Monday, January 27, 2014

Ten With Melissa Gilbert

With Melissa Gilbert

I grew up with Melissa. 

Not literally, of course, but she and I are only a few years apart in age, and I watched Little House on The Prarie along with practically everyone else in the world as she played a fictionalized version of Laura Ingalls with sassy aplomb and humor – which she has in abundance. She’s tough, having grown up in show business, raised in the heart of Los Angeles, and she takes no crap from anybody. Everything she is has been earned – her resume, her creativity, her family, her scars, and her accomplishments. None of it was handed to her, and I think if anyone had tried, they’d have found the silver platter knocked forcibly to the floor.

To say she’s had an impressive career is a woefully inadequate description; all you have to do is go to IMDB and look at her credits as an actor and producer and see the amazing phalanx of actors she’s worked with and known all her life.  She’s also kinda badass, having taken on Hollywood politics and served as SAG president from 2001-2005, and raised four decent, hardworking, functional children. 

Tough she is, and resilient, but she’s also one of the kindest souls you’ll ever come across – unassuming, at ease with herself and her fame without feeling any need to assert it in order to talk to you.  She knows who she is, even if you don’t. But if you take the time to listen, she’ll tell you who she is.


ARD: Okay, first things first: You got married! (to actor/director Timothy Busfield – “The Fosters”, “The Client List”) One of the things I’ve always admired about you is your complete fearlessness in love – or, at least, you seem fearless to me. Do you feel that way about yourself? 

MG: I’m pretty fearless in general. Definitely fearless when it comes to love which, in the past, has gotten me into some…well…let’s just call them unhealthy situations. Every love I’ve had before now it seems I’ve twisted myself to be someone I’m not. Someone they needed me to be. I think I was also afraid that if they saw the real me, warts and all (not literally), they’d leave.
The relationship I had before Tim was the best and, hopefully, final example. He liked me to dress a certain way, so I did. He hated my perfume…a custom made scent I’ve worn for years, so I stopped wearing it. He didn’t understand me politically or spiritually so I shut those parts down...OH! And he didn’t like me without make-up, so I wore make-up all the time.

My sweet husband came barreling into my life exactly when I needed him. I had really grieved the last break-up. I think it was because I was really done with the emotionally unavailable, man. I was finished! Then this kind, brilliant, spiritual, politically liberal, funny, sexy man was right in front of me. He brought me home, to me. I am so comfortable and just happy, all of the time. It took nearly 50 years but I am finally living in bliss and comfort.


ARD:  You’re a born-and-bred Angeleno, and you’ve up and moved to Michigan!  That had to be a fairly big adjustment. What do you miss most about L.A., and what do you love most about Michigan? 

MG:  Fearless, right? I leapt and the net appeared. I knew this move to a small town was what we needed. We wanted a quieter, pressure free life….and that is what we have here.

I miss nothing about LA except for my family and girlfriends there. It’s actually easier to list what I don’t miss; I don’t miss eating in a restaurant and everyone craning their heads to see who just walked in. I don’t miss everyone talking about show business all the freakin’ time. I don’t miss all of the women with the same lips, noses, cheek s and boobs. I don’t miss the pressure to be unhealthily skinny. I don’t miss the constantly unchanging weather. I don’t miss traffic and I really don’t miss smog.
What I love most about Michigan is that it’s everything LA isn’t.


ARD:  You and Bruce (Boxleitner, her ex-husband) have one of the healthiest relationships I’ve seen after a divorce – Hollywood or otherwise. It’s incredibly admirable, but it couldn’t have been a cakewalk for either of you. How did you work that together, and what decisions and priorities did you choose?
MG: Well, thank you for that. It wasn’t easy. The beginning was incredibly wrenching and painful. I don’t want to get into the why and how and stuff. I can tell you that after the initial hurt began to dissipate, we made a conscious decision to remain loving toward one another. I think Bruce really felt it when we mediated our divorce. No lawyers, no fighting, in just a few hours. I proved to him that I wasn’t out to ruin him financially and take his kids away and all that.
We actually went out to lunch after our mediation session and really had a nice talk. We continue to raise our youngest son together. We were a big part of each other’s lives for twenty years. That can’t just go away. He’s a dear friend to me. We are really good at being friends. That won’t end ever.


ARD:  Little House is playing on a television somewhere in the world even as I ask this question: What do you remember most about your first day on the show, and what do you remember most about your last? 

