and for Million Dollar Baby, she thanked him at the Oscars, he coached Helen Hunt when she won her Oscar for As Good As It Gets, he coaches Leonardo, he did Great Gatsby, he did Wolf Of Wall Street… He was just beginning as an acting teacher when I started studying with him, I was in his first class… and he, in a different way than David Jacobs obviously, he changed my life because he gave me a craft. I had been a dancer, I had done commercials but I hadn’t really studied with an acting teacher and I’d majored in English at college which prepares you for nothing ….
…Pardon me… Pardon me (laughing) but it prepares you for nothing. And, Larry just gave me a craft, he gave me a skillset, and he was very hard on me.
Jason: Oh, really? During Knots, when you were coaching with him?
Constance: No, he was my acting teacher in New York long before I got Knots Landing, so he really helped me hone my skills and, you know, learn where my strengths were and my weaknesses. I was in his class for three or four years, it was an amazing transformation, (laughing) when I first came to his class he said I reminded him of a glazed ham.
(Much laughter from both)
Jason: Stop it, he didn’t say that! He really did?
Constance: He really did, kind of like a glazed ham….. Which was funny because; the ham is slang for an actor and the glazed is the gelatinous glaze on the ham, which was my protectiveness. (Laughs) And I was very guarded. I was a very guarded person. He really changed…he just, he was amazing, he is still amazing, I still see Larry and talk to him and I’m still friends with people from that class and other people who have studied with him subsequently. Now he has this amazing, he has a great website…he’s worked with, he works with Leonardo DiCaprio a lot but he’s worked with some phenomenal actors, he was born to do what he’s doing, he is a great teacher and I’m sure that he is a great coach, I have never worked with him as a coach but I’m sure he’s.. and being a therapist now I see a lot of what he does, he’s not playing therapist, he would never presume to do that, that would be unethical but there are elements in his approach that are…..psychological in nature. He wrote a great book called The Intent To Live, it’s a great book, even if you’re not an actor it’s a great book. By the time I got to Knots Landing I knew that I had the chops.
Constance: I just hadn’t had that much of an opportunity, I mean I had done TV movies, commercials, pilots but I knew that I had been well prepared by Larry. I was ready, I just hadn’t had the work experience, the credits, that some of my co-stars had.
Jason: And then of course, Bill Devane arrives and Ava Gardner, you and I have tweeted about Ava, talk a little about that incredible era on the show for you…..
Constance: Ironically, Bill had directed my husband in a musical of Harry Chapin, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Harry Chapin, he died in an accident about 30 years ago, he wrote a song called Cats In The Cradle which became an iconic anthem about our children getting older, he also wrote Taxi which at that point was the longest song ever written for radio.
Jason: Oh wow
Constance: And they did a review of his music at The Improv, in Hollywood, a comedy club, you know…..And Bill Devane directed it, my husband was in it, and this is before I knew my husband, this is before I ever met Bill and it’s so ironic that many, many years later Bill ends up as my spouse on Knots Landing having already worked with my husband in another capacity. And so, when we saw Bill a few weeks ago in LA it was so great because, I mean, he and my husband Sam have a longer history than Bill and I, so it was really nice, you know it was really nice on many counts. So when Bill came on, and again, there’s a good example of letting the actors dictate where our story is going to go, because nobody…. You know, some people you put them together and they have no chemistry at all, and some people you put them together, including two males like Butch Cassidy or something like that, where those two males have this amazing chemistry. But it turned out that Bill and I worked very well together and they wrote to that, and we were very lucky to have had that experience with one another and umm…. It certainly made working a lot more fun and a lot more interesting when there was that connection between the two of us.
Jason: Yes, and David Jacobs, when we spoke to him, said that you two had the best written material on the whole show… because….I challenged him about the amount of screen time that you and Bill received and he said no, no, no, you guys had the best written material on the whole show and that you ration the best guns because it makes it more interesting.
Constance: Yeah, I don’t know I’ve never heard that theory and I’m not a page counter so I don’t know quantitatively how it all adds up but I do know that I enjoyed working with Bill and I looked forward to it and I think the writers, based on what you’re saying, enjoyed writing for the two of us.
Jason: Yes, they thought you were incredibly together, so incredible they gave you Ava Gardner.
Constance: They gave me Ava Gardner…..Oh my god.
