by Zack Smith
According to Kristin Buie, spokesperson for the Raleigh-based theater company, Shepherd sustained her injury on a staircase last Wednesday morning. She soldiered on through the rest of the day, but on Thursday afternoon, a medical exam revealed that she had sustained a tibial plateau fracture and severe ankle sprain.
The decision to replace her was made Friday afternoon, Buie said. Although there is an understudy for the role, NC Theatre hired Jacquelyn Piro Donovan, who was flown in from the New York area on Saturday. Donovan is a seasoned musical veteran who will be familiar to NC Theatre audiences for her turns in productions of The Music Man (Marian the librarian) and Funny Girl (Fanny Brice).
Hello, Dolly! will be performed as scheduled, from May 7—14 at Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium.
Two weeks ago, Zack Smith spoke with Cybill Shepherd for a planned story for the May 4 issue of the Independent Weekly. Smith's story follows. —David Fellerath
From her roles in such acclaimed 1970s films as The Last Picture Show, The Heartbreak Kid and Taxi Driver, to half of one of TV’s most beloved couples in the 1980s series Moonlighting, to her recent appearances on The L Word, Cybill Shepherd has never been afraid of reinvention, or speaking her mind. This week, Shepherd begins a run with North Carolina Theatre as the title character in the classic musical Hello Dolly at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium. We spoke to Shepherd over the phone in Los Angeles to discuss her journey to the stage, memories of Taxi Driver, her relationship with director (and UNC School of the Arts professor) Peter Bogdanovich and more.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What made you want to do Hello, Dolly?
Cybill Shepherd: I’ve been a singer my whole life. I started formal training at 16, sang choir before that, and I’ve done albums and live shows. I always wanted to do a musical comedy, a really great one, and I’ve been offered a lot of things that I didn’t feel like I’d love to do, because it takes a lot of dedication on my part. You know, you can’t just walk in and do two weeks’ rehearsal—it takes several months. With Dolly, though, every song is just so wonderful.
It’s a wonderful step for me to get to play Dolly Gallagher Levi and to find my own Dolly—it’s been done by so many great people. I believe it’s a great show, and an uplifting show, and a funny show. I’m viewing it as a tryout—if I love it here, maybe I’ll do Dolly somewhere else as well.
It’s a classic character—what appealed to you most about Dolly?
It’s a story of a woman who hasn’t felt alive in years. There’s a beautiful monologue where Dolly talks about this. I think, being 61 myself, you do have things in your life where you have things happen that make you feel alive again. It’s about love, and no matter how old we are, love makes us young again. I can relate to that in my life too—I’ve been involved with someone since a year and a half ago.
So it feels very personal to me, this story, and she’s a survivor as well, an Irish girl married to a Jewish man. That was pretty shocking to people! And she was widowed, and if you look at the time frame when this occurs, 1890s, there was nothing a woman could do! She has to become a master of all trades to keep things together. I relate to that as an actor, because every time I play a different part, I’ve got to learn a different skill.
You just did a new pilot for ABC, My Freakin’ Family, and you’ve maintained a presence in different media ranging from film to TV to the theater in recent years. What’s been interesting about working in those different formats?
The L Word was a bit of a comeback for me; that got me a lot of new fans. I also did a one-woman show called Curvy Widow that I didn’t write, and that was an experience—I did it in Atlanta and in San Francisco, and I really loved doing it. So I want to do more theater. That’s been my dream—and part of that was doing a musical comedy.
On the new pilot, it’s a half-hour, and I’m attracted to half-hours, and more important than that, it’s a comedy. I was thrilled—this is a very funny pilot, and the cast is brilliant. I love ensembles—I started with ensembles, with The Last Picture Show.
…which just had its 40th anniversary, obviously—and Peter Bogdanovich is in North Carolina.
I know! He’s coming to see me! If I wanted to learn how to make a great film, I would find out where Peter Bogdanovich was teaching and sign up for his class. I can’t believe it’s an undergraduate class he’s teaching—he should be teaching a doctoral program.
I say a prayer every day for Peter, what he has contributed to my life, to the films he made and the films he exposed me to, and to the great, great friendship and great love, which will last forever. Every time I see him, he’s so entertaining.
There was also the recent 35th anniversary of Taxi Driver …
Taxi Driver… my agent at the time got a phone call from Martin Scorsese saying, “Do you have a Cybill Shepherd type?” and she said, “How about the real thing?” I had no lines in the original script, but I knew Scorsese was a brilliant director, and I wanted to be part of this any way I could. I went in and we bonded over our mutual worship of Hitchcock, and I got the part. There was a period of improvisation at the St. Regis Hotel with Marty and Bobby [De Niro], and then Marty rewrote the script, and that’s how my part came about.
It’s still a shocking film today—even if you see it edited on cable, 35 years old, it has this visceral power to it. What was your reaction when you saw it the first time?
I consider it one of the great performances of my career and one of the greatest movies I ever got to work on, but when I first saw it, I was very sensitive to violence in films. When it started to get violent, I had to leave the theater. It was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen! I had to miss the last scene, and I’m in that.
De Niro and Scorsese have been talking about a sequel for years now. Would you want to appear in it?
Of course I would! I’d love to be a part of that.
You had a lot of conflicts with Chuck Lorre while working on Cybill, which he’s publicly commented on many times, notably in his production company cards and in an episode of CSI he guest-wrote. It’s topical again because of the conflict he’s had with Charlie Sheen, and I’m curious if you have any commentary on that.
Ohhh, yeah. [laughs] Boy, did we have conflict. He created the show, and he did a brilliant job, and when it didn’t work between us, he did it brilliantly. I’ve never really said anything bad about him, and it’s very hurtful to have him say the things he said.
When you got into film, it was the 1970s, which is now looked at as a milestone decade for the medium, and when you did TV, it was the 1980s, which is similarly looked at as a groundbreaking period in that medium. What do you feel is emerging as the great entertainment media of right now, or what was particularly unique about your past experiences?
Well, I’ll have to refer to the Cybill show as the 1990s, and it was on television at a time when major networks had five to seven shows where a woman in her 40s or older were at the center of the story. And then it was like women disappeared! They’re back now, if you look at the number of series with women over 40 at the center. And we’re seeing a comeback for multi-camera sitcoms as well.
Out of everything you’ve done in your career, what do you feel was the most underrated project?
It’s one that’s gotten a reputation through YouTube clips—At Long Last Love, which is also on Netflix streaming now. They didn’t appreciate me in that—they said I couldn’t walk or talk, let alone sing. But there’s a new review of it that says, “This is really worth watching.” It’s never been on any form you could watch at home, and now it’s available.
We were singing live—Peter (Bogdanovich) was doing this in the tradition of Ernst Lubitsch, like The Love Parade or The Merry Widow. They don’t teach those in film schools any more—but I went to a different film school than anyone else, eight years with Peter Bogdanovich, three movies a night. At Long Last Love didn’t make sense until people realized that was what was going on, that homage to Lubitsch.
I’m glad it’s been released in a format where people can get it. I’m having a whole revival on Netflix Instant. [Laughs] I’ve lived long enough to see stuff come back around.
[Corrected at 2:40 p.m.: This post originally stated that the injury occurred during a rehearsal.]