Dorothy Lyman is an actress, director, writer and producer who has won two Emmy Awards for her portrayal of "Opal Gardner" on ABC's All My Children. This lead to a starring role on the CBS sitcom Mamma's Family as Vicki Lawrence’s daughter-in-law "Naomi." Other television appearances include a recurring role on ABC's Life Goes On and several guest starring roles on Bob, The Practice, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Judging Amy, Battlestar Galatica, and Reba. Dorothy also produced and directed three seasons of CBS' The Nanny.
Dorothy has also lit up the big screen in the films Ruby in Paradise, World Trade Center, The Departed, Blow and I Love Trouble. Most recently, Dorothy has produced and directed three films The Northern Kingdom (2006), Split Ends (2009) and her first documentary film, Janet’s Class.
In addition to television and film, Dorothy has bestowed her talents on stage. She wrote and starred in A Rage in Tenure for which she won four Dramalogue Awards. She also directed and starred in both the New York production and national tour of John Ford Noonan’s A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking, Snoo Wilson's Loving Reno, the Los Angeles production of Denis Spedaliere's Vicious, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, and adapted and starred in My Kitchen Wars.
Now, Dorothy is taking center stage in Hot Summer Nights Theatre Raleigh's production of Tracy Letts' Tony Award winning play August: Osage County from November 29-December 9 at the Fletcher Opera Theatre (2 E South Street, Raleigh, NC). Click here for tickets and follow them on Facebook and Twitter!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My brother had a theatre group in the basement of our church when we were in High School in Minneapolis. He let me work on the productions and finally act in one of them: Thornton Wilder’s Skin of our Teeth. I played the Tallulah Bankhead role at age 15. The Tyrone Guthrie Theatre opened at the Walker Art Center that year and we got to see so many wonderful productions. That company of actors headed by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy really inspired me. I also have vivid memories of all the films I saw as a child (Gone with the Wind, Auntie Mame, Sound of Music). They opened up a magical world to me. I also realize now how influenced I was by the TV stars I watched as a child. My work is very reminiscent of Eve Arden, Ann Southern and Lucy, of course!
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I've gotten to work with so many people like Liz Taylor, Bette Midler, and Milton Berle (all of whom I directed in episodes of The Nanny, everyone came on that show for Fran). I admire Vanessa Redgrave very much. It would be great to work with her. I've had a great career so far and I'm hoping there's a third act, so maybe August: Osage County will start the ball rolling and I'll get out more. I'd love to continue to work with Alan Campbell and Lauren Kennedy as well as a host of writers whose plays I'd like to do.
3. What attracted you to "August: Osage County"? What attracted me to this production was the director Eric Woodall. He is a casting director in New York City and I went in to meet him and he offered me the part. I wasn’t really looking to be away from my new Grandbabies this Thanksgiving, but Eric wanted me, and I don’t get many offers these days, so I said yes. I actually hadn’t liked the play when I saw it on Broadway, but since I have been working on the role I have come to see there is more to it than I originally saw. It's a straight play, but there are a lot of laughs in it. If I'm acting in it, it's going to be funny. Tracy Lett's is a very creative writer and I'm so happy I got to see him in the Broadway revival of "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf" before I left New York.
4. What do you identify most with about your character "Violet Weston"? Her views about aging. She takes getting old very hard with regards to losing her looks and her sexuality and femininity. Aging has important psychological challenges and needless to say, she is not doing well with it.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing "August: Osage County"? I hope they feel they saw a great piece of theatre. I hope they are blown away by the quality of the production that Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell and their producer Michele Weathers put together. I hope audiences have a deeper appreciation for their own families and with a desire to heal their own family problems. The "Westons" are not honest with each other. I hope people will realize it's important to tell the truth at every opportunity.
6. What excites you most about performing at Hot Summer Nights Theatre Raleigh? This is the first time I've been on stage since 2003, so I'm excited about that. When you get to certain age, the roles tend to be fewer and farther between. Since I've worked mainly in television, I don't have a lot of stage experience. I'm excited to show people I know how to build a character and sustain the arc of a character over the course of an evening. Working in theatre you have to maintain the character from beginning to end. In television, if you forget your part they just cut it out and you start over. On stage, if you forget your line, you are out there in front of hopefully at least 600 people, and you have to find a way to move forward.
