On The UK DVD Release of 'CYBILL'

Conducted April the 5th, 2006

Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk today…

CS: Well, I’m so excited that the DVD is coming out.

Q: Firstly, let’s go back a bit and we’ll get to Cybill later. Congratulations on winning the Texas Film Hall of Fame Award for The Last Picture Show

CS: Oh, that was very exciting, and humbling too.

Q: The film was nominated for eight Oscars and won two. At the time, did you have any concerns that you may have peaked too early in your career by making your debut in such a highly praised film?

CS: Well, as Orson Welles once said about his own career, he started at the top and he has been working his way down ever since.

Q: You eventually moved from film to television and did the TV series, The Yellow Rose, which was well received by critics in the US. But the next big thing for you as far as the UK was concerned was Moonlighting.

CS: Yes, but I also did a lot of theatre in between. I felt my job was to learn more about acting and that it was a very important part of my “polishing” to acquire the skills and be ready for Moonlighting, so I did theatre everywhere. But, as Orson [Welles] advised me, everywhere but LA and New York. I had a choice at that time in my life. Stella Adler had asked me to study with her in New York and I was offered dinner theatre in Virginia Beach. I also had the possibility of an offer of a touring revival. So I went to Orson – I couldn’t really go to Peter [Bogdanovich] because he didn’t want me to go on tour, he wanted to be near me – and Orson said, "Do theatre anywhere but LA and New York and the audiences will teach you everything you need to know. Then, once you get your sea-legs in theatre, then you can go back and take lessons, but don’t go until you have gained your confidence for doing it." I just needed more experience. And there is a lot of wisdom in just doing it.

Q: It obviously paid off. Moonlighting became one of the great TV shows of the 1980s and was very well received by both the public and the critics. Do you have fond memories of those days? There were a lot of stories going around at the time that Bruce Willis and yourself were unhappy working together.

CS: Well, when you said that, what came to mind was that we weren’t grown up. We were still teenagers; not chronologically but, I think, maybe emotionally. We were immature. Actors have to keep in touch with their childish side, but you don’t want to be driven by that. But when you get under so much pressure, working with so much brilliant material and with such a brilliant co-star, and the chemistry we had… it leads to burnout. And with burnout you have a short fuse. Also that massive amount of critical and commercial success goes to your head and you feel like you’re more important than the other person and then your whole life depends on striking out for one’s own character. For me it was Maddy, for Bruce it was David.

Q: Is there any chance of a Moonlighting reunion sometime in the future?

CS: No, I don’t think so. They’ll probably do a remake.

Q; With two rubbish actors and it will spoil our memories of the original…

CS: Yeah [laughing]. Well, they’ve done remakes of everything else.

Q: Are there any other celebrities or historical figures you would like to play?

CS: I’d like to play Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She was one of the mothers of the American women’s rights movement.

Q: Has your own autobiography been optioned for film?

CS: Well, that’s a story, huh?

Q: It is quite a story.

CS: They’re terrified I might want to play myself or something.

Q: Well, that’s the follow-up question. If not yourself, who would you like to see cast in the role of Cybill Shepherd?

CS: Alicia Silverstone.

Q: You brought the Cybill Disobedience show to London in 2004. Did you enjoy your stay in England?

CS: Yes, I love performing in the UK because I’m accepted. In a way, I’m more accepted in London than anywhere. It’s just that they value what I do in the live show more than in, say, New York. You know how New York is.

Q: It was during your London visit that we witnessed the “jet-lag hair” incident when you appeared on GMTV.

CS: Ha, ha, ha. Did you actually see that?

Q: I did. It turned out to be the talk of the town. It was brilliant.

CS: Oh, I think so too. I think it’s one of those stories that put me on the map. The only thing I can remember that got me as much attention was when I gave birth to twins. It was just kind of a freakish moment, right?

Q: In some way it relates to your well-documented fashion sense, or lack of it. I recall you being criticized on more than one occasion for wearing sneakers, particularly when you wore them with a strapless gown at the Emmy Awards, and you are known for wearing sneakers during filming.

CS: Well, I’ve always been one for comfort and my feet just don’t like any other shoes but sneakers. They’re not happy. My ankles are not happy and my back’s not happy. As far as the hair incident goes, that was an absolutely plotted moment. I knew it would be an outrageous moment but it came out of a real situation. I looked gorgeous with this beautiful red velvet cape on with the hood up. I could have just left it at that and, then, whatever, but it was just one of those fun things. It had nothing to do with vanity either. The hair thing on that show was purely an outrageous TV moment and I was willing to do it. I think it’s one of the major contributors to my ongoing successful career. I like to kind of poke fun at my image. I’m an outrageous person, that’s just me. I’ve been able to use that in my acting career and also in my publicity career. It was just an idea I had at that moment to do something funny. Would I have done that in the United States? I don’t think so and I’ll tell you why. Because I feel that in London, in the UK, they’re Shepherd crazy. I mean, compare television. Compare British television to American television and the great comedies. I feel like the British are just, and always have been, way ahead in terms of comedy, in the intellectualism of it and just the sheer funniness of it. We take things to the States and try to make them over but they never work right, like with Absolutely Fabulous.

