Knots Landing diva Joan Van Ark is back at KnotsLanding.Net to celebrate the release of the Knots Season 1 DVD and answered your questions in our exclusive interview.
CONNECTING WITH JOAN VAN ARK
Two weeks ago, Joan van Ark completed a successful run as
Helena in Tennessee Williams' A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR at the
Hartford Stage Theatre, Connecticut. "Van Ark plays the part with such
deliciously delicate, incisive bitchiness ... The show really belongs to
Joan van Ark," said the critics. Back at her home in Los Angeles, she
generously agrees to talk to two KNOTS LANDING fans in London about her
career and how she approaches her work as an actress. Throughout the hour
long conversation, her passion, drive and commitment to her craft shine
At a pre-arranged hour, (20:00 British Summer Time, 12:00 JVA Time) we call
There is a high pitched whistling sound on the line.
Joan van Ark: Woa! Hello?
Jason Yates: Hello?
The whistling changes pitch.
Joan: Oh my God!
Jason: Oh! Joan, I think that's your fax machine kicking in or something.
Joan: Can you redial?
Jason: Yeah, we'll redial. We'll call you back.
Joan: Thank you.
Jason: No problem. Bye.
Joan: How are you?
Jason: Fantastic. We've got you! Hi, Joan. How are you doing?
Jason: Oh, listen, thank you so very, very much for doing this. Can I
introduce James, who's going to be talking to you today as well? James.
James Holmes: Hi, Joan.
Joan: Hey, how are ya?
James: Thank you so much for doing this. It's a real treat for us.
Joan: Excuse me? I didn't hear that.
James: It's a real treat for us. Thank you so much for doing this.
Joan: Oh, that's all right. We've tried - (chuckles) we've made an attempt
at this several times. I think it was when the DVD first came out.
Jason: Yeah, yes. But it's so good of you, cos we realise you're busy and
you've just finished a play. How did the show go? Really well, I hear.
Joan: Oh my God, it was - you know, I'm still not over her, because it was
so intense and she was so different. We would have discussions after some of
the performances, and I said, "I built a career on playing Goody Two Shoes!"
Helena was the bitch of the piece and not liked by, you know, the audience
or the other members, you know, of the company, because she was the villain.
Jason: Yeah. Yes, yes.
Joan: It was, oh, so -
Jason: And you're somebody who - you've said before that you like to please.
So how's that -
Joan: Oh! I do! I wanna be as loved madly -
Jason (chuckling): Yeah, yeah.
Joan: - by everybody. And I found that to be very - I knew it would be and
that's why I took her, that's why I did her - because I knew it would be
scary and I'd have to be brave, and a man actually who is from London, who's
part of this theatre, Hartford Stage, which is a very respected theatre -
Joan: He said this was a very brave - he said it was so layered, and on and
on, but he used the word "brave", and I thought, "Well, you know what? I'll
take that. That I'll take."
Jason: And what was your working process for that? Did you do a collage?
Joan: A collage?
Jason: Yes. Did you do a - did you - how did you -
James:We read that you - we read about that you do the collages for your
roles and it sounds really interesting.
Joan: I didn't know you knew. Yes, I always do a collage. I did - well,
first of all, Tennessee described her as - I think he put it - "A woman
enters with the eyes of a predatory bird."
Joan: So, initially I started - tried to play around with the birdlike
qualities, but it gave me such a cartoony, kind of weird - I don't know - it
took me somewhere that wasn't gonna work.
Joan: The director sort of knew it too.
Joan: But they also describe her as a snake. So she's part bird, part snake,
which is an archioptrix.
Joan: So I did more the snakelike qualities, and sort of used my hips more
and bla bla bla, but the collage had peacock feathers for her - for a thing
- that gave me an image like her eyes; I had pictures of an archioptrix; the
stage manager's six year old son gave me a picture from a book he had of a
snake, a poisonous snake striking, getting ready to strike; and then I had
pictures of 1930s wardrobe, because the play takes place in the 1930s, and I
had this great hat with feathers.
Jason: Yes, we've been sent pictures. It looks fantastic.
Joan: Well, I don't know. It looks so different though. I mean, she's just -
she was such a piece of work - and I come home, and this always happens to
me - I did a play a year ago at La Jolla Playhouse with this amazing
director, who just did JERSEY BOYS on Broadway, and The Who's TOMMY, and
he's done a lot of Broadway shows, and he's actually up for a Tony right now
for JERSEY BOYS - I come home and I just collapse and I get sick, and I've
had this flu ever since I got home, so -
Jason: Oh no! Oh, listen, I'm gonna tell you an old trick that really,
really works apparently, is ginger. To grate raw ginger into boiling,
boiling hot water and to take it with lemon and a tiny bit of sugar, but
loads of raw ginger. Apparently, it knocks a cold out of you. Apparently.
Joan: Cos my head - I finally went to a doctor - my head is so congested,
and what I thought it was (chuckles) is in the middle of this play that I
just did, an actress, a character in the play, throws a glass of water in my
face, because I upset her so much, and she throws this glass of water in my
face, and I thought, "Well, maybe-" and she usually hit my ear, cos I think
she truly didn't wanna hit me in the face, which I loved cos I think that's
what would happen to my character - she would be stunned and it would mess
up her make up - but, so she threw it, and it often would go up the side of
my face into my ear, and I thought, "Well, maybe I got an infection from
just having this water thrown at me - " (chuckles) you know - "and it stayed
in my ear," cos this is all in my head, and it - Ugh! Landing here in Los
Angeles in the airplane, I thought my head would explode.
James:And when did you finish the play? How long have you been back?
Joan: About two weeks ago.
Jason: You sound absolutely - you sound like you've just been to the moon
and back. You sound, you know, electrified. Can I ask you about, you know,
having spent so long working in television, how does it feel now to be in
the theatre? Do you feel - you know - going back to The Church of Your Work,
as I think you called it recently?
