You get the impression that not too many people want to ask Blythe Danner about the episode of M*A*S*H she made back in 1976.
Everyone wants to talk about her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow, her son-in-law Chris Martin from Coldplay, her grandchildren Apple and Moses and even her life after the death of her producer husband Bruce Paltrow back in 2002.
But when the subject of her role in The More I See You is raised, which was made during the fourth season of M*A*S*H and saw Danner playing Hawkeye’s long-lost love, the actress is clearly surprised.“Oh, my goodness, my son had just been born when I did that,” Danner says of her now 30-year-old younger child Jake Paltrow.
“I had worked with Alan (Alda) on film before that so it was a wonderful reunion as well as a great experience, but when you have worked in the industry as long as I have there are so many wonderful reunions.”
But there were no reunions on Danner’s latest television project Huff, because she collaborated with a band of actors she had never worked with.
The drama, which the actress described as a black comedy, stars comedian Hank Azaria playing troubled psychologist Craig “Huff” Huffstodt, who is dealing with personal problems as well as a dysfunctional family.
Danner plays his mother Izzy while Paget Brewster plays his wife Beth and Anton Yelchin fills the role of his son Byrd, with the cast rounded out by Oliver Platt as Huff’s best friend Russell.
Danner says she was initially surprised to learn that Azaria, a respected comedy performer who gives voice to a stable of characters in The Simpsons, would be playing the lead in a drama series.
“Hank is really very courageous for doing Huff and he takes his character on a fascinating journey,” she says.
“There is a lot of humour in the show so he’s able to bring something that, say, an actor who only has a background in drama couldn’t, he is the hub of the wheel and all the other characters gravitate around him.” Danner plays Huff’s formidable mother, who is not only the matriarch of the Huffstodt clan but the person who causes much of the drama.
The actress has described Izzy as her favourite character in a career that has already spanned 40 years.
“You are going to think I am making that up but Huff was the most wonderful opportunity for me because it was the chance to play a three-dimensional character on television rather than on stage,” she says.
“I love Izzy because she’s such a nutty girl and a handful – she’s funny, completely unreasonable and insulting – but she was unlike any character I have ever played.
“She has so much emotion and depth, even though she initially seems like a royal pain, and I always said the badder she was the better I liked her.
“Huff has humour and a bit of darkness which is fascinating for me, I think of it was being a black comedy because it deals with the human elements that are going on with a dysfunctional family so comedy and drama go hand in hand.”
Danner’s peers also recognised that Izzy was something special and awarded her the supporting dramatic actress Emmy in 2005, which was her first mainstream television award in a career that yielded a Tony Award in 1970.
She was actually nominated for three Emmys last year, also receiving nods as a lead actress in a miniseries or movie for her role in Back When We Were Grownups and as a guest actress in a comedy for Will & Grace.
“After 40 years, winning the Emmy was the icing on the cake for me, I was very grateful to get the acknowledgement from my peers that they liked what I was doing,” she says.
“But the awards are not what has driven me, being an actress was always about my passion for getting under the skin of someone else and that element of self examination.
“(Hollywood has) gotten carried away with awards but the Emmy is the premier one for television, as the Oscar is for motion pictures, it is the grand daddy of television awards so it will always be nice to get a nomination.
“The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) awards are also important, because that is coming from our fellow actors, and the Golden Globes is also a lot of fun because it’s so glitzy.”
Danner has been nominated in the supporting actress category again in 2006 for her work on Huff as well as getting another nod for her guest role playing Will’s mother Marilyn Truman in Will & Grace, which is a part she has filled since 2001.
“Being nominated again this year for both Huff and Will & Grace was lovely but it wasn’t the blood-rushing-through-the-veins experience that it was last year,” she says. “Working on Will & Grace was like going to summer camp every day, it was an absolute festival of fun.
“You know how they say that the hormones released when you laugh make you feel good, well I realised that was so true when I was working on Will & Grace and constantly laughing.”
While Danner will celebrate her 64th birthday in February she isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
The actress has three new movies in production, but the fact that she’s still working so hard comes as a surprise to a woman who says she was always a mother first and an actress second.
“My first allegiance was always to my family and my children, and I did act a bit while I was raising them but not so much as I have done in recent years,” she says.
“When I first started in the industry after graduating college I always hoped that I would still be working at this stage of my life but I thought it would be as a member of a small theatre company, which is where I started out.
“I never dreamed it would be in television or movies.”
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