Cybill Shepherd, The L Word
In a candid TV Guide interview, outspoken showbiz vet Cybill Shepherd
revels in her risky new role as a wife turned lesbian on Showtime's The L Word
(Sundays at 10 pm/ET).
TV Guide: Isn't joining the cast of The L Word risky?
Cybill Shepherd: My kids [Ariel and Zach Oppenheim and Clementine Ford] think it's cool. They were so excited, they were dancing around the house.
TV Guide: How do you think they'll feel after they see it?
Shepherd: [Laughs] After shooting my first sex scene, I said to my daughter Ariel, "Don't worry, it won't be embarrassing." She said, "Mom, I don't want to know!"
TV Guide: What's your character like?
Shepherd: Phyllis Kroll is an executive vice chancellor of a major university, like USC. And she has lived a fulfilling heterosexual life; she's raised two daughters and she has this wonderful husband, played by Bruce Davison.
TV Guide: And what happens?
Shepherd: She hires Jennifer Beals' character, Bette Porter, who is openly lesbian, to run the art department. Bette comes to my office, and my character breaks down in tears. She feels she can finally share something that she has suppressed all her life — that she's a lesbian.
TV Guide: What was it like working with Jennifer Beals?
Shepherd: She's incredibly professional, and she has a baby girl, so between scenes she is always in her trailer with the baby. I can relate to that. I always had Clementine on sets.
TV Guide: Phyllis falls in love with Alice, a radio DJ who is much younger, right?
Shepherd: It is like that first great love affair when you are 16. I am obsessed with her, and then she dumps me. And I become like a stalker.
TV Guide: What was it like doing the love scenes?
Shepherd: I was excited because I have never done a love scene with a woman. We did one scene where a lot of unexpected things happened. I pushed her down the hall and threw her on the bed. And during the scene she hauled off and slapped my butt so hard. Suddenly I screamed out, "What are you doing to me?" And then I screamed a bunch of expletives.
TV Guide: Did you ever think you were a lesbian?
Shepherd: I have wondered about it. To me, sexy is sexy. At various times in my life I wanted to be open to the possibility of having a woman as a lover. I am not actively pursuing it. But it is not over yet.
TV Guide: What effect does Phyllis' coming out of the closet have on her family?
Shepherd: Oh, huge. Of course, she tells her husband. It is heartbreaking for him, and it gets very volatile. And when one of her daughters finds out, she comes to her office and says, "Mom, you cannot one day decide you are a lesbian. How can you do that to Dad?"
TV Guide: Doesn't your real-life daughter Clementine play your on-screen daughter?
Shepherd: There is nobody better. I suggested it, and they loved her.
TV Guide: How do you think your fans will react to the show?
Shepherd: I am nervous about the show coming out. I have fear that it will not be well received, even though it is some of the best work I have ever done. I have always felt this kind of terror in the past, but I would never have been able to be as honest as I am now.
TV Guide: What changed you?
Shepherd: Three years ago, I almost died. It was a 911 situation. I had to have my colon resectioned. They got to the house very quickly, but I was in so much pain I couldn't get up, so I had to crawl headfirst down the stairs. When I was in that ambulance, I thought, "I wonder if I am going to make it through this?"
TV Guide: How do you keep bouncing back in your life and career?
Shepherd: Actually, I never went away. There are people in this business who thought they'd never see me again, but I've been around for a long time. I started as a model in 1968 when I was 18. I did my first film [The Last Picture Show] in 1970, so that is 39 years in show business. I am 56.
TV Guide: And still going strong. So what's next for Phyllis? Have the producers talked to you about coming back next season?
Shepherd: I talked to them about it. I made sure I made that call before it was over. I said, "I want to come back!"
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