Joan: Well, I pretty much do a play every year, or have for the last three
years in a row. Two years ago, I did the Kennedy Centre. Last year, I did La
Jolla with Des McAnuff, and now this year, I did the Tennessee Williams
again. The Kennedy Centre was FIVE BY TEN, which is also a Tennessee
Williams character, which the director of [I]this[/I] play handed me a book
that I'm in, having created these three - two, sorry - these two characters
in the FIVE BY TEN at The Kennedy Centre. It's a book put out by Amazon, and
I literally created the role of Mrs Fenway, because it was the world
premiere of five one act plays that Tennessee Williams had never had
Joan: Yes, so it was very exciting. So I've actually done, you know, pretty
much a play a year, at least for the last three years, and I used to go the
Williamstown Theatre, etc., so to answer your question, I think they
intermix, because to go back to the stage, it is my - when I went to Yale
Drama School - I mean, it is my church. It's the ground floor, it's the real
deal, the test.
Jason: Yes, yes.
Joan: It feeds me. Both feed - one feeds the other. Because I learn things
in working on a stage production, and actually the soap that I did last
Jason: Oh, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS?
Joan: That's exactly -
Joan: It taught me a new process for quickly getting to the heart and soul
of a scene and a line that I didn't realise until I was working on other
material, like this play.
Jason: And how did that manifest itself?
Jason: Well, I'll tell you. I would mark - because I always mark my scripts.
Dick Benjamin, who I did BAREFOOT [IN THE PARK] actually there in London at
the Piccadilly Circus, Dick Benjamin said that looking at a script of Joan
van Ark's looks like you're looking at a map, a road map. (Jason and Joan
laugh) It has pictures and signals and signs and markings and all that, and
I would mark the stress of the sentence and put quotes around key words, and
also I learned the power of the verb of the sentence, which I'd never
analysed before, but the option of a line is in the verb, of course, and I
would never analyse it that specifically, but I've done that and I did it
with this Tennessee Williams' play even, because that's the way I marked the
soap opera scripts quickly to get to the heart of it and learn it fast.
James: Was there much rehearsal on - I guess there wasn't - on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS?
Joan: There was nothing, and you see -
Joan: I mean, yes, you'd walk through it at seven in the morning, you'd go
to make up and you'd come back on the set and walk through it once with the
cameras. You'd tape it and if it was good enough, it was a "print and
move on", and good enough is not good enough for me. (Chuckles)
James and Jason: Yeah, yeah.
Joan: I want it to be fabulous.
James and Jason (chuckling): Yeah, yeah.
Joan: I wanted her that I'm playing, which in that case was Gloria, I
wanted her to be fabulous, and sometimes you get it on the first
take. The producer/director told me on YOUNG AND RESTLESS that my first take
was always the most - I don't wanna say dazzling - but, you know, was the
most interesting and the best one. That's because, I think, I had done so
much homework prior to, you know, shooting it, and that's why it brought me
to my knees and I thought, "I can't live with this", because I would
absolutely treat those overnight scripts like they were a play.
Jason: Yes, yes.
Joan: You can't go that deep when you're doing something on a daily basis
Jason: Well, that's something I wanted to ask you about, Joan, because
what's really, really incredible about you and it's so impressive about you,
is that you straddle two worlds of your craft, of acting. You have the
commercial pop icon thing of being in a long running, the longest running
soap in KNOTS LANDING, and yet you come from a theatre based, you know,
training, that you apply to your work, and that makes you almost unique, I
think, in terms of any actress who's been on any other soap.
Joan: Well, you know, that's an interesting aspect because my manager for a
while, when KNOTS was finished, which was I think '92 or '93, somewhere in
there, they were trying to erase the word "soap", because of course that
gets a spin on it that, you know, might belie what -
Jason: Well, KNOTS LANDING transcended that. It was a drama series, wasn't
Joan: I think it was. I know it was. And look at what's out there now, and
KNOTS was a precursor to all of that, and certainly DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES,
but it was a - we had more going for us and it was more realistic than
anything else, but the word "soap" can throw you off in a different
direction, and, yes, my process is very thorough. The director wrote me a
beautiful note on this last play saying, "Thank you for getting under her
skin." And that's really what I try to do, no matter what the character is.
If I'm going to decide to do her, whoever she is, I'm going to
get into and under her skin, because I have to - she has to be a living,
breathing, absolutely real person to me, and therefore I will do everything
I can to make her real to you.
Jason: I give you an example, I think, of a scene in KNOTS LANDING where you
transcended both worlds and, you know, and it was just incredible to watch,
was Season 6 when you - Valene turned into Verna in front of the mirror.
Jason: That scene -
James: So amazing, so amazing.
Jason: I mean, if we could just spend a bit of time talking about that
scene, cos we really - it was incredible. Do you remember the process of
Joan: Oh, I remember it so, so, so well. Just a quick back story on it: We
were filming up in Oregon, because it was 1984 when the Olympics were here
in Los Angeles, so the producers - and smartly so - decided, since Los
Angeles would be paralysed with traffic from the Olympics, that we would
move up there for the month and film in Oregon. So we were up there, and
that's like being on location, and there's something wonderful when you go
on location because you're focused more. You're not home where you can go
scratch the dog and go to dinner with a million friends, or whatever.
Jason: Yes, yes.
Joan: You're isolated more, and you are therefore more focused, and I knew I
had this scene coming up, and this amazing director Larry Elikkan. I had
this idea that for Valene to truly change and make it believable, I said
rather than - I couldn't even - I'd be less leery if I were naked on camera
- washing my own face. I said, "She should scrub off this other character,
this trollop character, and become this sort of fresh faced ingenue, kind
of," and I said, "The best way to do that is for me to absolutely wash my
Jason: And you really did.
Joan: I did.
Jason: You really did. It's so incredible. I think you're the only actress
on American television at night who's ever done that. It was stunning. And
the transformation, to actually see a woman redo herself into someone else,
it was a revelation.
Joan: Well, it was - I told the director, I said, "This is truly the way to
show the audience, and to have me realistically change from one to the
other." And I told the camera man, "If there's any stumble or any glitch,
stop, because once I wash my face, guys, it's a wrap."
(Jason and James chuckle.)
James: Cos it's all one take, isn't it? That's what's so great.
