As part of our continuing efforts to figure out this TV business thing, we decided it was about time to take a lesson from someone in the SAG card set.
Lucky for us, we got someone who actually filled out the lady part of leading lady. Angie Harmon agreed to chat with us during a break in shooting ABC's new drama Women's Murder Club.
What was your first acting job?
I was in a Miller Ice commercial.
You started out on Baywatch Nights opposite David Hasselhoff, and he has obviously worked in TV for a long time. What did you learn from him? Do you carry around any Hasselhoffian wisdom?
He is actually one of the funnest people to have on a set. He's very upbeat, very positive, and that was one of the things I learned from him and have carried through my entire career. When I get on a set, I believe it's part of my responsibility to make sure everybody's happy, everybody's having a good time. If we're going to be spending 90 hours a week together, away from our families, then it has to be as fun as possible. It's a grueling schedule, and it's rough, but if I can get out there and make people laugh and know everybody's name and make people feel like they're important...But in the same vein, no one is more important than anyone else. I think that's key.
Most people probably came to know you from Law & Order. Did you learn anything specific from Sam Waterston during those three and a half years?
Absolutely. From Sam I learned to never need my sides [script pages]. I always come to work, I always know my lines. And then it sets an example, it sets a precedent for other actors, and I've seen that work two different ways. I've seen it where I come to set, where people kind of freak that you didn't bring your sides, and they get all nervous and flustered, and then the whole scene is blown. And I've seen it work the other way, where I come to work and I don't need my sides, and after a week of doing that, the rest of the cast doesn't need them either. Either way, it really doesn't bother me, because that's just the way I do it, that's the way I learned from Sam. I feel that if you're being paid the amount of money we're paid, the least you can be is professional and know your lines.
Oh, and from Epatha [Merkerson], I learned no matter how tired you are, no matter what, you always hang your clothes up at the end of the day, because the wardrobe people have been there just as long as you have.
She's the best.
She is, and they all remain dear friends. I'm sort of just a culmination of the things I have learned from actors I admire and have been lucky enough to work with.
As a civilian, I'm fascinated with learning lines. I know some actors just look at them and know them, and for others it's a grueling process. How is it for you?
If it's written correctly, it's easy, because it's just a conversation that just flows. Part of you is already living that character, so when you get the words in front of you, it's not like a different personality takes over, but that character comes out, and you as the individual sort of disappears. That's what makes it easy. People who aren't actors look at scripts and go, Oh my gosh, I could never do this. Well, that's because you're not this character, you're not familiar with the backstory, what happened in that character's childhood, are they married, are they not married. All of those things create a personality and a character, and then that character is living on the page. So, if it's written correctly, it's easy to memorize, and it flows.
Good actors, and probably even bad actors, say that when their character is going through something really intense, they go through it too, and it's hard to shed at the end of the day.
I am kind of not that way. When I was doing Seraphim Falls with Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan, I was standing there in the burning building with my baby in my arms and my toddler behind me. Our director [David Von Ancken] came in, and he was cracking up laughing. He'd been watching dailies and he said, "I don't think I've ever seen an actor do that before," and I said, "What? What are you talking about?" I thought, Oh god, what did I do? And he said, "You're sitting there, pouring your heart out, bawling, crying, screaming, pounding on the window, you have your baby in your arms...and Pierce was down below and had to turn around because he just couldn't take any more, and then all of a sudden, the director yells cut, and you're all, 'Did you hear the one about the guy? He walked into the bar...' " So, you know, they all burst out laughing.
That's just the way I do it. I have a life. I don't want to bring that kind of heavy heartache through my front door at night. I'm not going to do that to my children or my husband. Acting is my passion, and it is my job. My children, my husband and my family are my life.
Which brings up another character question. Your part, Lindsay Boxer, in Women's Murder Club and, of course, Abbie Carmichael on Law & Order—your characters have a certain amount of authority. There's a command presence there. Is that from you? Is that just acting?
You know, I tried to fight it for a while. I think it's a combination of my personality and what I look like, and I can't change the way I look. I'm not going to.
How tall are you?
Do you think it's the tall?
