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Judith Light Talks ‘God Looked Away’, Working With Al Pacino, Transparent, And Her Favorite All-Time Roles!

Photo Credit: Luke Fontana

What would happen if the dream duo of Judith Light and Al Pacino, two of the most lauded actors of extraordinary talent and range, took to the stage in a dramatic play? Audiences in Southern California can find out now through March 19th in the Pasadena Playhouse’s PlayWorks Development Production of God Looked Away based on the final years in the career of iconic playwright Tennessee Williams.

For Judith Light, the role of Estelle in God Looked Away is yet another feather in her cap in a stellar career, where daytime fans first saw her in her two-time Daytime Emmy-winning role of Karen Wolek on One Life to Live – and her performance on the courtroom witness stand remains a moment that stands among the best in television history.  Light is also a two-time Tony Award winner, and this in-demand actress, while appearing nightly in God Looked Away is by day shooting season four of Amazon Prime’s critically-acclaimed web series Transparent, embodying yet another heralded role that of Shelley Pfefferman.

Without question, Judith is the best friend and advocate to the LGBTQ community one could ever have. Through her continued efforts she brings to light and fights the fight of the struggles of our time.

On-Air On-Soaps had the pleasure of chatting with Judith to get some insight into taking the stage playing Tennessee Williams’ best friend and working with Al Pacino, the success of Transparent, and why it’s such an important series for her to be a part of. Last fall, Judith lost her longtime friend, mentor and manager, Herb Hamsher.  During our conversation she reveals how she tries to come to terms with his passing.  Always thought-provoking, delightful, and as real as they come, here’s what Judith shared.

What was it that made you want be in the cast of God Looked Away?  Was it the piece itself, or getting the opportunity to work with Al Pacino?

Photo Credit: Jim Cox Photography

JUDITH:  Both things. Also because I have good friends who are friends with Dotson Rader (playwright, God Looked Away), and also I had worked with Robert Allan Ackerman (director, God Looked Away) back in 1977 at the O’Neill Foundation.  So, getting to work with him again was very compelling to me.  And of course, getting the chance to work with Al Pacino.  How many times does that opportunity come along?  It’s a very interesting part, and very different for me.  I was excited about it on a whole lot of levels.

In God Looked Away you play the character of Estelle.  What can you say about the character that fascinated you without giving anything away?

JUDITH:  This is a woman who you think had everything, and what you find out is that she hasn’t, and is extremely needy.  She has come upon a time in her life when she is needing more of a lot of things from what she considers to be her best friend, which is Tennessee Williams.  There is a level of need that is so great, and they come together when the level for each of them is so great about so many other things in their lives, which has everything to do with how their friendship manifests itself.

The play currently running at the Pasadena Playhouse is being billed as “A PlayWorks Development Production”.  What can you say about what goes into the process of working on a stage play this way?

Photo Credit: Jim Cox Photography

JUDITH:  It’s a work in progress, and it’s a play in development.  It’s really what I learned when Robert Allan Ackerman and I were at the O’Neill Foundation.  When you go there you work on a play, or for a while with the playwright.  So what you realize is that you are there to serve the piece, and the playwright.  You are working there with the playwright, and the director, and the actors, and you develop this piece.  For God Looked Away this is the first time the Pasadena Playhouse has done this.  What they are doing is really creating a program of plays, and a place for people to come in California and to do this kind of work.   It’s free from press, and critics, which can be so stressful.   So really what we are getting to do every single day, and through every single performance is work on this play.  It’s a fascinating play, because people don’t really know the story of Tennessee Williams, and his life, and his psychology, nor did they know about his relationships with this man, who in the play we call “Baby”, who is actually Dotson Rader.  This is taken from Dotson’s book Cry of the Heart.  Dotson and Tennessee had been lovers, and he was Tennessee’s companion for the last 14 years of his life.  He was really there to support him, and in a real way was his caretaker.

So every night when the audience come to see the play, might they see something different than the audience that perhaps saw the show the night before?