Jason: They gave her to you…
Constance: You know when Ava was going to come on the show I went…..and Netflix wasn’t around then… so I rented some of her movies like One Touch Of Venus… I’m trying to think what else Magambo….. And oh gosh, I feel like there was another one that I rented….. What’s the one with Bogart?
Jason: Oh… it’s erm…
Constance: It opens with her funeral….
Jason: Yes ….Bogart…
Jason: I haven’t got my laptop…
Constance: Anyway, so I rented these movies and One Touch Of Venus, she was breath-taking, absolutely breath-taking and… she… I…Oh, my god, she was so gorgeous…… (laughing) so when we first met her..
Jason: Yeah (laughing)….
Constance: She was very, she had to play such a bitchy note with us on camera. But in real life she was extremely lovely, and very gracious, and I said “I rented all your movies” I said, “I rented One Touch Of Venus” I said “My God “and she goes “Yes darling and those were my tits”
(Jason laughs, a lot)
Back in those days there wasn’t as much cosmetic surgery available as there is today so, I think she just wanted to reiterate that it was the real deal and she was pretty darn cute. Another thing she did, I’ll never forget and I’ve told this story ad nauseum; one morning my son who was only about four at the time, it was very early in the morning because I was on my way to work, and I don’t know what he had done it was probably nothing terribly innocuous but I had gotten so upset with him that, I…I’m embarrassed to say, that I slammed his bedroom door and it cracked!
Jason: Oh! Oh!
Constance: Oh my God! And I walked into the makeup trailer when I got into the studio and it was just Ava and I was crying cos I was just so upset that I had gotten that angry with him, it was really, really not….right. And I said “I’m so sorry that I got that upset with my son and Oh My God!” … And do you know that that night, the phone rings, the hard line no cell phones, my husband picks up the phone and.. he picks it up and hears.. (DEEP VOICE) “Hello Darling. It’s Ava, is Constance there?” And my husbands like pointing at the phone mouthing ‘It’s Ava Gardner, its Ava Gardner!’ So, I get the phone and she was calling, Jason, to see if I was Ok.
Jason: Oh! Oh!
Constance: I mean… it was so sweet. She was just calling to see if I was better and if everything was alright and I had been so upset that morning and, rightly so, because I had misbehaved… And anyway, it was just very dear and that’s… The fact that she was that way in real life and the fact that she played that very bitchy note on the show demonstrates what a (starts laughing) phenomenal actress she was.
Jason: Those scenes between you were acerbic; I mean you could have cut that tension with a knife. I’m so glad you told that story because I think a lot of people, when they watch these glamorous soap operas that because women are being horrible and bitchy to each other on screen that that is the reality of their lives. And you know…
Constance: It’s called acting baby!
Jason: It’s called acting darling! And while we’re on bitchy, you and Donna Mills had some of the most bitchy scenes and presumably you were pals off screen and it wasn’t all you know….
Constance: Yes, I think everyone on the show was a good, skilled actor in the sense that whatever their best qualities that were appropriate for the characters they would bring that to the characters and leave the rest at home and I think that, you know, whatever notes she and I played, and I guess they were similar to Ava and I too, you know it worked for the plot, it worked for the characters or it worked for the storyline…
Jason: Well, there was also a sense with Laura and Abby that perhaps, if only Abby hadn’t slept with Richard, they might have been friends…there’s a kind of sense there, I don’t know..
Constance: Well, maybe in hindsight, she was doing me a favour, you know….
(Slight pause then both burst out laughing simultaneously)
Jason: Absolutely, that’s brilliant…Let’s talk about Mike Filerman, I spoke with him, rest his soul and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying this that I imagine he was a force to be reckoned with..
Constance: You know, I didn’t know, I mean I knew Michael, but not… I didn’t (socialise)…I know Michele knew him extremely well, because I think they went way, way back to when she worked in theatre at the beginning of her career, I didn’t know Michael super well, I didn’t socialise with Michael, I knew David a little bit better, they were a good team. I think they balanced each other out very well. You know, I knew Michael in the context of the show but I didn’t really…and he was funny and irreverent and, you know, had a wild sense of humor and ultimately went on to become an enormously successful Broadway producer and a real New Yorker, I think, in the long run. I know he wasn’t from New York originally but I always thought of him as a New Yorker more than an LA person, whatever that means, whatever that means , I guess you can have it mean whatever you want
Jason: Hmmmm, mmmm
Constance: And I didn’t really know him….. socially. I don’t really have a sense of who he was really, outside the show.