Sure, I think it's every bit of it. I think it's my voice. Obviously, people hear my voice, and it's not high and squeaky in any way. I don't want to say I'm intimidating, [although] I've certainly been called that before. Being a woman and being called that, you certainly want to go, What am I doing? I don't want to be intimidating! On the other hand, it is what is. I have a very strong set of morals and ethics and values, and I believe that we're people, and we're all skin and bones and feelings, and you have to be respectful of each other, and I'm very dedicated to what I believe. I think that's another thing that probably adds to it.
I would love to play Jane Austen. I would love to play the woman that is calm on the outside but driven and a force to be reckoned with on the inside, and hopefully someone will write that for me at some point or see that side. And the way that we are playing Lindsay now—and I'm so excited for these shows to start coming out—every director that's coming through Women's Murder Club, they all say the same thing. They say, Angie, this is going to be the biggest hit for you, because no one's ever seen you like this. No one's ever seen you vulnerable, no one's ever seen you stumble through life, no one's ever seen you make a mistake, no one's ever seen you be flawed.
That, as an actor, is like, Yay! People will know that I have teeth and that I smile and that I can be funny.
That pilot is so wonderful. There are so many grace notes of femininity mixed into it.
That's what is so great about it. I get to be a girl. I get to be Lindsay. When I was Abbie, there was no backstory. You didn't know anything. With this character you get to know everything about her. You get to see her when she wakes up in the morning, and in the shower, when she trips. There are so many wonderful things, and my favorite thing is to make people laugh. So, to be able to do that with this character has been the highlight of it all. Yes, I love running around and being formidable and chasing bad guys—we've been shooting all night, I go in tonight and literally run up and down a fire escape and across building tops, and I'm going to do that for six hours tonight, which is exciting. But my favorite part is to play Lindsay, in that clumsy sort of way where you just laugh at her.
You did a couple of pilots before this. What feels better about this? Why do you think this might work?
What was happening with my career was I had a [talent holding] deal with ABC. They sent me all the pilots they had coming up, and I went in and sat down with [Steve] McPherson. I actually wanted to do a comedy, and he was like, "No. You're not funny, and you're doing Women's Murder Club." And I was all, No, no, see, I am an actor, a thespian, and I am going to do a comedy. And he said, "No, you're doing Women's Murder Club." And he was right, and I'm thrilled with it.
I was lucky enough that I didn't have to go in for it. They basically came to me, and I did meet with the producers, because I wanted to make sure I was the choice that the producers wanted as well. It's their baby. Out of respect for them, as an actor you have to go to them and make sure they're on board with the president of the network. I didn't want to go somewhere where people didn't want me, so we had those meetings, and they were very, very thrilled and kind and supportive. And I thought, Well, all right, this is where my path is leading and where God is pushing me to go, so this is what I'll do.
Last question, and then we'll send you off to run the fire escapes. What don't your friends or family or the public understand about your job as an actor that you wish they did understand?
That this isn't 9 to 5, this is 5 to 9, or 5 to 12. And I do tend to get a little heated about the business, what we do as actors, the craft, the years of schooling, the years of practicing, but it has become such a different beast now.
People just want to come in and get on a reality-TV show and be famous. To me, it's like, okay, well, gross. For those of us who have worked our tails off and who have struggled and gotten depressed and wondered if we'll ever work again and all of those things...Those are the things I believe make life magical and make the good times great.
You know, we don't just stand around and have people bring us bonbons. We—excuse my language—bust our asses out there. And then we come home at 6:00 a.m. because we've been shooting since 4:00 p.m. and our kids get up at 7:30, and we've got to get up with them.
And then you have to be pretty, to boot.
Well, I only have to be pretty when I get in the makeup trailer. But not all of us are spoiled brats, not all of us are egomaniacs. Sure, a lot of us—not even a lot of us, some of us—are, but there are many of us who are not. There are many of us who are deeply appreciative of even the smallest bit of success. We know how lucky we are, we know how blessed we are, and it's treasured. It really, really is. I don't want anyone to ever think for one second I don't appreciate that and recognize that my dreams which I've had since I was a little girl are coming true.