Exclusive: Tyne Daly on being Mama McDreamy

ellen-and-tyneTalking to the incomparable Tyne Daly is impossible – because she’s hilarious, and it’s incredibly difficult to stop laughing long enough to ask her a question!  She’s guesting on tonight’s episode of GREY’S ANATOMY, called “Sympathy for the Devil.”  Her character, Carolyn Shepherd, makes a surprising stop-in to meet Meredith for the first time.  She and I spent time talking earlier this week about the role, what else she’s working on, and what show she and Sharon Gless always wanted to make together!

Tell me about Carolyn [McDreamy’s Mama]?
Is that her name?  [laughs] It was a very quick skecth, I can say that.  There are things that we learn about her, but in a very kind of swift manner.  She’s got 5 kids, all of whom are doctors, which is kind of interesting, and one of whom is a boy doctor, the one we know on the show.  She used to be Navy nurse and she’s come ostensibly on a little drop by in Seattle.  She’s checking out the girlfriend.

Did they write this role for you?
They called me up, and said, “we’re introducing the character of the mama” and since I specialize in Mamas, I’ve been playing mamas since I was about 11 [laughs].  They said what they always say to actors “We can’t think of anybody else we’d rather have than you” [laughs].

Had you been a fan of the show, had you watched it before?
Well, now, this is an embarassment to me, because everybody asks me that.  When JUDGING AMY was done, I needed a real rest from the world of television, so I no longer own a television set.  I moved to New York and started working on the stage, so I’m not current.  What I did do when they offered me the part was to ask them for some tapes, so I could get up to speed.  They spent me a bunch of stuff, but none of it was from the aught-eight [’08] season!  My friend, Sandra Oh, who I love dearly.  She had her very first television job on a CAGNEY AND LACEY television movie that we shot in Toronto and then she did an arc on JUDGING AMY with me which was fun.  They sent me the one where she has her big meltdown before the wedding.  I borrow the television from a friend who lives on the 4th floor of my building [laughs].  When it’s for work!

Who did you get to interact with besides Patrick [Dempsey] and Ellen [Pompeo]?
She has to wait all day, which she’s sort of used to, because she knows the drill with doctors schedules and she encounters a number of people.  His buddy from childhood [Mark], the new guy, he’s come off the experience of doctoring in Iraq [Owen Hunt].  He’s an interesting fellow, the Scot.  Of course, Meredith.  I didn’t get to play with Sandra Oh, who is my pal, and I didn’t get to also play with Sara Ramirez, who is another actor who I really admire, and know a little bit from the New York scene, so we were ships that pass in the night [laughs] but perhaps another time!

I was going to ask – is there hope that we see Carolyn again?
You see, I have no idea [laughs].  No one’s intimated that, as far as I know this was a one shot deal.  Ya know, actors, they both want steady jobs and they don’t want steady jobs [laughs].  The guys there were great and very kind to me.  They are also in the midst of 5th season-itis, and since I happen to know about 5th seasons of shows, and in fact 6th seasons of shows, and how itchy people can get, you know, I recognize the syndrome.  They were very nice to me.  Nobody said anything about further work there.

Maybe they could have you go visit your character’s ex-daughter-in-law down in LA and you can hang out with Amy and Tim [on PRIVATE PRACTICE]!
I know they’re doing some kind of a crossover thing between the two shows, I think right now!  I saw Tim Daly [Editor’s note: I love that she calls him by his full name] Sunday at a basketball game.  He’s playing in a non-professional league with his son Sam.  It’s fun to see my nephew and my brother playing together.  And I also, I love grown men run around in their underwear.  It’s really quite appealing to me.

You’ve been doing theatre now for a while – is there a medium that you prefer?
No, I like it all.  I’ve been very lucky because I was very ambitious to do all sorts of experiences for an actor and I’ve been lucky enough to do all of that.  I like working on television for various sets of reasons.  I like doing film, which is another kind of energy, and I love being on the stage, because I’m in the same room with the people I’m telling the story to.  That immediacy is very appealing to actors, I think, or some actors. Dick Crenna, who was a dear friend and who played my beau on JUDGING AMY, we had worked together before.  He was the only actor, he was so honest, he just hated the stage.  He said he loved rehearsal and he loved opening night.  But then after opening night, it was “God, we have to do this again?” He was so funny about it [laughs].  I love the radio.  I’m about to do an interesting project about Chik Webb, who was a jazz drummer, fascinating fellow.  I like all the different actor games.

I had a chance to meet Sharon down in Miami this summer and she talked about how she’s trying to get you on BURN NOTICE with her.
We’re always having fantasy shows.  We used to have a fantasy show when we were doing CAGNEY AND LACEY, you know, when you get bored, and you have to think stuff up, it was called NUNS WITH GUNS because we figured that the habit was a great place to hide a weapon. It was always hard to figure out where you were going to put your weapon in your lovely outfit, or Sharon had lovely outfits.  So NUNS WITH GUNS.  She suggested to me that I come and play her sister on BURN NOTICE and I said, cool, if I can be a mute.  She was not amused.  Many people don’t understand my particular sense of humor [laughs].

What else do you have coming up that we can look forward to?
I just finished doing some film again.  In this culture, if you’re not on television or your not functioning in a popular medium, people think you’re dead.  So even though I got nominated for a Tony two years ago, and I did Elward Albee’s newest play last spring, it was time for me to appear on television again, so two things came up.  One was the GREY’S ANATOMY which was fun, and then I just completed a film for Lifetime with Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen about the American painter Georgia O’Keefe.  I do not play O’Keefe, the lovely miss Joan Allen plays O’Keefe.  I get to play a kind of patron of the arts, a very famous flamboyant – I love the hats – called Mabel Dodge Luhann, so that’s what I did in Santa Fe recently.  So unless you can come to New York, that’s where people can see me in the next couple months, I guess!

It was great to chat with you – we look forward to seeing you on GREY’S tonight!
I hope you enjoy the show.  Are you a fan of the show?

I am, I can’t wait to see what happens.
Well, we had some pretty little scenes.  It was fun to play with Patrick.  He’s very present as an actor.  Then again, I’ve always been a huge fan of COUPE D’VILLE.  It’s one of the ones I’ve never quite gotten over!