The Mother of All Guest Stars: Linda Hamilton Talks Chuck
She can warm your heart and kick your ass from here to next Tuesday. Nobody plays action moms better than Linda Hamilton, who's gone from sci-fi in The Terminator flicks to spy-fi on Chuck, where she now plays secret agent Mary Elizabeth Bartowski. The character, who abandoned her offspring, Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), almost 20 years ago without explanation, appears to be in league with Russian meanie Alexei Volkov (Timothy Dalton). So how come she shows up unannounced in Monday's episode (Nov. 29, 8/7c, NBC) to have Thanksgiving leftovers with Chuck? Is Mom Bartowski truly bad or is she faking it? The series plans to keep fans guessing. TV Guide Magazine had a chat with the fabulous Hamilton and not even she knows the truth!
TV Guide Magazine: The billion-dollar question: Does this show truly have the balls to make Mom evil?
Hamilton: [Laughs] Oh, this series has balls! I'm thrilled to death right now.
TV Guide Magazine: But considering the heartache she's already caused her kids by dumping them and running off, wouldn't that be just too, too cruel?
Hamilton: I know. It would, wouldn't it? As an actor, it would be so much fun if Mary Elizabeth turned out to be a baddie. [Laughs] But, looking at my longevity, being good would better serve me. I want to stay on this show! And, besides, poor Chuck needs a mom.
TV Guide Magazine: So the writers intend to string us along for a while?
Hamilton: Apparently. [Laughs] And I'm getting ulcers over it! Mary is walking a very tight wire here, and nobody has told me where this is headed. It's the first time I've ever played a character where I don't know what's really going on.
TV Guide Magazine: How is it to play this stuff when you don't have all the facts?
Hamilton: In acting school the first thing they teach you is to find your clear-cut intention, because intention is everything in a scene. But here I am, several episodes into my run, and I still don't know what her agenda is. So I just sort of throw myself into every line of dialogue as convincingly as possible, so that it really doesn't matter if Mary Elizabeth is lying or not. It's the only thing I can do! On the set they have to keep reminding me not to put too much warmth, too much mom stuff, into the role. There's a reason she's called Agent Frost. But a mom could be a villain and still care about her kids. It's not a black and white world, especially on Chuck.
TV Guide Magazine: At the end of last season, we saw a flash of Mom but that was before you signed for the role, right?
Hamilton: Right. That wasn't me. I thought it was interesting that they committed to the look before they had an actor. It was just all backwards. The way I first heard about this role was from a fan who came up to me at a convention and said, "Are you going to be Chuck's mom?" I was, like, "Huh? No!" This was well before I was offered the part.
TV Guide Magazine: So the fan was just making a lucky guess?
Hamilton: I don't know how this stuff works. The fan base is very devoted and there had been a rumor circling about. Possibly the producers of Chuck put it out there just to see what the fans would say. Or maybe it was just a big pot luck. Maybe some the fans were going "Oooh, Linda Hamilton!" And some were going "Oooh, Jamie Lee Curtis!" or "Oooh, Lynda Carter!" And from that the producers made a list and I won!
TV Guide Magazine: Any qualms about taking the role?
Hamilton: None at all. I was completely into it, and the timing couldn't be better. I started this show within a week of my last child going off to college. So what better thing for an empty nester than to get a 75 hour a week job? Actually, it's more like 96 hours a week that we're working, but it's perfect!
TV Guide Magazine: Do you think Pop Bartowski [Scott Bakula] is really dead?
Hamilton: Awww... wouldn't it be great if he weren't? I can see this becoming a show about a family of spies. Nobody has said anything to me about Scott. But I would so love it if Stephen actually feigned his own death! It's that kind of show! But don't you think that Timothy Dalton is fabulous? It's unbelievable how this man is doing. I am having the most fun just watching him on the set. He's so inventive and hilarious. And just wait! His character gets goofier and goofier! I'm a little jealous, really. [Laughs] Mary Elizabeth might have to kill him.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you feel like the straight man?
Hamilton: A little too much, because I want to do the comedy, too! I have a burning desire for it and I go into every rehearsal going for the laughs but, by the time we start shooting, they've knocked it of me. [Laughs] But I figure if I just keep hammering at them, maybe in another four or five years I'll get my way. I will completely wear them down!
TV Guide Magazine: Zach Levi directed you in the November 29 episode. Well...?
Hamilton: I'm not high maintenance. I had no problems giving over complete control to him because he's been doing the show for so long. I'm just the guest star and he's the boss. My son, the directah! It doesn't always work out so well when an actor directs other actors. They want to give you line readings: "I want you to say the words exactly like this!" But Zach had this fantastic shorthand. He'd just say one little word to me — and word like "still" — and it would make a huge adjustment in a scene. I just don't have any of those actor "needs" at my age. I just go along with whatever. It's so much easier that way. Zach has a fabulous ear, he can ape any accent, any sound he hears. He has a musical voice and great timing. I'm not too old to learn!
TV Guide Magazine: You and Sigourney Weaver made such a huge mark in the movies as action heroes. Angelina Jolie carries that torch today. Still, there are very few women in your club. What's up with that?
Hamilton: I don't know where they've all gone. Back when I played Sarah Connor, there was a big groundswell, a great movement afoot. Now, not so much. For some reason it didn't catch fire in a permanent way. My friends and I have been trying to cast a female version of The Expendables in our heads.
TV Guide Magazine: Love it! We'll be there opening weekend!
Hamilton: Isn't it a great idea? It must be done! But who would those actresses be? Me. Sigourney. Jamie Lee Curtis. Jennifer Garner. There are not a lot of new people to add to the list. Back in the day, a lot of women were moved to get strong and show they could kick ass on screen and still be sexy, and the audience embraced it. But what happened? [Laughs] Hey, maybe the young actresses today are afraid to stand up and compete with Angelina Jolie. She does it so well, maybe no one thinks they can do it better!
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