Actress Holland Taylor and I are sitting in InStyle offices in early August to talk about Mr. Mercedes, her new detective thriller series, and the interview kicks off with perhaps the least scary thing you can envision: A virtual puppy party.
Here's how it happens. Taylor's phone rings and when she picks up the FaceTime call, it's her girlfriend, actress Sarah Paulson with Chihuahua-Beagle puppies Boris and Frank on her lap. "Look at these dogs!" Taylor squees and passes her phone around the room for all to see. "Oh come on," she sighs, absorbing their absolute cuteness. "I know you're in the middle of an interview," Paulson says. "I just thought you would want to see them."
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"That's the sweetest face there ever was," Taylor says, when the camera focuses in on Boris the puppy. "Hi Boris. Hi Boris. Who's the best dog? Oh you can't do this to me! We can't have them! Don't force me to be my hideous self in front of others!" she says with a laugh. After a few more puppy filled moments, the couple says goodbye. "I want a dog too, everybody wants a dog. But we have a very chaotic life, and we cannot have a dog," Taylor says.
The life chaos, Taylor goes on to explain, is of course the very best kind. She's the midst of promoting her new series, Mr. Mercedes, a 10-episode production of Stephen King’s 2014 novel of the same name that airs Wednesdays on AT&T Audience Network and Direct TV.
Taylor plays Ida Silver, the blunt and charming next door neighbor of retired detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson), who’s being haunted by an unsolved case involving a stolen Mercedes that barrels into a crowd of people, killing and severely injuring many. The pedigree of everyone involved in the show is high: In addition to the strong cast, the series is directed by Jack Bender (Game of Thrones, Lost) and was adapted for TV and executive produced by David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Ally McBeal).
“Acting in Mr. Mercedes is no different from being in a movie,” Taylor says. “They just happen to put it on TV to get it out there. Stephen King and now David Kelley, they’re the masters of this genre.” In the show, the bad guy is evil and imbalanced in a way that’s chillingly plausible, a reason the actress says she hasn’t been able to watch all of the episodes. “Some people like to toy with their brain—I don’t really want to be scared like that unless I have to be," she says. "I find getting up in the morning and reading the paper these days is sufficiently scary.”
Taylor, as anyone who follows her on Twitter knows, is extremely engaged in both politics and culture. “I’m very interested in what’s trending, what’s current," she says. "Sometimes, when I've really had something I've wanted to say, I have taken great pleasure in getting it to 140 characters.”
Her Twitter presence really took shape while she was performing her Tony-nominated one-woman play Ann, about longtime Texas governor Ann Richards. Taylor said she used it, when traveling, to keep herself company and keep up with people. “I sent several messages out there with political themes, especially when I was working on Ann. I'm no less political now, but I was so into the mode of reading and understanding progressive history and what progressive politics even means."
"I used to write some fiery tweets and got quite royally attacked for it," she continues. "The venom with which some people attack people who speak on Twitter is astonishing. I mean, if I read someone's opinion that isn't mine, the last thing I am compelled to do is attack them for it. I’d just read it and think, Well that's some bullshit.”
With 109 acting credits to her name, including longtime runs on Two and a Half Men, The Practice, and Bosom Buddies—the 74-year-old actress is still evolving. She's done a lot, she says, and there's more to do; she's gotten better at silencing her inner critic and going with her gut: "I can be a bully with myself but I'm learning to treat myself with more kindness. I think one's destiny is to become one's own parent, in a way. We all become orphans and we realize that the only one looking out for us, ultimately, is us."
Taylor was a guest on WNYC's podcast Death, Sex, and Money at the end of last year and spoke candidly about her personal evolution, sparked by the loss of her mother and her relationship with Paulson. It was a big step for the actress, who says her natural tendency has always been to keep her private life private.
"I was blindsided by the reaction to it," she says. "I'm from an older generation and for me it's quite surprising how people talk about personal things of any kind in the press. It's not natural to me. That doesn't mean it's not good, it's just taken some adjusting. And Sarah, of course, is from a different generation, she's very much of today. It was hard for me at first to go through that membrane of being a private person. But it's been good for me to do it in such a lovely way."
Our conversation moves to the type of horror depicted in Mr. Mercedes versus the more stylized horror in Paulson's series American Horror Story. Taylor is in awe of her girlfriend's talent and dedication. "When she comes home, she's physically exhausted, her voice is shot ... she can't do anything halfway. She does not cushion anything, she goes for it every take, every time."
And then her phone rings again. Taylor picks it up: "Speak of the devil! Oh no, it’s the dogs again. Look at these dogs. Don’t do this to us! Look at them. Sarah, I’m actually still in the middle of the interview. Actually I’ve talked a lot about you—wonderful, true things.”
The two talk briefly, Taylor experiences the adorable Boris and Frank one last time. They hang up and she takes a breath. "That’s my sweatshirt she’s wearing," she says, with a studied comedic pause. "Bitch.”
Mr. Mercedes airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on AT&T AUDIENCE Network, and is also available through DIRECTV, AT&T U-Verse, and DIRECTV NOW.