At a time in life when many consider slowing down, JoBeth Williams has never been busier. She’s currently balancing roles on two series, has work on a third and has two movies in the can. Not so long ago, she found herself going from one series set to work on another on the same day. She admits there have been times she’s been “at one studio thinking, ‘Now wait a minute. Where do I go from here?’ I get lost.”
Not that she is complaining.
Long embraced by the movie-going and TV-watching public for her honest portrayals — in dozens of films including “Poltergeist,” “The Big Chill” and “American Dreamer” and television productions from “I Am Bill W” to “Dexter” — the down-to-earth, all-American actress says she can’t imagine ever retiring. “I like being busy.”
She’s charmed by the team on “Marry Me,” the NBC show on which she plays Ken Marino’s controlling mom, Myrna. Her other series, TBS’s forthcoming “Your Family or Mine” (both from “Friends” producer Jamie Tarses) has JoBeth working opposite long-time friend Richard Dreyfuss.
“It’s based on an Israeli show that is hugely successful over there,” she says. “The idea of it is that each episode takes place at one set of in-laws’ house. So one week it’s set at our house — me and Richard — and the next week it’s at Ed Begley Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson’s house. We are the parents of the son, they’re the parents of the daughter. It’s about how hard it is to get along with your spouse’s family. And it’s very good and very real and very true, I think. So we’ve had a lot of fun, Richard and I.”
They met more than 30 years ago, as founders of a group called L.A. Classic Theatre Works — the precursor of today’s L.A. Theatre Works — that was comprised of “movie, television and theater actors who had all been trained in the theater and wanted to do plays.” JoBeth worked with Richard on radio plays and on a reading of “Babbitt,” but “Your Family or Mine” marks “the first time we’ve actually played husband and wife.”
She laughs when asked how she likes Dreyfuss as a mate. “Oh, he is one of the most imaginative people! He’s a character and he’s fun and the audience loves him. He’s a hambone like the rest of us. I think he’s having a great time. The writing on the show is really good and the other actors are terrific, so we’re really enjoying ourselves.”
With that going on, is it hard to get back into the “Marry Me” mindset? “Sometimes, yeah,” JoBeth responds. “But because it’s a different format. It’s one camera, and you shoot it like a movie. ‘Your Family Or Mine’ is done before an audience, and I love that because it reminds me of theater. It has that live response which really, particularly in a comedy, feeds you and is so gratifying for an actor — although you do get to go back and redo stuff, which you don’t get to do in play,” she adds, smiling.
“With ‘Marry Me,’ what is really fun, the writer/creator David Caspe — who is married to the leading lady, Casey Wilson — he’s often on the set, and he and the directors love to have the actors try a lot of different things.”
TV pundits have duly noted that the network chose to pick up only five episodes of “Marry Me” rather than a full back nine for the second part of its season order, leading to speculation about the show’s future being short.
She points out Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing” began with a 13 episode order, then a pickupfor five more — then more episodes were added. Now that show, produced and directed by JoBeth’s husband, the highly regarded film and television director John Pasquin, is in its fourth season.JoBeth, however, says, “It’s got a following and I think it’s a terrific show. I think these young actors are so funny, so good and so clever. I think NBC is behind it because they don’t have a lot of comedies that are working, and this one they have has a lot of promise.”
The Pasquins have been married since 1982 and have two sons. “They’ve both finished college and are out in the work world going ‘well, hell,'” as she puts it.
As for her own career, the affable star says “I’m just happy to be working.” Thinking again, she adds, “It’s exciting because it gives me hope for the future of actresses. As long as I’ve been an actress we’ve been saying, ‘Surely the numbers will improve of roles written for women, and surely the number of roles written for older women will improve. And they haven’t very much unless you’re Meryl Streep. Now I think maybe what we’re seeing, with the quality of television being done and the types of material, that maybe the roles for women over 50 are starting to expand. I hope that’s true.”
Are there still items on her career bucket list?
“I’ve never done a Broadway show and I would love to do a Broadway show,” she says. “I’d love to do another lead in a movie; it’s been quite a while. I was nominated for an Oscar for directing a short film, then I directed for a couple of years — but then I became very busy acting, and my directing was forgotten. People don’t think of me as director anymore. I’m always looking for scripts to do a little independent movie to direct.”
JoBeth, who also finds time to serve as president of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, also feels she’s improved with the years. “I think I’m much smarter than I was when I was a younger woman. I think I have a better attitude toward things. I think I feel a little more connected to my life, and not like it’s this kind of frenzy of trying to achieve.” Now, says JoBeth, “It’s more about being able to do work I love to do, to be able to do it throughout my life, to maintain my health so that I can do it, and to take care of my family — to make sure that those relationships are nurtured and fed. It’s more important to me to enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it.”