Jason: Who were your favourite producers, cos you had Peter Dunne for a while and the Bernie and Lynne, who, I believe, you’ve seen them recently?
Constance: Oh my god. This was so bizarre. We are in New Orleans, we are with this dear friend of ours, who used to publish The Times Picayune down there and lives there now full time and then we go to this little café- first we go to one café and it’s not open, then we go across the street to this- maybe it had ten tables in it- and there’s no one else in the café because it’s on the late side it’s about two o’clock, we walk in, it’s my husband and I and this dear friend of his who he’s known since school…
Constance: And there’s this couple sitting there and I’m looking at them and I’m thinking… it can’t be….because our sons, our children actually went to school together too so I knew them outside of the show because their two boys and my son and my daughter all went to the same school. So, and my son and their son were friends, so I walk up and I said to them, “Do I look familiar to you?”
(Both laugh and laugh)
And they went, “Oh My God!!” They have retired to New Orleans; I think they had owned a home there when they were still working in LA, in the meantime they have retired there, they are not active in any way shape or form in the business and they seem terribly happy and I had not seen them since I moved from LA which is 17 years ago since our kids were all in school together. It was pretty wild because they had also tried to go to the restaurant across the street and they had not been in this restaurant in eight years, so the fact that they were there in this teeny little, you know, small plate Caribbean … Southern… (Jason laughs) … I don’t know what kinda food it was and that we happened to walk in and they knew a lot of the same people as our friend who was in journalism, which was kinda cool too… But, it was… I guess, you know Freud said there are no accidents, although someone told me the other day that God said that, so I don’t know if God said it or Freud said it but somebody said there are no accidents. So the fact that they were sitting there just seemed really wild…And I’d just seen Bill which I told them a few weeks earlier.
Jason: Do you think that you’re having, sort of, sort of lots of Knots Landing moments and it’s sort of the right time now? Because it feels, like, there was a long time when you didn’t really connect with the show and there was lots going on and everybody was, you know, disappointed that you didn’t take part in some things and.. But you were getting on with your life?
Constance: You know I had, unfortunately I was let go from the show, I was in the process- I’m trying to think if I had just had a baby or if I was about to- no, I guess..
Jason: Meg had just been born on the show, so I think probably…
Constance: But I think when I was told that I was going to be let go that I was (pause), or fired, to use the vernacular, I was probably still pregnant.
Jason: Oh gosh. Ok.
Constance: I think that, when you’re about to give birth and you’re told, symbolically, that you’re about to die, I think the juxtaposition of those two events really wreaked havoc on my inner psyche and I, I just, I was thrown I didn’t see this coming…..I guess you just can’t assume right? I mean, things happen and I just wasn’t prepared, I was really blindsided. I went on and did some other stuff, I did Brooklyn Bridge which was really an amazing experience, all kidding aside, not just because my husband was involved, working with Gary and.. it was different, it wasn’t better or worse, it was just different, and I did a bunch of other stuff, but you know I already realised that I should figure out how to reinvent myself because as a female actor I knew that I wasn’t going to work forever and I had to figure out something else that I could do so that I could be an effective person, you know, later on in my life.
Jason: And those, you know, that final story for Laura must have been really tough to do. And yet the performance, again, it was pitched perfect. I suppose it was art meeting reality, sort of clashing…
Constance: Well, I had just had her, so she was very, very young, my son was about four and a half, she was a new-born, she was born in February and I don’t know when we shot the final stuff but I was still consumed with the idea that if this were really happening to me and I had just had a child and I had to say goodbye to this child because I knew that I wasn’t going to be around for this child to see her grow up , I mean, you know that’s about all you need to go on and sort of take-off from there. I didn’t have to look too far for the personalisation of the moment.
Jason: And as a viewer, I can tell you, Constance, at the time, and I’m sharing this with you because I know that a lot of people who have emailed in will want me to tell you this, that we all felt incredibly betrayed by the show and Laura was at the core of the show from the beginning and it really felt that the show was letting us down by writing you out, whatever the financial reasons behind it, and the show was never the same… never the same.. And everyone that we have spoken to Joan and Michele and… All say it was never the same. I’m sure you know that but I just wanted to put that on the record and tell you that.
Constance: That’s very sweet of you, Jason. But you know, it’s called show business for a reason and obviously there’s a certain amount of commerce involved and I don’t know what really goes on in the heads of the people who have to make those decisions so….. I’m sure that at the time it seemed like a good idea. So…..
