In Hallmark Channel's Hidden Places (premiering Saturday at 9pm/ET), Sydney Penny (All My Children, The Thorn Birds) plays Eliza, a Depression-era farmer's widow who, when times get very bleak, is offered assistance by a handsome stranger named Gabe (Jason Gedrick). Can she trust this angelic drifter? Helping usher things along is Eliza's Aunt Batty, played with a flourish by Academy Award-winner Shirley Jones. TVGuide.com welcomed the chance to talk with the woman best know as Oklahoma's Miss Laurey even at the risk of spontaneous warbling.
TVGuide.com: I was a stagehand for my high-school's production of Oklahoma, so forgive me if I suddenly break out into "People Will Say We're in Love."
Shirley Jones: Well, OK! [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Hidden Places is an interesting project, almost a "feel-good Depression-era" drama.
Jones: Yes, it is, it is. It's a lovely film. And it was fun for me, because I'm finally graduating into character parts; I don't have to be Mrs. Partridge for the rest of my life.
TVGuide.com: Where did you all go for the shoot?
Jones: We shot in the orange groves in Piru, north of Los Angeles. I've never picked so many oranges in my life! I never want to see another orange.
TVGuide.com: What do you look for when picking an orange?
Jones: Well, you take one off the tree, cut it open and if it's sweet enough, you go ahead and pick the rest.
TVGuide.com: What drew you to Aunt Batty besides her colorful name?
Jones: Mostly that, because she was a different kind of character. In the novel Hidden Places, Aunt Batty was much more prominent and much more of a "character," so to speak, but they didn't use all that in the film. But just the mere fact that she looked the way she looked and the whole period of the film was kind of exciting to me. Plus the fact that she is a big help to her niece and everybody.
TVGuide.com: She's a matchmaker of sorts.
Jones: A matchmaker, exactly. That was fun to play.
TVGuide.com: What did you think of Hidden Place's other leads?
Jones: They were wonderful, really wonderful. Sydney had been a child star and has done lots, so she's a consummate young actress who knows her stuff. And Jason, I just fell in love with him, he was so nice. Here's a story: Our director, it was kind of her first time out, and it kind of showed in the beginning. Now, Jason is a very intense actor, and in his first scene he had to chop wood. When you have a lot of that type of stuff to do and still have a big scene to play, it's not easy, and she was telling him to do it this way, do it that way....
TVGuide.com: This story isn't going to end with Jason accidentally lopping off his foot, is it?
Jones: No! But he was getting irritated and more irritated, so I went up to him and said, "Just relax. I know how you feel, but we all have to work together on this." He was so cute. He said, "Thanks a lot, you made me feel so much better!"
TVGuide.com: Sounds like you saved the production from turning into a splatter film!
Jones: [Laughs] Not quite, I wasn't that much of a heroine! But it's interesting for me to work with young actors now because I can almost read what's going on because I've done it so much before. We all ended up getting along famously, though, and everything fell into place.
TVGuide.com: I have not seen Grandma's Boy, the film you now have in theaters, but from everything I have read, it sounds like it must have been a fun time for you and the other ladies [costars Doris Roberts and Shirley Knight].
Jones: Oh, wow. Yeah, it was. It's a pretty crude film, I have to be pretty honest.
TVGuide.com: Were you at one point like, "This is a little more than I bargained for"?
Jones: Yeah, after I saw it! Actually, the three ladies are the least of that, to tell you the truth even though my role is fun, getting to be in bed with a 20-year-old. I saw it with some old friends and they kind of sat there, like, stoned not knowing what to expect.
TVGuide.com: Your friends will never look at you the same way again.
Jones: You're absolutely right! It's pretty crude, but the appeal is to college kids. That's what they're counting on.
TVGuide.com: Looking back, are you glad you started your career as young as you did, at age 18? Or would you have liked to live life more before diving into all that?
Jones: No, I don't think so. I didn't give anything up, god knows. I got married when I was 22, had children [Shaun, Patrick and Ryan Cassidy, via first husband Jack], did the whole thing. It doesn't mean that had I not done all of that, my career might have gone further. I'm still working and still enjoying it, too now probably more than ever, because I don't have those responsibilities.
TVGuide.com: Is there a film role you coveted more than anything but didn't get?
Jones: Some of the roles Shirley MacLaine did, I would have loved to have had, of course. Strangely enough, the second show that I did in New York, she was in the chorus as a dancer. I was then chosen to play the lead in Oklahoma, the film, and Shirley came over to me and said, "Can you help me get a role in the film?" I said, "Shirley, I don't have anything to do with that. I'm lucky I got the part!"
TVGuide.com: You mentioned earlier your typecasting as Mrs. Partridge. Do you view The Partridge Family as a mixed blessing, or do you give it a better shake than that?
Jones: I have only wonderful memories of doing Partridge. It was great. But it didn't help me in my movie career at all, and that's what the agents and everybody said would happen. "Don't do a television series, Shirley, because if it is a success, you'll be that character for the rest of your life." And, of course, that is what happened, and my movie career did slide after that. But would I have changed anything? No, because what it did for me personally was worth it. It gave me a chance to stay at home and raise my kids.
TVGuide.com: Did you actually drive the bus?
Jones: Oh yeah, sure. As a matter of fact, at the end of the show, the Teamsters gave me a special badge saying I was now a member of the union! But it was very hard for me because even though I could drive, I learned to drive on an automatic, and this was a stick shift in the floor. I had to relearn how to drive!
TVGuide.com: Do you watch Shaun's show, Invasion [which Cassidy created and executive-produces]?
Jones: Oh yeah, I love it a lot. I just hope it gets picked up. It's a wonderful show and very well done well acted, well written, everything.
TVGuide.com: Alas, the TV biz is an unpredictable one....
Jones: Tell me about it. [Laughs] I talked to Shaun yesterday and he said that he feels in many ways, even though it might have helped in the beginning to follow Lost, that maybe it's a little late [for Invasion to air]. That after Lost, people turn [their TVs] off. And with those kinds of shows, you've got to be on top of them and watch every minute to know what the hell's going on.
TVGuide.com: Things are good these days with your husband, Marty Ingels?
Jones: Yeah... we have our problems, we're off and on a lot. After 28 years, you know, let's face it.... [Laughs] He's not easy to live with and I guess I'm not either, at this age.
TVGuide.com: Of course, I only know him as "the voice of Pac-Man."
Jones: That's right! At the moment, he's preparing his one-man show, so I'm hoping for his sake it will be great. He is truly an incredible comic, not just a joke-teller. The best stuff he does is stuff about his life.
TVGuide.com: Lastly, how about an update on the "other" man in your life, the Oscar you won in 1960?
Jones: [Laughs] It sits in my living room, in a very special place.
TVGuide.com: Do those things tarnish at all?
TVGuide.com: No way!
Jones: Forget tarnishing, do you know what happens? The gold rubs off.
TVGuide.com: Yikes, what's under there, some crummy slab of wood?
Jones: No, it's like a "platinum" something underneath. The gold finish rubs off, but you can have it redone I think!