Joan: My God, for THIS one it is! It takes a while, you know? So, we had a
stumble start, one stumble shot. Something went wrong before I got to the
sink to wash my face. So we had one sort of false start and then we went
back and we went cleanly through it, and when it was over, the whole set
just applauded (her voice breaks) and, oh, it makes me emotional even now.
James: Oh wow.
Jason: Well, it's -
Joan: Because it was such a collaboration, which is so the magic of theatre
and film, but more film because film is lighting, camera, hair, make up, all
of them there at that moment. So we totally collaborated for that, and we
were successful, and everyone just dissolved in tears. It was just - it was
an amazing - it's the best moment on film that I've ever had because it was
the collaboration. It was team work.
James: And what's so sort of interesting about that is it's - theoretically,
that whole sort of multiple personality thing is a typical sort of soap
opera, melodramatic plot -
James:- but what you did and what KNOTS did so well was go beneath that and
make it real, so it's that really interesting fusion between - to use that
sort of flippant quote of David Jacobs, you know - art and trash.
Joan: I totally agree with that, because we did a reunion that was on, I
think, last December and, getting together for that, Michele wisely pulled
Ted and Kevin and me over to her house to have drinks and take a look at a
couple of the episodes, and what I realised - cos I don't look back, and I
don't watch - I rarely watch the episodes on the air, I just see the dailies
to see if I did the work as an actor - that she got us together, and I
realised in looking at the few pieces of film -
Jason: Oh, Joan! I have to stop you immediately because I have to tell you
something brilliant that Mike Filerman just said about you and dailies. (To
James) Didn't he say he learnt how to watch-?
James: He learnt how to watch dailies from watching you.
Jason: From watching you. Did you know that?
Joan: Say again? He said what now?
James: He said he learnt how to watch dailies, he learnt - he understood
what dailies were for -
Jason: - were all about from you. As a producer, he first understood what
dailies were for, Michael Filerman -
James:- from watching you -
Jason: - from watching you in dailies.
Jason: That's what he told us.
Joan: Aaw, well, that's so sweet of him.
Jason: Yeah. Yeah, he said you -
Joan: You've reminded me, because Michael is theatre, he's - I bet he's the
one who's most responsible for Julie Harris playing my mother - but Michael
is theatre, and I don't know that he knows that I just did this Tennessee
Williams. You just reminded me that I wanna talk to him. I love him and he
really has a theatre base. I mean, he understands and realises that, but
that's interesting that he said that, and I'm very flattered.
James: He's really funny. We spoke to him and he's a real laugh.
Jason: He's hilarious. He made us laugh and laugh.
Joan: Oh! (Joan and Jason chuckle) Well, I don't know. I just - I take it
all very seriously, but you know what? That's the package you get with Joan
van Ark, and if I'm gonna show up, I'm not showing up for a C. I'm showing
up for an A or A+.
Jason: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
James: So, sorry, tell us what you - when you were watching with Michele and
Ted the old episodes.
Jason: Yeah, the old episodes.
Joan: Well, I realised, in looking at these various things that Michele had
pulled together to kind of give us a refresher course so that we were
together before we actually filmed the reunion, how wonderful and deep, as
you have just said, not typical generic soap, how real we all were and
layered with our characters and our scenes, because that's what we brought
to the table and that's where KNOTS was different and very strong, I think,
and a precursor to many of the things that have come since, many of the
shows. Because they're all episodic soaps when you watch the shows. Each
week they - it's a continuing story of some sort.
James:Yeah, even the sitcoms now.
Joan: Yeah, well the sitcoms I love. See, that's what I'd love my - I don't
know if I can call it Chapter Two, maybe I'm ready for the Motion Picture
Home (all chuckle) - I would love to do a kind of Auntie Mame out there,
over-the-top, AB FAB kind of thing as my next effort. So - have to see about
that, whether God is good and whether I'll be able to do something like
that, but that's what I would love.
James: Just out of curiosity, what were the episodes Michele showed to you?
Joan: She had a lot of different kitchen scenes and stuff, so there wasn't
Joan: She just sort of picked, cos Michele has the director vibe in her, and
she just picked some scenes that, you know, were just - not generic - but
signature KNOTS kind of scenes, and I was just in awe of the work. I mean,
there was one that I did see because I watched the first maybe fifteen
minutes of the reunion, and there was a scene where I got married to Ben
where Ted said, "May I kiss the bride?"
Jason: Ah, yes!
Joan: It was at the wedding of Valene -
Jason: Valene and Ben -
Joan: - Ben, exactly, which I'd totally forgotten about, and don't think I
ever actually saw it, because as I say I didn't watch the shows on the air.
Jason: That moment was a heartbreaker. It completely breaks your heart when
she says, "It would cause a terrible scandal," and you just break, as you're
saying it, in two. It's amazing.
Joan: I know! I just - I thought, "Oh my God!"
Joan: We are connected forever and ever and ever, all of us, but
particularly Joan/Ted, Joan/Michele, Joan/Julie Harris. There's an ongoing,
very deep, forever connection.
Jason: And you had a nice surprise, didn't you? After the show, Julie came
with Constance, didn't she?
Joan: I was so upset with the commentary they made up, that god awful,
frightening photo, because what I had done with this character, the birdlike
quality, and she says she's allergic or has an extreme sensitivity to both
heat, which is the sun, and strong light, so I made her white as chalk,
dark, dark eyes, and then I had this flaming red wig on.
Joan: I wanted her to look bizarre. So then those two gorgeous people,
Constance and Julie, show up at the Lincoln Centre taping that we did, and
so once I take the wig off, I've got this chalk white face, these bizarre
eyes and this hair that's been under a wig for two and a half hours, so this
photo, and then this guy said - somebody said on the chat - I don't think
it's your site - maybe - I don't know - "Get these bitches out of my
dressing room"?? (Chuckles)
(James and Jason laugh)
Joan: Somebody's gonna think that's for real, cos that's one of the reasons
I left YOUNG AND RESTLESS too. There are chat rooms and publications that
are tabloid that are - that make up stuff. I hate it. I just don't wanna be
a part of that world.
James:Oh, I'm - well, you can see in the photograph that you're - you know,
the three of you are happy to be together.
