The Hallmark Channel's Where There's a Will (premiering Saturday, May 6 at 9 pm/ET) presents Happy Days star Marion Ross as Leslie "Clyde" Onstatt, a wealthy but frail widow who signs on her long-lost grandson (Frank Whaley) as her caretaker. Little does she know, Richie is a bit of a con man, coldly eyeing Grams as his next mark. Will this tricky tale have a Happy outcome for Mrs. C? Ross spoke to TVGuide.com about that, her "frisky" TV pilot and more.
TVGuide.com: I'm debating here whether to run a pic of you from the movie, or...
Marion Ross: Run one where I look nice.
TVGuide.com: That's what I was thinking with your trademark red hair and all.
Ross: Yes! I don't mind playing these old parts, because they're such wonderful stories, but let's not dwell on it! Every day I look as fabulous as I can, obviously. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Still being a robust and lively woman, are you ever reluctant to play the doddering, frail grandma?
Ross: No, not at all. We, as actors, never even think of it. We never think of it until we see the film, and then we think, "Oh...." But this was a good script and a good story! The word Hallmark itself means quality. Tell me one other place we can go for that?
TVGuide.com: Plus, that Clyde can be sharp as a tack.
Ross: I like her. [Screenwriter] Rex McGee in Texas wrote this about a real person, although I'm sure she was even peppier than I am and used more idiomatic phrases. You know the way those Texas people talk.
TVGuide.com: Given your Happy Days past, I had to chuckle at the grandson's name being Richie though your character, ironically, refuses to call him that.
Ross: [Laughs] That was his name all along. I didn't put that in there! But doesn't Frank play a wonderful sleazy guy? You just don't trust him!
TVGuide.com: What would you say the moral of this film's story is?
Ross: People who have driven everybody away tend to find each other. It's a love story in the sense that these are two people who need each other badly. It's a really sweet film set in this small town where people all look out for one another. That's something we don't have in the big city. I love Keith Carradine's part [as the sheriff], where he just quietly looks after everybody. And Paul Michael, that's my real beau [playing Clyde's gentleman caller], you know. How it all came about was I was down in Marion, Illinois because I am the spokeswoman for Marion, Illinois....
TVGuide.com: As you should be.
Ross: As I should be. So I'm speaking to this college actors' class and my phone rang. I joked, "Oh, it's my agent" and it was! He said, "Do you want to do this Hallmark film? And do you think Paul would do it also?" I said, "Of course we would do it." I then turned to the class and said, "See how easy it is, this showbiz?" [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Tell me about your pilot for the fall, Community Service, starring Jay Mohr.
Ross: Jay plays a scalawag who goes to this Ohio town to follow this girl that he wants to win back, and he gets stuck there doing 500 hours of community service. He then tries to woo the girl back amidst having all these adventures. I play this kind of "babe" who has her eye on Jay. I'm drinking tequila, licking the salt off my hand, when I say to him, "Why don't you just move in with me?" [Laughs] Each week, as he does his community service, he'll have a different thing he has to do while he lives with this wild woman!
TVGuide.com: How much did you enjoy guest-starring recently on Henry Winkler's Out of Practice?
Ross: It was so sweet to be with Henry and to be at [the] Paramount [lot]. The two of us, we just beam at each other all the time. I was devastated when they dropped his show. They just don't give you a chance anymore. In the old days... nobody was looking at Happy Days for certainly the first six months. I mean, look at Seinfeld, too. Many, many shows have that kind of history. Acting is interacting, how we respond to one another Marion in Happy Days was the way she was because Howard was the way he was. Harold Gould was the father on Love, American Style [from which Happy Days was spun off], and it was whole different chemistry.
TVGuide.com: Garry Marshall's book Wake Me When It's Funny offers great trivia about Happy Days, like how Fonzie couldn't wear a leather jacket unless there was a motorcycle in the scene, and how poor Chuck, the older brother, had to vanish.
Ross: Poor Chuck. [Laughs] Tom Bosley and I used to make jokes about that. Once we were shooting in Malibu, pretending to be in Hawaii, and Tom says, "Don't look now, but I think I see Chuck."
TVGuide.com: Garry says they dropped Chuck because Fonzie needed to be the "big brother" character.
Ross: Yes. Whenever you see a pilot script, you have to remember that the show is going to grow and change as the writers get to know the characters. You never know which part is going to walk off and take care of the whole show.
TVGuide.com: Is it true that Henry Winkler sends you flowers each time you do a stage show?
Ross: Yes, he does. It's very darling. And then the rest of the cast will say, "Can I have the vase Fonzie gave you?"
TVGuide.com: You also must be proud of your "son," Ron Howard.
Ross: He's got a big week coming up. He'll be going to Cannes [for the world premiere of The Da Vinci Code]. That's the way to go to Cannes, as king of the world!
TVGuide.com: I had no idea you voiced SpongeBob's grandma; I'll have to tell my sons I spoke to "her." What kind of dialogue do you get?
Ross: Oh, she's terribly dear. She'll say, "I'm going to give Patrick the cookies because SpongeBob doesn't want to be kissed anymore by Grandma. He's too big for that." Your sons will probably get the same way "Dad, don't kiss me!" Tell them SpongeBob's grandma says hello. They'll be very impressed.
TVGuide.com: Tom Bosley played Rex to your Bree in a TV Land Awards Desperate Housewives skit. Did your characters get "frisky"?
Ross: You know what I did do? American Dad asked if I wanted to do an episode and I didn't know that show advised parental supervision so I said, "Oh sure, and no, I don't need to see the script." Well, the premise was the son was going to a camp where his father went 25 years ago, and the sweet old couple running it had fallen on hard times and turned it into a sex camp. So I'm this dominatrix and Tom is this old guy.... [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: I loved the "milk mustache" ad with you, Shirley Jones and Florence Henderson. Any good anecdotes from that shoot? Any diva antics to report?
Ross: Oh, no... no. What was fun was that the crew would stand around in like a horseshoe and just beam at us.
TVGuide.com: Beaming from fans is good.
Ross: Oh, yes. I'm always tempted to keep a diary to see how many times a day somebody comes up to say, "Oh, I love you!" It's pretty nice. I have fun with my life.