Holland Taylor of Legally Blonde terrifies another generation of fictitious college presidential students
Everyone has a moment when they first fell in love with Holland Taylor. For many of us, it was when she emerged as a tough law professor with a heart of gold in The revenge of a blonde; for others it was her turn as the carefree bicon art collector (bisexual icon, for those not in the know) Peggy Peabody on The word I; and for still others, it was her Broadway stint as Texas Governor Ann Richards in the solo play Anne.
If by any chance you haven’t activated your obsession with the 78-year-old actor yet, now is your chance. She dazzles on the new Netflix series The chair, and for a show starring Sandra Oh, Bob Balaban and Jay Duplass, that says a lot. Taylor plays Joan Hambling, a longtime professor at the fictional Pembroke University, who is alternately dismayed and energized by her students’ Gen Z zest for life (though none of them can turn the genre on. of passion in her that Chaucer does).
Recently, Vogue spoke to Taylor about the role, working with Sandra Oh, and her own college years – read the full interview below.
Joan feels like such a familiar academic figure. Have you modeled your portrait of her on someone?
Well, not someone from academia but someone who was a scholar. In fact, she was one of my hostesses when I first arrived in New York. She was so engrossed in her job – she was an expert on Greek poetry – and she would tie up her skirt and have the zipper halfway up and was thinking of something that she had to look up and wander through her books and spend the rest of the time. day that way. She wasn’t interested in anything in the real world – not interested in food, not interested in dressing, never cutting her hair. I just thought it was a good image for Joan, who is really at the bottom of this wormhole that takes her back 500 years in another culture.
Did you learn anything in particular from working with Sandra Oh?
Well, she’s been a star for quite some time, and the people who have to maintain that position are usually pretty disciplined and usually work really hard. Sandra is no exception. She thought deeply about her role in each scene and was very clear about the issues people were talking about on Twitter about college politics. She is a very dedicated, hardworking and creative person so I just tried to stay at her level when we were working together.
Did Pembroke’s World remind you of your own college experience? You’ve been to Bennington, haven’t you?
I went to Bennington. Snow is similar, maybe, but that’s about it. It’s a very different school. Bennington was a very progressive school that focused a lot on individual studies; you could specialize in violin. I think colleges all have a similar dynamic in terms of faculty administration, however. I think it’s a wonderful world, and I wonder if more movies and TV shows aren’t happening in universities, because it’s an open field where so much could be revealed. You can span generations which I think makes it interesting. That’s why we love shows about everyone who has their own rules. The audience is still so smart and very quick to grasp the dynamics of the rules you are presenting.
Have you read information about the current culture wars on campuses to prepare for the role of Joan?
I actually think Joan would be totally oblivious to all of this. She’s interested in 14th and 15th century literature, and her head is completely in it, so I don’t think she is too interested in campus politics or even aware of it. This is how she falls into certain dangerous areas, because she doesn’t care; she is careless. She is even careless with her hair.
On that note, how did Joan’s carefree, not always put together look come about?
Well, first of all, I like the idea of playing someone whose clothes are an afterthought. Mostly a woman! She puts them on because she has to, period, end of story. She might have cared about how she looked 40 years ago, but she doesn’t care anymore. I decided at first thought that I would have no makeup on except for lipstick, because lipstick is the last thing to do. It was quite daring to do, but I responded very instinctively. I connected with this lady that I had known years before, and I sort of opted for that; I thought, ‘Don’t wear the makeup pack, to do touch your hair. Only use a comb when teaching in class. There would be times when I was like, ‘Holland, your hair is covering your face’, but when I saw it, I thought, ‘You’re an old lady in there! “
Was there a certain element of freedom in this choice?
Yes, there was a freedom; it was totally liberating. I felt liberated to be the loose cannon. Joan hasn’t always been that, maybe, but she’s certainly in her late sixties; she has very little enthusiasm for her students and teaching has become difficult. Stylistically, things have changed over the years, and students are in their phones … they are harder to inspire. It’s harder to get their attention, so it’s a real struggle for her.
If you could go back and study anything new, what would it be?
French. I was such a bad student in the French department, in part because the class I was in was at 8 a.m. …
Say no more.
I didn’t know anything about nutrition at the time, ate donuts and coffee and literally passed out in class. To my shame, we had a very eminent French scholar in Bennington, and he actually asked me to leave the class. It never occurred to me that what I ate for breakfast mattered, but I was never good at time management. So it was a great tragedy. But I would come back to French, and I probably will; I have a big project coming up in the spring, and when it’s over, I might try to find a teacher.
I would be remiss if I did not ask about it. i just saw the original again L word and I was so struck by your character, Peggy Peabody. Was that when you started to realize that you had a large gay fan base?
It was probably around this time. You know, I have a hard time remembering the sequence of things in life because they’re always hooked on a job, right? My life is so inconsistent, I think, ‘Well when I did this job I must have been 37.’ Peggy Peabody was such a great character, and it was such a revolutionary show.
Are you watching the reboot?
I have not done it yet. People say, “Why aren’t you on it? ” [Laughs.] It’s a great group of actors, and I’m so happy that they came together for this because there is a lot of remarkable things about this show.