MG:  First day, Michael Landon putting cigarettes out in the palm of his ski gloves and then putting the butts in his pocket until he could get to a trash can.
The last day, I remember feeling like someone had died. I remember crying uncontrollably off and on, all day. The whole cast and crew were doing the same.



ARD: How close do you feel to Laura Ingalls? Is she removed a bit from the Laura you played, or do you feel close to the real one more?  Have you had an opportunity to see her homes – I’d love to see Rocky Ridge Farm.
MG:  I didn’t get to Laura’s homesteads until I went on tour with the musical. I have always felt close to her. I think as a kid it was way more subconscious. A few years back at the museum in Walnut Grove, I think, they took me back into a special vault and they took one of her nightgowns out for me to see. They let me touch it. It’s kind of a woo-woo thing but I swear I felt her there, in my heart and brain. Like this flood of who she really was infused me at that moment. It made me cry.


ARD:  You and Alison (Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson) have been thick and fast since you were kids. I like to imagine you get a lot of double-takes when you’re spotted sharing lunch with each other instead of throwing it. What’s your favorite way to screw with people’s heads? 

MG: People screw with their own heads enough when we are together. When we were kids and we’d go places to hang out, folks would walk up to us and put me behind them, shielding me from Alison. It always made me laugh.

ARD:  You grew up with and still know –well, just about everyone, it seems, in the business. Who do you not know that you would invite to dinner, and what would you cook for them?

MG:  Ryan Gosling…and I’d make him whatever he wanted….naked except for an apron…Seriously, I think having Judy Dench to dinner would be a kick and I’d make her a traditional English roast dinner.  
ARD:  Your book, A Prairie Tale, was a bestseller – I loved it, by the way – and now you’re about to publish a cookbook.  Are they your own recipe creations, or a collection of yours and family/friends? Comfort food, fancy food…gluten free food?  I’ve heard you’re a fabulous cook.  

MG:  Ah yes. It’s more than a cookbook, it’s also part scrapbook filled with memories and behind the scenes pictures from Little House. The recipes are all mine. All comfort foods. It’s called My Prairie Cookbook. It will be released around the 40th anniversary of the first airing of the show.

ARD:  Recently you’ve been working on a movie that deals with bipolar disorder (I myself am bipolar II), and I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Can you talk a little about your character and the story, and how your perspective on bipolar disorder was affected as a result of the story?

MG:  I can’t really talk about it much because I don’t know what is going to happen with it or when. It’s a really tiny independent feature...really tiny. It’s called One Song. Sally Kellerman and Mike Farrell play my parents in it. I play the black sheep of the family. In and out of facilities to deal with bi-polar disorder.

I come home unannounced and off meds but that part isn’t revealed until a big family dinner where my character comes in and just wrecks the meal.

I did extensive research. Watched hours of favorite is Stephen Fry’s. I just love him. I also watched every film that had a character in it that either had bi=polar disorder or some undiagnosed iteration of it. I wanted to watch other actors’ interpretations. See how deep they went or not. I loved Richard Gere in Mr. Jones, and of course Jessica Lange in Frances

ARD:  Now that you’re in Michigan and out of the Hollywood orbit, so to speak, what’s the plan? You’re not retiring, are you?

MG:  Oh hell no!! Tim and I have a film in development here… a couple actually. We also have a series in the process of being written that we will likely pitch next year. We are also on the verge of starting a theater company here in our little town. We have loads of plans. Don’t know that I’ll ever retire but, in about 10 years, I’m going to let my hair go as white as it wants.

That’ll be me…the lady with the long white braid down her back walking from her home to her office to her theater to do yet another show, while the latest film they produced is in post at their post production facility down the street…stopping to get a chai at the coffee house and make out with her husband.

Of course, I will be followed by my dogs….that will never change.

 Melissa's book, A Prairie Tale, can be purchased at Amazon 

1 comment:

MyWife'sKids'Dad said...

Thanks Angela, I enjoyed the interview and the way you presented it here. I happen to live in that little Michigan town Melissa now calls home. And seeing our small corner of the world through her eyes has been fascinating for me. Her delight is sort of like giving a gift to someone. You know what's in the box but their discovery as they peal away the wrapping makes it ten times better. You're drawn in to their wonder. These are contagious things; wonder, enthusiasm, excitement...And so I find myself counting my own blessings - rediscovering my own town. Looking ahead, I'm eager to see what Melissa & Tim will bring home to our community. And I'm just as eager to see how our community might forever change them as well!