I'm very impressed with the group of people with whom I am working with on this production: Pamela Dunlap (AMC's Mad Men) and Lisa Brescia (Broadway's Mamma Mia) along with Raleigh's very own Phil Crone (Beverly), Julie Fishell (Barbara), Jeffrey West (Bill), Mary Mattison Vallery (Jean), Jesse Gephart (Little Charles), Paul Paliyenko (Charles), Estes Tarver (Steve), Kathleen Lynch (Johnna) and David McClutchey (Sheriff Gilbeau).
7. You recently donated your hair to Locks of Love. What did that mean to you? When I came here to North Carolina, I had very long hair. While they were cutting it, I wanted it to be used for something good. I was very happy to find out that I was able to donate to Locks of Love. It feels great to know that it's going to be used for such a good cause.
8. In 2004 I had the pleasure of seeing you in "My Kitchen Wars," which you also helped adapt for the stage. What made you want to adapt and star in the show? How great that you saw My Kitchen Wars! The woman who was the subject of that script, Betty Fussell is a long-time friend of mine, and I read the memoir in galley form and we discussed and agreed to my adapting it for the stage. I produced and acted in two productions of it, one in LA and one in NYC. I am always looking for interesting material to act in, and have always generated my own projects. That was in 2003-4 and I haven’t been on stage since! So this gig in Raleigh is a milestone. At my age, you don’t know if there will ever be another opportunity to play a great role. Most parts available to an older gal are pretty small and unrewarding and not enough of an incentive to leave my farmstead!
9. You've also starred in some of my favorite TV shows and movies such as All My Children, Mamma's Family, and Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story as well as directing three seasons of The Nanny. Looking back, what did you enjoy most about working on these endeavors? What did it mean to you to win two Emmy Awards for portraying "Opal" on All My Children? Winning two Emmy awards for playing "Opal Gardner" on All My Children (1981-1983) was the highlight of my career. It meant everything to me. Luckily I knew when I was playing her that it would be the best role of my life; that is until this one as VIOLET WESTON in August: Osage County. We had a ball, Kim Delaney and I, playing mother and daughter, and I think we revolutionized Daytime TV. People refer to "Opal" as the first comic character on Daytime, and the role opened up the writing to a broader sensibility. I spent 15 years acting in soaps in New York. Carol Burnett was a fan of All My Children, and she and Vicki Lawrence decided to invite me to come out to co-star with Vicki in Mamma's Family. I loved getting to know Joan Rivers, Fran Drescher, Vicki Lawrence, Carol Burnett, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White and getting to work with Ken Berry and everyone over at The Nanny. I directed 75 consecutive episodes of that show, three years straight as producer and director. Fran Drescher is the best gal in the world as are Joan and Carol. These are the people that made differences to my career.
10. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? I retired to the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York in 2003 when I left Hollywood. After directing 75 consecutive episodes of The Nanny I was ready for the farm! I raise organic free-range eggs for local restaurants and markets. I live on 43 wooded acres with my chickens and horses and dogs and cats! Since I have "retired" from Hollywood, I have been extremely creative and regained my perspective as an artist. I have made (produced and directed) three films: The Northern Kingdom, Split Ends, and a documentary called Janet’s Class, about aging. I followed a group of senior citizens around Manhattan as they took an acting class from a fabulous teacher/director/actress named Janet Sarno. That film is being submitted to festivals and having screenings, seeking distribution. The first two are available on NETFLIX.
11. What did you enjoy about making these movies? Making movies is the best. I got to choose the cast and the setting and do the scenes in a reality that no set can approximate. I was able to create my own private world. I guess there is something about me that make people want to sit in the dark and be quiet and listen to me...hahahaha. These movies are the ultimate expression of that. The films are not subject to human error like theatre is. You only have to do it right once for the camera and then everybody that sees the movie sees the same exact performance, unlike theatre where it's in the lap of the Gods as to how it is going to go down.
12. What's the best advice you've ever received? The best advice I ever received was to say YES to everything! YES takes you somewhere, NO stops you cold.
13. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? My farm. I have my boyfriend-a 22-year-old Thoroughbred retired hunter/jumper living up there with me as well as a retired polo pony. I definitely would rather come to Raleigh to play this great role than dream about my farm. Everyone has been so welcoming. My return to the stage is a happy respite from cleaning out the coops!