Photo Credit: Jim Cox Photography

JUDITH:  You wouldn’t notice a lot of changes to the script, necessarily.  There might be some things that would be cut, or some things that might be added.  But each night it isn’t drastically different. The dynamics of the characters could shift and change as we are finding things.  Al has a very specific powerful way of working that brings everybody into the moment.  You can’t ask for anything better than being in the moment with somebody not only in life, but on the stage.  Al is so generous, and available that you might notice different things, but not a lot.  It’s a difficult to explain, so you would have to really come see the play several times to notice it.

Has Al Pacino said anything to you personally acknowledging how great an actress you are?  

JUDITH:  His generosity is his being, and the way he “be’s” with you, in that you know that he likes it, and is comfortable, and excited.  He and I tend to continue to talk about the work all of the time, and we just love that.  I know he appreciates that.  I don’t need to hear from Al that he thinks I’m good.  I know that he appreciates my work, as I appreciate him, and always have.  It’s a great experience to get to work with him and be connected with him on this level.

Photo Credit: Jim Cox Photography

Miles Gaston Villanueva (Ex-Luca Santori), who fans know from his work on Y&R, is also in God Looked Away.  Do you share any scenes with him?

JUDITH:  Miles plays Dotson Rader, and there is friction between my character and his.  You can feel the connection on stage and you know that they know each other, but there is not a lot of exchange between them.  Estelle’s focus is solely on Tennessee.

Where does this role rank comparatively to the other roles you performed on the stage?  You have quite the resume!  Would you say the role of Estelle is one of the most challenging?

JUDITH:  It’s right up there!  I think it’s one of the best characters I have gotten the opportunity to play.  And you’re right; I have gotten to play a lot of different people.  Estelle is a real person, and so the dynamic of understanding her, and reading about her in Dotson’s book, Cry of the Heart, and also in Lady Maria St. Just book, who my character is based on, there is a lot you can glean from all of that.  You know, I like to do different things, because it challenges me, and I mean that in the best sense of it.  I get to find places in myself that I like to understand and explore, and bring to the character and in turn to the audience.  I think the audience finds the relationship between Tennessee and Estelle as fascinating as I do.

You are in the middle of a very hectic schedule for you professionally. While you are appearing and working on God Looked Away, you are also shooting season 4 of Transparent.  And I have to say, in the season three finale, “To Shell and Back” you delivered such an amazing performance.   It all happens after we learn your character, Shelly, was molested by her elementary music teacher.  She then mounts her one-woman show on a cruise ship, and performs it in front of her family and sings Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in Pocket”.  What did you think of that fantastic season closer?

Courtesy/Amazon

JUDITH:  It is very interesting.  There is a kind of genius that runs through the workings of Transparent.  It comes from Jill Soloway (creator, Transparent) and her distinct vision and her desire to find a way to work in our business that comes from a place of purity and love, and not in some new age sort of phony way, but in a real way where we care for each other.  I don’t know if many people would remember, but in the first season of Transparent, when the kids said something to Shelly about music or records, she said, “I don’t care for music.”  The kids look at her like she is crazy, and of course, we all think she is crazy, but you see the thread that comes through.  We have the most extraordinary team of writers.  Jill’s sister, Faith (who co-wrote this episode) is also a musician, and she worked with me on the song.  I looked at both of them and I said, “Why this song?”  I had to get myself into the place of it, and they really helped me.  That turned out to be one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had in my entire career, because it was all about this team: the sound people, the make-up and hair people, both of which departments have been nominated for awards for that episode.  I felt I was being held by the most loving hands in order to create that.  I was the person out there in front of the camera, but it was everybody behind the scenes.  It became very magical in terms of doing it on the ship.  It was the coming together of all different people and their connection, and it was because of all of those people that is was so powerful for the audience.

Did you have a sense from the moment that you signed on to be in the cast of Transparent, that it would continue on as it has now into its fourth season?