Jason: Hey. Tell me about, I need to ask you about Lisa Hartman. You had a great run with her and some onscreen implied lesbian relationship onscreen with her and no one had ever done that on prime time before…
Constance: Yes, now it’s become, you know, de rigueur.
I think it was so funny because one time for the gag reel, John Pleshette came into the living room of our home, Lisa and I were sitting with our back to the door – I think I was nursing Daniel at the time so he must have been only a few months old- I don’t remember what the set up was but we did this intentionally for the gag reel, and we didn’t tell John, and John walks in and we both had moustaches on.
And we… we said… (laughing a lot), we said.. “Oh honey, you’re home,” or something…… And it took a lot to get John, believe me, he just dissolved!
Constance: But I think the implied lesbian relationship between those two characters, whether it was implied or in fact the reality made a lot of sense.
Jason: Well, which was it?
Constance: (ribald, playfully) Well, I don’t know, Jason. I don’t know … (giggles)
Jason: I tell you what I think, I’m going to lay my cards on the table.. I think something did happen. Even if we didn’t see it, or couldn’t see it or the characters wouldn’t ever talk about it, it’s just more interesting if something did happen…
Constance: Maybe, I think….Lisa’s a lot younger than I am, maybe I felt maternal towards her, maybe I felt she needed someone looking out for her, she was a very appealing character and very vulnerable and very easily victimised and maybe I recognised that note that had, unfortunately, been played ad nauseam in me, resonated, that I could identify in my life to some degree at that time, I don’t remember what was going on with John and I at that time. Maybe I was just a few beats ahead of her. There are a lot of things that could have been going on and whether the writers were writing to that or not I don’t know but obviously something came across to the viewers.
Jason: Oh, it was dynamite, and it was the end of the relationship with John Pleshette.
Constance: Didn’t they think that he had killed or something?
Jason: Yeah they did, well you and Michele Lee had some amazing scenes about that and in fact Karen and Laura didn’t speak for a whole year because of it and there’s a beautiful scene where you make up, it’s one of my favourite scenes on the whole show actually, I know I sent you some scenes but it wasn’t in there, I can’t find it, but it’s one of the best scenes. And yeah, you thought that Richard had done it….. and do you remember smashing up the restaurant?
Constance: I do, that was a lot of fun. I had a great time doing that. The restaurant, by the way, that was named after my son, my real son. I mean they called him, it was brilliant casting, they cast my son as my son.
Jason: Hey and how is Daniel and how is Meg?
Constance: Dan’s great, Dan works for Jay Z’s company, RocNation, out in LA, he’s doing really, really well and he’s 6.4 about 250 he looks like a tight end, he’s a great young man. I’m glad he’s in LA, I don’t think he’ll ever move from LA after his brief sojourn here in Boston and then he went to Atlanta but you know, he’s a good man he’s a really, really, good man, he was named 30 Under 30 To Watch by BillBoard Magazine and I said, “Why do you think you’ve got so successful in this ridiculous business?” I mean the music business is worse than acting and, you know, that end of the business and he said ‘Because I always do what I say I’m going to do Mom,’ and I think that has held him in good stead, when he says he’s going to do something he does it and this is not always the case in life.
And my daughter has just told us she’s getting married to a terrific young man that she has known for several years.
Jason: Oh congratulations!
Constance: That’s kinda cool and…she’s an assistant editor at Harper Collins.
Jason: Oh wow.
Constance: And she’s now known as Margaux, she’s not Meg, she changed her name in College, she became Margaux the minute she went to Connecticut, she said she never liked the name Meg.
Constance: Who knew?
Jason: Who knew? That’s a European name, you can tell her..
Constance: Her given name is Marguerite, so it kind of sorta works. She’s doing great. I’m really glad that my kids are terrific people that I would love to know even if they weren’t my kids.
Jason: Good, so you’re all in a good place. How do you feel now, looking back on your time on Knots, with so much distance?
Constance: You mean in terms of..?
Jason: Are you at peace with the whole departure?