Jason: Yes, definitely. You look wonderful. Also, you know, sometimes some
of these people, they're joking. It's just their - you know, you have to
look at it in the context. I'm sure that's -
Joan: No, I saw it in print, though. It looked pretty real. I mean -
Joan: Whoever wrote it didn't write it that cheeky. It wasn't that cheeky.
It sounded a little too - without the cheekiness. It just sounded, you know,
like, "Get those bitches out of my dressing room." I don't know.
Jason: What happened when - do you think - to the Valene character, in terms
of her evolution? When you first got the job, did you have any sense that
this would be something that was ultimately going to change your life?
Joan: Not in a million, trillion years did I ever think it would evolve to a
what's a total of a fifteen year -
Joan: - because when I was offered it, [it] was as a two part guest shot on
DALLAS as Lucy's mother, and when it was sent to me, the script and the
offer, I was about to get on an airplane to go to New York to do Estee
Lauder voiceover commercials, which usually took two days, cos you'd do a
thirty second commercial, sixty seconds, and then you do all the tags, so it
was always a two day job in New York, which I adored because then I would
see a theatre thing and, you know, go shopping and do all that stuff, so I
loved that job, and when they sent it to me, they were starting filming
right away, and I said to my husband, "How can I do two jobs at once?"
Joan: "Well," he said, "you can, because this is a wonderful thing," and on
and on, and DALLAS had a lot of buzz already, even though it had only been
on the air a couple, three times, a mid season replacement. So I rushed down
there, wondering how I could commute from New York to Dallas, etc., which I
did do, and that's what the kids on FRIENDS did forever. They were doing
movies and FRIENDS. I don't know how they did it, but you can do it. If you
have to, you do. So I did, and, I think, two part guest shot that turned
into a fifteen year commitment as the character of Valene Ewing.
James:So, let me just ask you, because before DALLAS, you were - I mean,
you were doing theatre, you'd had awards, you'd had Tony nominations, and
you were doing all these sort of guest TV roles, so, you know, you were a -
you were doing very well as a jobbing actress. Do you think, if Valene
hadn't come along, you'd have been happy to continue in that vein, or were
you looking for something long running?
Joan: No, I wasn't at all, because I tell you something, and I've learned it
even more in the last two or three years and probably because of my theatre
work, I adore - I mean, I wouldn't have had the balls to leave YOUNG AND
RESTLESS - I adore an actor's smorgasbord of roles, of the opportunity to
create a new person from the inside out, and living with one is a little -
is a lot trickier - actually, it's a lot trickier - and it's not soul
food as much as a variety of characters that you really dig down deep and
discover and illuminate, bring to life. So I was not looking for something
long running and I'm not sure that right now I even am, although I would
adore to do comedy. The show I did at La Jolla - I did Des McAnuff - was a
wild character. Hurricane Harriet was her name, and I used Joan Rivers as a
kind of prototype cos she was a - it was a mother/daughter thing, and I was
thinking of Joan and Melissa, whom I adore. That's who I used as an image -
high energy, drop dead clothes, drop dead hair, spiked, standing straight up
hair. I mean, I really wanted to take her out there, and she was funny and
comedy and high energy, so I love the variety, and so, no, I don't love
living with something forever and ever, but I was blessed, if I had to live
with any show, that I'd got a character that I did love and do love, and I
had two producers, Michael Filerman and David Jacobs, who honoured our input
and we all collaborated to keep them alive.
James: So when you got the part of Val, did you do a collage for her?
Joan: I think I did, cos I always do.
Joan: But my collage is usually a short cut to finding the centre of whoever
I'm doing, find the kind of, you know, it might even be just a piece of
fabric, you know - if this person is burlap or is this person satin? I think
of the shoes. I think of the silhouette, big time. In other words, every
person and every character has a silhouette. If you turned out the lights
and just saw the outline, the form of them, you have to have a very definite
silhouette, so -
James:Do you remember what you had for Val?
Joan: Oh my. I didn't do it, because she evolved every week of a new
Jason: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
James:And so obviously the preparation of a role is something that you love
and is really important to you.
Joan: Well, it's important, yeah.
Joan: And I found I did the collages more intensely when I would do the TV
movies, because - and I would show the director the collage often, because -
and I would keep it in my dressing room cos people might arrest me for being
(Jason and James laugh.)
Joan: I would always do the collage and keep it on a big cardboard in my
dressing room and, if need be, I would bring the director and/or hair and
make up, so that we would all be on the same page. If he - if they didn't
like - I wouldn't let hair and make up tell me, but if they didn't like - or
if something were out of synch, then they'd look at that and they'd know,
you know, where I was coming from and what I was trying to create.
Jason: Well, it reminds me of a really interesting story that the actor who
played Danny Waleska.
Jason: Sam Behrens said he was doing a scene with you. I think he said it
was one of his first days, and it got to about nine o'clock at night, ten
o'clock, and basically, you could have gone home, and you stayed and
insisted on full make up and full everything, so that he would get the close
up that he deserved for the character, and I was - we were gobsmacked. I
mean, that's very unusual.
Joan: Well, I know, cos I've been on the other side of it, where the star,
and I'm not the - I wasn't the star, but - where the other half of your
scene went home because of the time, and so I've been on that other half,
but I have to say, the only way for a scene and for a character and for a
moment to work is if the partner is there to give you everything, and I
would never not do that, and I - Sam and I - I adore him and, you know, I
would never not do that, because it can't be real any other way, and you
need it to be real.
Jason: Especially in an ensemble show like KNOTS. How did you feel about the
evolution of the character? Something occurred to us the other day, when we
were sort of talking about Val's arcs in the show, is that around Season 4,
when Kevin Dobson comes on the show as Mack, Mack is the first person to
sort of bring up this idea that Gary and Val may have a kind of unhealthy
obsession with each other.
James:That it's a kind of dysfunctional relationship.
