Death Becomes Her: Six Feet under Matriarch Frances Conroy Talks about Family Secrets, Grocery Store Encounters, and Working with Alan Ball and Charles Busch. (Television)

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"You must try this! It's a spinach enchilada with avocado and black beans. And this is papaya or mango, I think. Eat!" Much like any other mom, Frances Conroy is insisting that I share the food at her favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles's Silver Lake neighborhood. In this moment I feel like I'm listening to Ruth Fisher, her matronly yet always surprising character on HBO's Six Feet Under. "She's really come along in some interesting ways, hasn't she?" says Conroy about her onscreen self. "And I think this season, that will definitely deepen. Of course, I'm not allowed to say anything about what's coming. I'll get in trouble."

With the third season of the Emmy-winning series under way, Conroy is busier than ever and clearly devoted to the people she works with, including Alan Ball, the openly gay creator of the series: "I know that Alan loves actors, because he's from the theater. He has in credible sensitivity. He's very open and truthful and funny."

Ball is happy to return the compliment. "I adore Franny," he says. "She brings a certain groundedness to the part. In the first episode she gave, on a first take, the most amazing performance at her husband's graveside. It was this primal thing. Her emotional light is just under the skin."

Like Ball, Conroy is from the theater: She is the winner of a 1989-1990 Drama Desk Award for The Secret Rapture and a 2000 Tony nominee for Arthur Miller's The Ride Down Mount Morgan. So her recent TV work, its critical acclaim and Emmy nods, and its subsequent reach to a much wider audience now means she is recognized in grocery stores. "People see me and they have to talk about the show," notes Conroy. "They want to talk to Ruth." Not to mention seeing her face on huge Six Feet Under billboards, something she and husband, actor Jan Munroe, find amusing: "We just shake our heads and laugh. It's very weird. But you get to go to great parties. HBO throws wonderful parties! Great food."

Soon Conroy will be seen on movie screens as a boozy, Bible-thumping housemaid in Die Mommie Die! the latest play from Charles Busch (Psycho Beach Party) to reach the big screen. …


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