Constance: It’s so many years ago now, my daughter just turned 28 and I have etched out a niche for myself here in Boston as a therapist, I’ve been brought in to speak at acting classes and colleges and the people that I see unless they are over 50 or 40 maybe tops, have no idea what my former life was. So….but so many people re-invent themselves now, so many people have two or three careers and are glad to do so because they have either outgrown what they were doing or it’s outgrown them or something has sent them in a different direction. I think as a therapist if you have been an actor your skills as an actor, your sense of empathy and your skills of observing other people, your skills in that area serve you extremely well as a psychotherapist. I have three really close friends in LA who are therapists who used to be in the entertainment business and I think it’s a good segue from one career to another. And I forget, you know, I forget that especially because Knots is on in the UK and plays all the time that I and my fellow actors are all kind of frozen in time because people are experiencing the show as if it’s now and obviously it isn’t… But out of respect for that…I guess, I guess… (pause) …I guess I never thought of that before, you know, I never thought that you sort of live on in people’s eyes as you were then .
Jason: And the detail, the questions that people have asked me to ask you, I just couldn’t ask you because I know you just wouldn’t remember those kinds of storyline details, why Laura said this to Karen or why, you know, but for people watching it now or on DVD, it’s a real to them as something on HBO like The Wire or Treme….
Constance: Well and I think that’s obviously a credit to the writers and the actors and the times and maybe, maybe people miss those stories with a beginning a middle and an end, television has changed so much since then and your choices are so numerous .Obviously, it struck a chord in people’s hearts and minds, it somehow resonated and even though it’s very old now in terms of how many years ago the pilot was in 79, and how long did the show run?
Jason: 14 seasons
Constance: It doesn’t feel, it’s dated obviously with those hairdo’s (laughs) and shoulder pads but maybe it doesn’t feel dated in terms of the human experience.
Jason: The story, yeah, the stories. Constance what kind of shows do you enjoy?
Constance: We watch, I watch Girls, even though I talk to the TV all the time when I watch it, Lena Dunham’s show. We watch The Americans. I think The Americans is phenomenal.
Jason: Oh, I love that show
Constance: And he’s, Matthew Rhys, is from England. I did watch The Wire, I saw Dominic West in the lobby when I was in LA at The Peninsula and I just about died and my two friends didn’t even know who he was!
Jason: Ha, that’s so funny… Treme, did you ever watch it?
Constance: Treme, it’s so funny I never watched Treme, I wish I had. Wendell Pierce, my husband gave Wendell his first job and has stayed in touch with him… I don’t know why we didn’t watch Treme, there’s no good reason.
Jason: Oh, it’s great
Constance: I’m trying to think what else we watch. Obviously DOWNTON ABBY…
Jason: (surprised) Do you watch Downton Abby?
Constance: Of course we watch Downton Abby, are you kidding me?!
Constance: Oh my god, it’s so popular over here. I’m trying to think what else… There’s a new show that’s a spin off from BREAKING BAD over here, that’s good…
Jason: Better Call Saul
Constance: yes, there’s another show which is kind of the darker side of Girls, if there could be a darker side of Girls, called Broad City. It’s on one of the cable stations, but it’s a very niche show. But The Americans is phenomenal…
Jason: it’s such a slow burn as well, you never quite know…I forget when I’m watching it, that they’re Russian agents and then they do Russian agent things and I go Oh my god they are Russian agents!
Constance: It’s really good. I think it’s really good….
Jason: And you love going to the theatre don’t you?
Constance: We are going to see Wolf Hall 2 next weekend; we were in England last May, we were in England last October, May we went over just for a friend’s birthday party and we saw four plays in one weekend. In between going to the birthday party and seeing our friends.
Jason: Constance, it’s been so thrilling to talk with you.
Constance: Thank you, Jason, you’re so sweet.
Jason: I’m going to leave the last word to you, do you have anything you’d like to say to the fans before we say goodbye?
Constance: I think, I am very, very touched by how impactful the show has been to so many people and I am also enormously touched by the impact the character of Laura has had on people. I don’t think that actors and actresses, unless they are doing live theatre, have the luxury of knowing how this is reaching people and affecting them, so this has been a real …eye opener…in many respects and it’s been an affirmation of sorts and I appreciate it, I really appreciate the opportunity. We all want to be effective people, all of us do in some way shape or form, so the fact that I was able to be that effective at a time in my life when I didn’t even realise it, actually, and now I do is a real gift and I want to thank you, Jason, for making that possible.
Jason: Constance McCashin, thank you for nine glorious seasons on Knots Landing and for talking to me today. Take care, Constance.
Constance: You’re welcome my dear.
Constance: Bye bye.
For more information on Constance McCashin, visit, http://constancemccashin.com/