Q: Perhaps now is a good time to talk about Cybill, because I think that was on a par with a lot of good British comedy.

CS: Well, that is the greatest compliment you could give me because I consider British comedy to be the absolute best. Making the Cybill show was… it was such a struggle. It was so wonderful but also so demanding. It was a huge endeavour. But it was my chance to do broad comedy and I’ve always loved that, and I had some brilliant collaborators. The talent we had, the writers. For example, we had Alan Ball, who worked on the show for several years and wrote American Beauty while he was doing it, and Michael Patrick King [who has since worked on The Comeback, Sex And The City and Will & Grace]. But there’s such a transient nature, too, about working in this business. You have something out and it’s very successful and wonderfully brilliant and then it’s gone. So it gives me a great sense of satisfaction that it’s coming out on DVD because sometimes you think your work is going to be lost. I was so anxious because it seemed like every single show that’s ever been made was coming out on DVD except Cybill.

Q: I don’t know if you’ve watched any of Cybill lately yourself…

CS: Actually I find Cybill easier to watch than anything else I’ve ever done because I was so involved with the collaboration. I think that’s one of my talents – the joy and the challenge of collaboration.

Q: Watching the show, it looks like you had great fun filming and you obviously surrounded yourself with a lot of friends, particularly when it came to casting the guest stars.

CS: Oh yes. We did have fun and I’ve always felt that casting was crucial, ever since I worked on my first movie, The Last Picture Show, where we had a great story and a great script. Peter [Bogdanovich] took a long time to cast it and it paid off because he got just the right people. With Cybill I got be involved with everything – as a producer, a cast member – it was just a fantastic experience. And I was always very happy to read with the actors. One of the key elements to the show was the chemistry between Christine Baranski [Maryann] and myself. And chemistry is not really – it doesn’t mean you want to have sex with the person – it’s just that you spark off each other. We saw a lot of people audition to play Maryann and Christine just knocked the ball out of the park.

Q: Do you have any favourite sitcoms that you watch now?

CS: There doesn’t appear to have been any for years. They seem to have fallen out of fashion.

Q: What about going back a couple of years, to things like Frasier?

CS: Oh yes. Well Frasier’s not around but that was brilliant. It was zany and also intellectual, which is a wonderful combination. And it had a great cast. Going back to Cybill, I think we really did achieve something. We pushed the envelope. We did things that you see on television all the time now but back then, on network television at the time… I had to go to the network to fight to use the work ‘period’. They would not let me use the word ‘menstruation’. You had to say ‘women’s biological functions.’ We did this hysterical episode in season three called Valentine’s Day, where we did all kinds of jokes about people’s anatomy, the cervix – and this is on one of the highest rated shows on television. We used words like ‘member’ and ‘menstruation’ and all kinds of slang words. It was very funny and we got hugely successful ratings but CBS never let us do it again. They really did clamp down on us. Sometimes you just think, ‘Get away’ – people are not so vigilant, policing every moment – and you kind of start to break the mould. There are only seven stories in literature to be told, so there are only certain things you can do. So you kind of twist them so they catch the light differently. With Cybill we absolutely did that and they clamped down on us. The summer before the fourth season started I tried to get a raise and found out they wouldn’t even see me. That was when I thought, OK, our days are numbered. I thought they were just going to bury it. On the last episode I did on Cybill, they cut out my last musical number and I said, ‘Well I’d like to get to a copy of it.’ They said, ‘We don’t know where it went.’ It’s like it’s in the salt mines of Utah. It was a horrible feeling. You try not to take it personally. It was like, let’s bury that blonde bombshell. The funniest thing is, I just don’t seem to go away. I’ve been here for nearly forty years – since 1968 – I started very young. I think, especially in Hollywood and in the film business, people do things and they act like you’re never… it’s like, ‘Now you have to go away.’ But I’m still here. To me, the fact that Cybill is coming out on DVD, it’s like the blonde bombshell who was buried in the salt mines of Utah is being brought back and people can have a good time watching it.

Q One last question. Would you ever consider appearing on a celebrity reality TV show?

CS: I’ve turned down eight [laughing].

Cybill - The Complete Series 1 is available to buy on DVD now, with an RRP of £24.99.  Interview courtesy Anchor Bay UK.

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