by Mark Zimmer
Most actors are lucky to find themselves in one acknowledged classic. Joanna Cassidy has had pivotal roles in at least two, Blade Runner and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and with her featured role in the hit HBO series Six Feet Under as the acerbic Margaret Chenowith, she seems to be adding a third classic to her lengthy filmography. dOc chatted with Joanna on May 6, 2003 regarding recent DVD releases and her current projects.
dOc: Let's begin with Six Feet Under, since the first season recently came out on DVD. Your character of Margaret is pretty fascinating; how much of her is tightly scripted and how much of that are you bringing to the role?
JC: It's me there, you know. I think any woman that would have gotten that role would have brought herself to it. But to a certain degree it's a character that everybody kind of makes up in their mind. I haven't seen a lot of women like this; in fact I probably know none. I've really just allowed my imagination to run with her. I like her. I know she does some really weird stuff, but there's something kind of likeable about her. And I certainly didn't want to play her all bad, even though she's written as really bad. Just a really horrific character, but I didn't want to make her that.
dOc: How did you come to get the part? Was that something you really went after?
JC: I got it because I had read—this is why I believe I got it—I had read for one of the producers in an earlier show, and he liked my work very much. I basically just went in and re-met everybody. It's a nice way to get a part.
dOc: It certainly streamlines the process.
JC: Absolutely, but anyone with any great intelligence should get a part like that, and that's how they should give a part. I think if someone walks in the door and someone wants you, your look, your thing, if you've got the kind of filmography that some actors do, it is clear, or should be very clear, that they can do comedy or drama or whatever.
dOc: Do you see your character more in the comic realm or the dramatic?
JC: Well, she's really both. She certainly gets more comedic.
dOc: Will we be seeing more of Margaret this season?
JC: Well, we're in Season Three right now, and it'll be the eleventh show this weekend, and I've done a few this year and last year I did a lot.
dOc: Any word on whether it'll be picked up for a fourth season?
JC: Oh yes, it will be. Most definitely. I'll be back.
dOc: That's good to hear. I understand you originally started off in art school. How did you make the transition into acting?
JC: I found myself going into modeling, and that was what happened. I was in San Francisco and decided that I wanted a modeling career and thought that would be a good way to go and went on from there. You can't stay a model forever.
dOc: I suppose not.
JC: Well, there are a few.
dOc: The special edition DVD of Who Framed Roger Rabbit also just came out. How was it working with things that weren't really there for much of your screen time?
JC: It's fairly weird. The thing that threw me was that they had a Roger Rabbit, so to speak, there: a guy playing Roger Rabbit and doing the voice. He was off camera somewhere, never really where they were going to lay in the cartoons. So when you would hear his voice, you would have the tendency to turn your head towards it. I have kind of bat hearing when I'm on the stage, so I had to correct myself. I had to get into the mode of knowing where to look. It became easy eventually, but not at first.
dOc: How was it working with Bob Hoskins? He seems to be an interesting character himself.
JC: He's a very interesting guy, a very funny guy, lots of fun. We would sit in Pinewood Studios where we shot most of the film—it was freezing—and we would sit for many, many, many hours while they were doing the special effects or getting the stage ready to do a big scene. Sometimes we'd sit in our rooms for ten hours. It was kind of like a dungeon, and the middle of winter, and then we'd come rushing down. We'd have to get each other jazzed to do the scene, which was interesting. So we'd chase each other around the stage.
dOc: Sort of your own Warner Bros cartoon yourselves.
JC: There you go. (laugh)
dOc: In the commentary to the disc, they make reference to you keeping pet snakes; I couldn't tell if that was serious or whether they were joking about your role in Blade Runner.
JC: Oh, I did keep snakes. I had six. Which made me a herpetologist.
dOc: Do you still keep any?
JC: No, no. They all found other homes. It's an interesting thing, being a human and having animals around you, to surround yourself with. They're such wonderful creatures, and you learn so much from each other. I wish the world were so broken down that when you learned what you needed to learn that everyone could get passed on to a beautiful place. I always think of people who get dogs or birds or that sort of thing and can't keep them, or don't take care of them very well. That's a big issue for me.
dOc: How did you get interested in snakes in particular?
JC: I probably would not have gone out to buy a snake, but as it turned out, I was visiting a ranch in Northern California and the owner was moving to Montana, and could not take several of the animals he had with him, so being the rescuer that I am I took the snake, whose name was Darling. He was a Burmese Python, and very sweet. He was in fact the snake in Blade Runner.
dOc: Speaking of Blade Runner, there have been rumors of a special edition DVD coming for a couple years now, and nothing has ever materialized on that. Have you heard anything about it?
JC: I don't know anything about that. We did a tape a couple years ago that was for an English company that wanted to interview all of the people in Blade Runner. It's quite good. It's fascinating how the myth keeps propelling itself; it just keeps going on and on and on.
dOc: So what projects do you have upcoming?
JC: I have the Six Feet Under coming Sunday that I did; I also have the Martha Stewart movie on the 19th of May. That should be very good.
dOc: Cybill Shepherd is playing Martha as I understand it. I would have thought you'd make a good Martha Stewart.
JC: Yes and no. Because of my skills, I could have, but Cybill makes a very good Martha.
dOc: Does the program get into her stock market woes, or is it more dealing with her life before all that?
JC: It's really her whole life. What she did, how she grew up, why she ended up the way she did.
dOc: And nobody's going to get sued?
JC: No, because it's based on the book that was already—the author of the book had an agreement that it was all right that he wrote this material. And in fact, everything was approved.
dOc: The other night I was watching the movie 1969 starring Kiefer Sutherland (also recently out on DVD) and there you are mothering Winona Ryder and Robert Downey Jr—I won't hold you responsible for how they turned out in real life.
JC: I ran into Kiefer not too long ago, and he told me that Downey and he had such crushes on me that every day that they were on the set with me, they would become blithering idiots around me and were kicking themselves for years for not having made a move. Winona was just a little doll, just completely in love with the whole process. She followed me around like a little puppy asking tons of questions, and telling me all she knew about films. She was absolutely in line with her stardom.
dOc: You've had quite an extensive career in both television and the movies. How would you say the business has changed over say the last twenty years?
JC: Well, number one, there are a lot more people in it. Number two, there are a lot more people running the business who are more business people than they are creative people. It's pretty fast and furious now. Everything's much faster now. It was always about the money, but it's even more about the money. And the money's a lot bigger; there's a lot more at stake.