Joan: I wasn't aware that he brought that vibe in, which is very good of you
to pick up on. I did not, because I think, too, if that were true, she's
still in that - she's in her own cocoon -
Joan: - and she didn't realise that, so Joan probably stayed in Val's -
Joan: - and didn't acknowledge that. I'll tell you the biggest, hugest
change for my character was Donna's coming on, no question about it. Abby -
cos that had to reinform and reinvent Valene if she wanted to hold on to
Gary. There was no two ways about it. Donna's coming on to the show was a
major shake up, which Ted and I, you know, embraced and loved, because in
soap and in drama, you only have something wonderful to perform if you've
got obstacles and blocks, roadblocks to what your action is and what you
want, and Donna came in and, particularly for Gary and Val, you know, messed
it up big time.
Jason: Yes, and what was so amazing about that is, when the Abby character
first came on to the show, is that you showed that Val was slightly in awe
of her and admired her. There was a warmth there. Val initially was warm
towards her and -
Joan: Boy, you pick up on stuff! That is so right, yeah -
Jason: And I - so go ahead, yes.
Joan: Well, there was a scene when I was Verna Ellers, where Donna - Abby -
came to - where was I? - in Tennessee - to the diner that I was working at
as Verna Ellers. We were rehearsing a scene and I serve her - cos she's
trying to shake me out of it and bring me back to Valene -
James: Yeah, yeah.
Joan: - and there was a scene where I serve her as the waitress, cos she's
sat the table, my table, and (coughs) I - which is right in with what you
were saying - when we were rehearsing the scene, I just threw in an ad-lib,
"My God, you've got beautiful eyes."
James: Was that an ad-lib?
Jason: That was an ad-lib? Oh wow.
James: Oh, that's wonderful, cos that's a great - that's such a classic
moment. That's a classic KNOTS moment.
Joan: That was my homage - Joan/Val - to Abby/Donna, because I think she
would look at that beautiful, gorgeous face and say, "Oh my God, your eyes
are gorgeous," or whatever - I can't even - I'm paraphrasing - but the thing
is, that was - you gotta say and do what you see, and there was an awe that
she had about her, because Valene was Goody Two Shoes, who, you know -
chores, Monday through Friday - no, sorry - school, Monday through Friday,
chores on Saturday and church on Sunday, so -
Jason: And also there was a sense that Valene had never really moved on from
her relationship with Gary mentally. When you meet her in DALLAS, there's a
sense that -
Joan: With the pigtails and ponytails. When I saw, at Michele's house, some
of the early stuff with those pigtails and ponytails - I remember people
saying to me, "Joan, what's with the braids? What's with the -", you know,
and I didn't know what they were talking about, but boy, I look at it now
and I think, "Joan!"
James: I think there's something really interesting. It's almost as though -
because I think of all the characters in DALLAS and KNOTS LANDING, Val has
the strongest back story, the most vivid story, of growing up with Lilimae -
or without Lilimae -
Joan: That's it.
James: - and it all kind of stops, at a kind of - when - after she loses -
after Lucy's taken away from her. We don't know anything about her life
until she turns up in 1978 in DALLAS, and it's almost as though the
character, after her child is taken from her, is kind of frozen in time.
Jason: Time, yes.
James: And all those years, all the sort of social change of the 60s and
70s, Val misses out on.
Joan: That's very accurate, very good, and what I was often working off of
was instinct, because I did jump into her so quickly, but it was indeed -
that is exactly what it was.
James: And you get Abby coming in, who's so modern and so sophisticated.
Joan: Exactly, and also flashy in a wonderful feminine way, as a man magnet
and a zip code that Valene never knew about at all. There's a line
somewhere, "I gotta keep my eye on you," and Abby says, "Well, you better
because how else are you gonna learn?"
Jason and James: (chuckling): Yes, yeah.
Joan: I love that! Touché, right on!
James: And then there's that moment in that episode we were talking about in
Season 6, where she's the floozie, where Val is the floozie, and it's as
though she's trying to do Abby.
Jason: Because she says, "Wives don't bother me," to a woman in a bar.
(A police car drives past in London, siren blaring.)
Jason: Do you remember the scene in Season 6, with - when - just before Val
turns into Verna, she turns into the floozie character?
Joan: Right, now and you say - I was trying - I couldn't hear what he had
said - that she was - in the bar scene where she gets smacked by the guy's
Jason: Yes, and she says, "Wives don't bother me." And there's that
wonderful moment as, you know, Val tries almost to become Abby during that
Joan: No, she did! No, it wasn't that she tried - I talked to a
psychiatrist and they said when a person's going through a trauma - as
Valene most certainly was (all chuckle) - become the character that you -
cos I wanted to ask about this whole thing of where she became somebody
else, and they said you pick a name that has the initials of your real name,
so Verna Ellers was Valene Ewing.
Joan: That is absolutely text book, and that in your retreat, if you will,
you become the character that you, not fear, but the one that you're - that
is causing the trauma. Said, "OK, fine," and so we wet-braided my hair to do
that awful hairdo that is out to Christmas, you know, Glenn Close in ...
Jason: It's FATAL ATTRACTION, isn't it?
Joan: Yeah, so we did this wet-braided hair and frizzed it out and tried to
make her as trampy as we could do, and, yes, I remember that scene because
she - somebody smacks her, doesn't -
James: Yeah, the wife, because it echoes the line - there's a classic
Abby/Val confrontation in Season 3 over Gary, when Abby has the classic
line, "I'm not saying we're having an affair, I'm not saying we're not, but
I can have him anytime I want him," and Val says almost exactly the same
thing in that scene.
Joan: You're right and, see, that's the writers again being true to, you
know, serving us, the actors, with material that makes sense. That all was
backed by talking with doctors and people who would advise us about this
condition, and it's a real condition. People do it. It's not a form of
amnesia, but it's in that zip code, where, you know, you retreat to the
person - you become the person you fear, or the one that you're - that is
causing this dilemma, and then you also pick a name that has the initials of
your own name.
James: There was something very sort of resonant about Val - the fact that
she'd lost one child, she'd had Lucy taken away from her, and then the same
thing happens again to her with the twins.
Joan: Mmm hmm.
James: And what was so interesting about the Verna character is that she was
quite - she was almost a stronger character than -
Jason: Valene, yes. That's the tragedy of it.
James: Yes, she's sort of - there seems to be a thing about Valene that when
she's supposedly at her most insane or weak, in inverted commas, she
actually finds her strength. She goes her own bizarre way and finds herself.
