Interview, Portrait: Lesley Ann Warren ‘In Plain Sight’

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CHICAGO – Lesley Ann Warren is familiar to TV viewers for her recurring role on “Desperate Housewives” as Sophie Bremmer and her portrayal of Jinx Shannon on “In Plain Sight.” She also has a rich career spanning five decades, with classic film and television characters along the way.

Born in New York City, Warren studied under Lee Strasberg at the famed Actors Studio, the youngest student to ever be accepted at 17 years of age. A year later she made a huge debut in the television remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” musical. This led to a contract with Walt Disney Studios, in such films as “The Happiest Millionaire” (1967). After leaving Disney, she did one season on the TV show “Mission: Impossible” and several roles in the mini-series era in the 1970s. She was nominated for an Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in “Victor Victoria” (1982) and went on to roles in the cult classics “A Night in Heaven” (1983) and “Choose Me” (1984). She continues in expansive character roles in both TV and the movies.

In March, Warren was in Chicago promoting “In Plain Sight,” and sat down for an interview with, and a portrait by photographer Joe Arce.

Lesley Ann Warren of ‘In Plain Sight’ in Chicago, March, 2011
Lesley Ann Warren of ‘In Plain Sight’ in Chicago, March, 2011
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for Tell us about what you’re doing now, on the TV series ‘In Plain Sight?’

Lesley Ann Warren: We premiered our fourth season on May 1st, and I play Jinx, Mary McCormack’s mother on the show. You were in the television remake of Rodger and Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella.’ Do the songs from that show still help you get through the day?

Warren: No, it was a long time ago. [laughs] But it is interesting the people who were impacted by that show. I got an incredible letter from Lee Daniels, the director of ‘Precious,’ who told me that when he was a young child, listening to songs like ‘My Own Little Corner’ got him through some hard times in his home, and also Rob Marshall is an admirer. Impossible dreams are happening every day, that is what I take from that show. Were there any unfair comparisons with Julie Andrews from the first version?

Warren: No, people were generally favorable to my version. I was much younger than she was when she did it, I was only 18 years old. It was on for ten years in a row, and it has its own audience that is pretty stalwart about their passion for it. Did you get to meet the legendary Walt Disney when you made ‘The Happiest Millionaire?’ Wasn’t that the last film he was involved in before he passed away?

Warren: Yes, he was very involved in casting me. I had dinner at his ranch and he was on the set a lot. He was the kind of man that knew everything that was going on at the studio, down to the color of the ribbon I had my hair, to what food was being sold at the commissary, to the latest animated films. He was very handsome, and a genius. You did films at Disney Studios while the 1960s were in their fullest rebellious bloom. How did they try to keep a lid on their pure image when everything around them was changing?

Warren: I only did two films for them and then my contract expired. I went from there to do ‘Mission:Impossible,’ which helped change my image.

Lesley Ann Warren as Norma in ‘Victor/Victoria’
Lesley Ann Warren as Norma and James Garner in ‘Victor Victoria’
Photo credit: Warner Home Video The set of Victor Victoria must have been a party every day. In what style of actress did you seek inspiration in developing the character of Norma?

Warren: What I did was to fashion her after Jean Harlow, especially her look in ‘Dinner a Eight.’ But the character of Norma I pretty much made up, I imagined she came from a family on the Lower East Side, and had to yell to get her thoughts heard. I pictured her wanting to be a movie star, and paging through all the old movie magazines. I basically created her, but I copied her look from Jean Harlow. You had to be against one of the toughest fields in history at your Oscar ceremony. There were three performances in now classic films with Jessica Lange and Terri Garr in ‘Tootsie,’ Glenn Close in ‘The World According to Garp’ and one classic movie actress in Kim Stanley. What do you remember about that night in particular?

Warren: It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. My son was with me, and he was more upset that I lost than I was. But to be in that company, and to be one of those appointed nominees that year was just an incredible honor and something I will never forget. Finally, what can you tell us about [Disney co-star] John Davidson that the rest of the world doesn’t know?

Warren: I met John on Broadway when I was doing ‘110 in the Shade’ and he was across the street doing ‘Hello Dolly!’ We had one date, and two years later we played opposite each other in The Happiest Millionaire. He’s a lovely, funny and hard-working guy. His image is who he is. He’s really that charming.

“In Plain Sight,” featuring Lesley Ann Warren, just finished its fourth season on August 7th on the USA Network. The fifth and final season of eight episodes will debut next spring. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald,

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