Magazine article Variety

Grande Dames REBORN in Primetime

Magazine article Variety

Grande Dames REBORN in Primetime

Article excerpt

Names like Fonda, Hershey and Rigg shine in meaty guest parts

Show business traditionally hasn't been kind to mature actresses, even those with Emmys, Oscars and Tonys tucked under their collective belts.

Often, roles that are offered tend to be less than challenging, making it easy for the public to forget just how good these actresses are until they get cast in meaty guest star spots.

In her first appearance on HBO's The Newsroom, Jane Fonda's conservative cable news channel CEO Leona Lansing - a hybrid name that melds Leona Helmsley and Sherry Lansing - commandingly prevails in a confrontation with Sam Waterston, underscoring the gravitas Fonda brings to the role.

"I've rarely been as challenged by a writer as I've been with Aaron Sorkin," says the Oscar and Emmy-winning actress, who will return to The Newsroom next season with a new twist to her character, which she describes as "Rupert Murdoch marinated in a little Ted Turner."

She also pointed out that Turner, her ex-husband, taught her "not to be intimidated by people," which helped in formulating her character.

The performance has paid off in good reviews. In the meantime, Emmy and Tony winner and '60s TV pioneer Diana Rigg {The Avengers) has wowed critics and fans of Game of Thrones with her portrayal of matriarch Lady Olenna TVrell.

"These are people who are very familiar to a section of viewers, but there's a huge audience out there who don't know who they are," says TV critic Gail Pennington of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "The Avengers was a very long time ago. And for those who watch Fox News, Fonda is still Hanoi Jane instead of a talented actress."

And Shirley MacLaine's brief appearance on the cultural phenomenon Downton Abbey secured her spot in the water-cooler conversations about her acting prowess rather than her after-life views.

Barbara Hershey made a huge splash in the 1960s. Although she has worked and achieved recognition through the years for her performances, she didn't get that mass of attention until she appeared in the popular ABC series Once Upon a Time as the even-more evil mother of the evil queen.

"Sometimes these guest roles not only make them pop, but make them hip in a way they haven't been in a long time," Pennington says. …

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