Joan: Mmm hmm.
James: It's very - it's really fascinating.
Jason: It's uplifting. I think Val is an uplifting character.
Joan: Oh, I do too, and, see, that's what - in Hartford, I was so kind of -
the job I just came off of - amazed how many people did watch KNOTS and
embrace me when I'm walking around or wherever I'm going. Because of Valene, we have an immediate connection, and it's hard to articulate, but I heard
someone do an interview the other day, cos I never watch TV when I'm working
on a show because I just stay focused and whatever and it takes me way off
somewhere that I don't - and I was watching an interview when I got back
home, and they said that the wonderful thing about doing a television
character, if that character is warm or connects with an audience, is that
you have friends and you get used to it. For a while, it's kind of scary.
Joan: They know you and you kind of wanna hide. Then, for me now, as I go
wherever I travel to and wherever I work, there is a connection. It's
because of Valene and people really open their hearts to you, and it's a
comforting thing instead of a threat.
Jason: Yes, yes, of course. And can I ask you about your working techniques
on working on a television show like KNOTS LANDING which is, you know, a
daily routine, in terms of how the show changed? You still have to give a
very real performance to your character, while the show itself is perhaps
changing in the way it's presented to the audience and so forth. You must
have to - could you talk to us a bit about that process?
Joan: Well, I think the actor has their own process regardless, because you
still have to bring it in at seven in the morning and be ready to go right
away, so I don't know that I was aware - yes, I was aware the show was
changing from time to time, based on the story line or where it was going,
etc., or who they were bringing in, but I think, from the chair of the
character, it's always the same, because you can't violate or go outside or
elsewhere if your own process is to bring reality, a core reality, to the
Jason: Yes. And can I talk to you a little bit as well about departures?
Because you're on the show for thirteen, fourteen seasons, and you see
people come and go, and sometimes some of those departures must be painful
and affect your life - I mean, Julie Harris and Constance, you know, left
the show -
Jason: Times like that that are just really difficult. You must have seen a
few of those moments.
Joan: I did. The one that jumped as you were saying this, the one that
jumped out to me was Doug Sheehan.
Joan: That one - Julie and Constance, you know, I couldn't believe and of
course was upset, but in Constance's case, that exit became probably one of
the highlights, if not the highlight of the show.
Joan: It provided Bill Devane with his -
Jason: "Noises Everywhere".
Joan: Yes, his usual stellar, amazing work. It provided all of us - I had a
scene with Michele where I blow up at her.
James: Yes, the coffee pot! You break the coffee pot!
Joan: Yes, exactly. So Constance's exit provided all of us with just amazing
individual character moments.
Jason: And also she was a part of it too, that Constance was still filming,
with the video segments and "The Gift of Life".
Joan: So her exit was probably the highlight - but certainly one of the
highlights of the entire run of the show. So that one was spectacular.
Julie, I always assumed would be back in and out, and I don't believe that
ever came to pass. I was thinking she would visit or come back and forth,
but that was difficult. But Ben - Doug Sheehan's seemed out of nowhere
somehow and I know it did to him too a bit, and I remember sending him - oh,
I've never told this, but I sent him - because I'm a big balloon person, for
a birthday or a - mostly birthdays, I send balloons and crazy notes to
people or whatever - and I sent him a bouquet, a huge bouquet of balloons,
and it might have been even with a little basket of goodies or something,
with a love note basically, cos I loved him so and felt terrible that he was
leaving, and I know he felt not so great that he was leaving, and I sent it
and I asked the dialogue coach the next day or two, "Did Doug get my
balloons?" and he said, "Yeah, he got it," and then I said, "Well, I never
heard from him. What happened?" He said, "He just let them go. He let them
go up to the sky."
Jason: Awwww. Wow.
Joan: Never forgot that, and I've never told that.
James: That's lovely.
Jason: That's lovely. Isn't that lovely?
Jason: Just lovely. But you know what's also wonderful is when you - cos you
and Doug Sheehan did the most incredible work - I mean, on - you know, on
James: They were great. Val and Ben were such a great couple.
Jason: And in terms of your acting, fascinating to watch two people who are
so good at their craft, you know, take us on this journey, and I think the
fact that that work is captured on celluloid forever and, you know, it's on
DVD now forever, is just - it allows people to go back and look at the
quality of work that was really going on.
Joan: Well, you know, I'm wondering if - cos Ted and I, before I left for
the play, did I'd say a day's worth of work on the first DVD that has come
out, I think it was March twenty-eighth, seventh, sixth, and I was already
into rehearsals and so I haven't seen the DVD. I mean, I've seen the
packaging, but -
James: Oh it's great, it's great. It looks - it looks wonderful.
Joan: Yeah, it's the First - it's the Complete First Season.
Joan: Ted and I did commentary on it.
James: We've heard them and they're great.
Jason: Thank you so much for doing the commentary.
James: Cos we know you kind of didn't have to do them, and we're really -
Joan: Well, yeah, it was very complicated. Warner Brothers wasn't gonna pay
me until I did publicity, and I couldn't do publicity because we were
rehearsing from sunup to sundown on the play, and once I'm deep in that
character, to get down to New York, etc. etc., so it was kinda tricky, but
Ted did something for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT that he said he would - this is
what I love about him - he said, "I will only do this ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT
interview if you include Joan, you know, and pay her too," or whatever.
(Jason chuckles) But I'm just wondering if in fact, you know, they will come
out with any further KNOTS DVDs, because I think Abby came in the second or
third year -
James: Second season, yeah.
Joan: Oh, was it second?
Jason: Second, yeah.
Joan: I think they may do the second year. I'm just - I'll be really curious
to see where they go from here.
James: Well, we really hope so, and apparently, from what I hear, who knows,
but apparently the first one has sold well.
Joan: Well, I don't know. I would rather doubt that it would actually,
because it was such a long time ago and -
Jason: But I think what's happened is with DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, even though the shows are completely different shows -
Jason: - the media have echoed KNOTS LANDING and brought it up quite a lot,
and I think it's brought a newer audience to it who perhaps want to see, you
know, what the comparison is between the two shows.
Joan: Oh, how interesting. Has that been true over there too, that they
compared the two shows? Cos that's what they did when we had the reunion.
