Acting Governor: Holland Taylor Says Playing Ann Richards is the Greatest Thing She’s Ever Done
A divorced woman who was a recovering alcoholic – a Democrat, no less – who did more than just get elected governor of Texas, she captured the American imagination. As Ann Richards was fond of saying about herself: "I walked through fire and the fire lost."
Before Ann Richards succumbed to cancer in 2006, she left an indelible mark on Texas history. Though she probably didn't know it, she left actress Holland Taylor strangely sad.
Holland Taylor, an Emmy award-winning stage and television actress, is also the writer and star of the solo play, called Ann. In 2013 Taylor earned a Tony nomination for her work in Ann, which is enjoying a revival in the Texas capital city.
Though Taylor had met Richards only once, Taylor says she kept track of Richards and found her appearances on national news shows a comforting reminder, like the presence of a favorite grandmother.
"This striking and glamorous and wonderful, salty woman had done the impossible," she says. "After she was governor, she was very much on the national scene. And I became very aware of her and she became a staple in my life.... When she died, it was too damn young – she was 73 – it was unexpected."
Taylor says she's was called to write this play about Richards because it was a way to bring Richards to life again.
"The idea of doing a play about her really just took over my consciousness," she says. "I needed her to exist in the world, to make the world seem a place to live that was safe and had meaning."
A dominating force in Richards' life was her sense of fair play, Taylor says, which drove her even from early in her life.
"I think some things are in the seed for all of us," Taylor says. "Her sense of fairness was a conscious thing she experienced.
Richards' childhood in a small, segregated town with a father only educated until eighth grade served as a striking contrast to her experience in San Diego, after the family moved there for her father's job in the Navy.
"Suddenly she's in an international school, with every stripe and color and shape imaginable," she says. "Then she realizes, 'these kids are all exactly like me.' ... But this is 11 years old. I put it to you that something in her that makes her think that way and think a big thought like that."
Richards later attended Baylor University on a scholarship and as she grew older, she saw threads of both of her parents' distinct personalities in herself.
"She could be mean, she could be really rough – and maybe that comes from her mother," she says. "Her joyousness, her conviviality (comes from her father). She loved to be with people."
Seeing the machinations behind which girls were chosen for the sorority really bothered Richards, especially the reasons why the sorority excluded some girls and included others. "She was not interested in being a member once she saw what made up that sausage," Taylor says.
Taylor, who described herself as a "gun for hire," says she's a very practical person who normally pooh-poohs the notion of a spiritual connection to what happens her life.
"And yet, I can't deny it," she says. "This is a really a mission."
Taylor says writing and performing this show is the greatest thing she's done in her life "and I mean, by lightyears."
"Absolutely – the most demanding, the most unbelievably demanding job I've ever had," she says. "... To do a one-person show of this size, it's just extraordinary. You're out there and you're thinking, there ain't nobody coming. You're out there on your own and if you get into trouble, this that or the other thing, you're carrying on by yourself."
Taylor says that an actor in a one-person show has no one to rely on by herself, which can be difficult with the physical demands of carrying a show solo. For example, Taylor says, in the course of performing Ann she has exactly three chances to drink water – once during a voiceover and twice during jokes so sure to elicit laughs that she always takes the opportunity to sneak a sip.
"It is a very alarming, extraordinary thing to be alone onstage," she says. "You know how long it is, to lift a glass and take a sip? Too long."
Taylor says the show has meant the world to her. "It's given me back much more than I've put into it," she says.
This post prepared for web by Hannah McBride.