They said, "How do you feel about being the original DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES?"
Jason: They do, they do.
James: But you were so much better than DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.
Jason: So much better.
James: The relationships on KNOTS were just so much more specific and made
far more sense.
Joan: Yeah, and they -
James: And that's what holds a show together.
Joan: Really. Well now, do you all - is DESPERATE huge over there still?
James: I think so. I'm not quite sure.
Jason: It still gets good numbers.
James: It got a lot of publicity when it started, but I don't know -
Joan: What are some of the other hot shows there that -
James: We get PRISON BREAK. You mean American shows? We get PRISON BREAK.
Joan: Is that a good one?
James: It's pretty good. It's kind of high concept, it's a bit like 24. It's
more sort of plot based than character based, but -
Joan: So PRISON BREAK and DESPERATE and -
James: Erm -
Jason: And we get SIX FEET UNDER. That's the best - I mean, that's
Joan: I mean, there's something that I - that is, to me - talk about
a cast, an ensemble.
Joan: Oh my God.
Jason: Yes, yes.
Joan: There's nothing - that is the best show, the best cast. I am dying to
meet Alan Ball, (Jason chuckles) and do you know what he said when he
accepted his first of many Emmys? He said, "Thank you so much," and bla -
whatever else he said, and he said, "I've always considered SIX FEET UNDER
as KNOTS LANDING in a funeral home."
Jason: Wow. What a fantastic show. I'm just -
Joan: I know, it's amazing! And the casting is just beyond brilliant.
James: There's something about Frances Conroy that reminds me of Julie
Joan: Oh my God, yes! Absolutely! And Rachel Griffiths is amazing. She's
like Anjelina Jolie was at the very beginning of her career. Totally
fearless. Just jumps in, whatever you give her. She's there and she's fully
committed to executing it. I mean, she is - they're all amazing.
Jason: You loved Karen Allen, didn't you? On the pilot for KNOTS, you loved
Joan: Loved her. That's again fearless. That is again fearless, cos she just
- you know, I would look at her work and look at her during the scenes and
think, "She just isn't afraid of anything. She'll just do it, let it all
James: I wanted to ask you about Ted, cos we know the story that, because
you'd done WONDER WOMAN, you had slight misgivings -
Joan: (laughing): You heard about that?
James: - about him being your husband. When did that change? When was - was
there a moment when you clicked and you thought, "There's a connection
Joan: Well, the first season, I think we were all, you know - what's the
word? I don't wanna say flying by the seat of our pants, not at all - but
you're so busy executing, that you don't reflect. You know, it's very
intense, television schedules. More so now, even, that when we filmed KNOTS.
I mean, we used to start - we started with eight days per hour show. That's
why the soap was two shows in one day, on YOUNG AND RESTLESS. I mean, it was just -
James: Wow, two in one day! My God!
Jason: Two in one day. Good lord.
Joan: Top speed. There was some days, because I was doing the play at the
Kennedy Centre, there were some days when I did three different episodes on
YOUNG AND RESTLESS.
James (laughing): Oh no!
Joan: Top speed compared to, you know, a nice eight days to do a one hour
show - KNOTS's schedule - but, still, you're kind of flying by the seat of
your pants, but I do know that I became absolutely - I had a crush on Ted
that first year finally, but when I saw how right he was for Gary in his way, because I had filmed with David Ackroyd the scenes in DALLAS -
James: Yeah, and he's great, but very different, isn't he?
Joan: Oh, very, very different, and was unavailable when we - when it came
time to film the pilot for KNOTS, so while David was just amazing as Gary,
he was night and day from what Ted was doing, and Ted showed me the black
sheep of the family, the kind of wanderlust, a kind of loose cannon in a
way, in a most charismatic way, what Gary really was to the Ewing family,
and I think he, just by nature, executed that, and so I was dazzled by how
right he was for Gary in a totally different way. So the first year was
really getting used to each other and discovering those two characters. I
don't know how or why, because we just became intertwined, you know,
completely over the -
Jason: And your work together was so incredible. There's a scene in Season 4
during the Ciji arc when both you and Gary are being held by the police and
you're being questioned in Ciji's apartment, and you two meet and there is a
physical explosion, and you both just - you're both screaming at each other
and it's like watching theatre. It's filmed, you know, captured theatre. Do
you remember that?
Joan: I'm trying - vaguely - I remember the Ciji - that whole arc, which was
another huge success in terms of story line, and I remember going, you know
- taking the - what is the word? - rap, you know -
Jason: Yes. When you were sort of - Valene was being, you know - looked as
though she'd done it -
Joan: - taking the heat. But I don't remember the fight.
James: Cos you're both with different policemen, or whatever, and you're
both brought separately to Ciji's apartment at the same time -
Joan: Ah, yes!
James: - and the sparks go off between you. You both just go mad! (Laughs)
Jason: Yes. It's electrifying.
Joan: Well, that always would happen with Ted and me, and, you know, you
remind me of another scene that is Ted's favourite of all. As Verna Ellers,
he comes in a tuxedo with tails to this apartment where she's dressed up in
this sort of vintage dress and they do a waltz.
James: Yeah, it's like a dream sequence, isn't it?
Joan: Oh yes. Oh my God. That one was total - cos they did that 180 with the
camera where they circle around.
Joan: That was a very magic - which we never discussed, we never did
anything. It's just when we got together and the camera rolled, there you
go. That's true of any successful television show. When the camera rolls, if
two actors have chemistry and a connection, it just happens. There it is and
it's magic and it happens. I think that was certainly an example of a scene
where that was true.
James: So, one thing that interests me - when we spoke to David Jacobs, he
told us how you and Michele - how he sort of would have open house for the
actors at the weekends to come and talk to him about the scripts.
Joan: Well, that was, you know, that was the true gift, and I realise it in
reflecting about the whole journey of the show and the character. That was
the gift that we had was that we could go in and talk to David and say this,
that and the other. If we had a story line idea, if we had something that
was in a script that we didn't feel was the character, we were free to
discuss that with David and/or Michael, and what a gift it was. And after
the reunion, which was aired last December, David called me and I hadn't
seen the reunion and he said the most amazing, beautiful things to me and he
said how I had kept it and driven the show and I was sort of the glue that
kept the reunion together, and it was because I had homeworked a lot of the
moments in the scenes, and I realised, in all of us getting together last
summer to film the reunion, that we are so connected, emotionally and
spiritually, and that was a lesson that I didn't know until last summer when
we all got together again. It's because we shared - what? - fourteen years
together and you can't deny that.
James: And would you say that applies to the actors that weren't there for
various reasons? Cos, just watching it, you couldn't help - I mean it was
great - but you couldn't help but slightly miss the Averys, you know,
Richard and Laura -
Joan: Yes, but you see that, and I think that's - I guess it's the family,
the family of both actors and the family of the characters, and we were
truly a family.
James: So what were the kind of - can you give us - I know it's a long time
ago, but can you give us any examples of the kind of things you would see in
a script and go to David and say, "I'm not -"? Were there kinds of things
that you were protective about, specific things you were protective about
Joan: I was protective about certainly the relationship with Gary and
eventually her relationship with the children, with the twins, and
protecting them and that that was the priority, which as an actress I hated
cos it meant I stayed in blue jeans and a man's shirt or a T-shirt. (Jason
chuckles) Nothing glamorous and nothing - more like the Felicity Huffman
character in DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.
Jason: Yes, yes.
Joan: It kept me home-bound and kitchen-bound, which I hated, when, say,
Karen and Abby and Paige, Nicollette Sheridan, all of them were out there in
drop dead Thierry Mugler, Versace suits, or Dolce and Gabanna this, that and
the other, (Jason chuckles) and I'm there in a pair of jeans and a man's
shirt. You know, I hated that, but I felt that Valene's priorities would be
such that she would be there at home and loving it, and there are women like
that out there. It ain't the one you're talking to right now. (Jason laughs)
That's what the character was, and so I would keep a priority, you know, to
be home and gladly so, in that house with those children doing her thing.
James: So was there ever - were there suggestions to try and take her away
from that? To try and move her away from that?
Joan: Well, actually, yes, and that was later in the series when the kids
were growing up and there's the opportunity for Valene to write and to do
the novel and then to do the screenplay, which was one of our - was a story
when we did a reunion - that was a story line. So, yes, eventually, then she
got back to writing and got into a career and then I got into some clothes.
(Jason and James chuckle) Got a chance to get out and strut my stuff! I
loved - but it wasn't until it was appropriate to her family to do so.
James: There's an interesting trend, a strange trend, I noticed in the sort
of laterish years with Val where she goes through a kind of vigilante phase,
and almost every year - it sort of starts with Jean Hackney. If you
remember, Jean Hackney is the woman that makes Ben become assassin - the
year she's terrorising you and Ben -
Joan: And who was the - were you saying the actress's name or the -
James: It was Wendy Fulton who played Jean Hackney.
Joan: Oh yes!
James: And it's the first time - it's the first of Val's Vigilante Trilogy,
if you like, when she goes after her with a gun.
Joan: You know, Valene - if you ruffle the feathers of the centre of the
home, the husband, the family - you ruffle those feathers, she's a guard
dog, she's a German shepherd.
Jason and James (laughing): Yeah!
Joan: Yeah! So she'll, you know, that'll make the hair stand up on the back
of her neck and she will go for it. She can be tough, if it's defending her
man or her home. She became stronger and tougher because of that. I had
forgotten about that. You know, I have in my office downstairs pictures of,
you know, moments, different moments on the show. One that comes to mind is
me lying on the table just before delivering the twins, and we filmed it all
night one night, and I've got this - the way you're supposed to have a
surgical cap on, so your hair isn't showing and stuff, and hardly any make
up at all, and it's just me lying down there on the thing and it's just so
funny, and I've got all these various moments. I have one of Gary, Val and
Lucy running along the beach in the water that was taken on the first -
Jason: That's a beautiful shot. I think it's at the end of the DVD.
Joan: Maybe. Yes it is, yes it is.
Jason: It's beautiful.
Joan: Yes. And I love that and I've got a photo of that, because there are
moments that are signature, that are the heart and soul, and I've got so
many of those down in the office. I, unfortunately, have to do a call to New
York for a speech that I'm gonna do next week and - out here for the
American Women In Radio and Television luncheon -
Jason: Oh, OK.
James: Good for you, good for you.
Joan: So I have gotta write this speech this weekend and I need to talk to
the woman that I'm presenting the award to. But I will look for this down
Jason and James: We'll send it to you.
Joan: Oh, that's sweet. I appreciate it, if you would.
Jason: Have you seen the Michael Filerman one?
Joan: I'd love to see Michael's, if you have a moment. So Michael was
Jason: We did James Houghton and Kim Lankford, and then Michael and David.
Joan: You know, James Houghton was one of the writers on YOUNG AND RESTLESS.
James: Yeah, yeah.
Jason: Yes, he said, he said. We spoke to him at length about writing for
television, and he had some really interesting ideas about how television's
changed, and he said some really provocative things about television and the
way it's presented.
Joan: Oh, yes. I never communicated with him while I was on YOUNG AND
RESTLESS, and wanted to because I think he's spectacular, and I bet he did
have some provocative things to say that would really get your mind going
about what's going on. And let me say this too, that I've done a gazillion
interviews, but you honestly seem to have caught, both of you, things that I
did strive for. Whether I executed it or not, you caught it, you got it -
which I'm both grateful and impressed with, because I did take it all very
seriously, (chuckles) because that's what I was there for and I appreciate
your understanding and your -
James: Well, we love it. We just love it, and it so resonates.
Jason: It'll be timeless, because it's so well acted and written, and the
ensemble cast is as - it's an incredible piece of television, you know.
Joan: Bless your heart. I thank you for that and I know David and Michael
thank you too. Have great day, or night or whatever it is there.
James: Thank you.
Jason: Thanks, Joan.
James: And give our love if you - when you talk to Julie - and if you ever
talk to Constance again, cos we've got a soft spot for Constance.
Joan: I will and I do and I absolutely will do that.
James: Thank you so much, Joan. All the best. Take care.