Photo Credit: HutchinsPhoto.com

JUDITH:  I knew it was special from the beginning, and I wanted to be a part of it.  My audition was a 45-minute Skype call with Jill Soloway, where we talked about our commitment to the LGBTQ community, and how we could be of service to them. That is what it was about.  Jill has a way of people putting them together.  Of course, I knew Jeffrey Tambor: we were old friends.  We had worked together 45 years ago.   I didn’t know how Transparent would be received, or if it would go, but I just knew I wanted to do it.  I wanted to work with Jill.  I wanted to work with Jeffrey again.  I knew about Gaby Hoffman (Ali) and Amy Landecker (Sarah), and Jay Duplass (Joshua) and I just wanted to be in that family.  It’s a blessing that I got to do it.  Jill talks about wanting to change the conversation, wanting to change the culture, and wanting to change the dynamic of the world, and shine a light on this community, and the hate crimes, and how this is forcing people to go back into the closet.  We are dealing with a Supreme Court case right now, which is Gavin Grimm.  We have to remember we still live in a place where there is bigotry, and less we forget the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, and how much homophobia controlled the dynamic.  So, we are not free of that, and that is what Jill wanted to change, and that’s why I wanted to be part of the series, and find a way to be of service to these people.

Your longtime manager. mentor, and friend Herb Hamsher past away this past October.  The two of you had a relationship that is one for the ages.  When you reflect back on what he has meant to you, and that special collaborative partnership you had with him, what does it bring to mind?

Photo Credit: HutchinsPhoto.com

JUDITH:  Our connection was one of a kind, and his partner Jonathan Stoller was also my manager so they were a team, and Jonathan is still working with me.  He and Herb got married 12 days before Herb passed away.  I haven’t found my way to articulate all of my feelings on his passing yet, because it’s still so new for me, and fresh.  I was there with Herb when he took his last breath.  Herb had given me so much, and guided me for so long.  He used to say to me, “Try to think what my thoughts would be, and what would I say to you.”  That is what I am still doing.  We worked together so much over 36 years.  He always used to talk about being, and that we are human beings, and not “human doings”, and we must learn to be, and that’s very difficult for all of us, and challenging.  He taught me how to be aware, grateful, to be kind, and to think about other people before I thought about myself, because our business is so fraught with that.  You have to think about other people, it’s not all about you.  Those are all things I have taken to heart, and do my best all the time to incorporate.  I miss him.  I really miss him.

Courtesy/ABC

Last year also brought the passing of One Life to Live and All My Children creator, Agnes Nixon.  During your time at One Life playing Karen Wolek, did you have the opportunity to spend time with her?  Did she ever comment to you about how incredible your performances were?

JUDITH:  I had very little interaction with Agnes.  She was very focused on All My Children.  She was not as involved with One Life to Live.  But, Agnes was always very gracious.  I saw her a while ago, and she was very warm and generous with me.  I thought: “Wow!  What a great woman, person, and dynamo in this business.”  I have the utmost respect for her.

I don’t know if you were aware of this, but the site the Culturalist teamed with Broadway.com and put out a feature on you where fans created their top ten list from a choice of almost 50 of the roles you have played spanning your career.  If you were to have to pick, let’s say your top 5 or so favorite roles, what would be on that list? 

Courtesy/ABC

JUDITH:  Oh, my gosh, Michael.  I had no idea they did that!  I have to say I always tend to say the thing I am working on now is one of my most favorites, so I have to say Estelle in God Looked Away.  Then there is Shelly in Transparent, there is no question about that.  Of course, Karen Wolek in One Life to Live.  I would also say my role in Wit, which was something very special to me, and Neil LaBute and Leigh Silverman’s All the Ways to Say I Love You, which I just did at MCC last fall.  And you know in Lombardi, I got to be directed by Tommy Kail, and then there’s Angela in Who’s The Boss.  I mean, we could spend hours talking about this, but they are all powerful to me for reasons that are not just about my career, but my life, and my own life process.  That is the one of the things that Herb always talked about.  So all of these characters are part of that process to me.  I will end our interview and still think of million more, and know that I am grateful for each and every one of them.  It’s so special to know that I have people that have followed me for a long time, and who have been kind to me.  The fans have been just extraordinary.  Each role carries with them a whole different group of people to me, for example, Claire in Ugly Betty.  So, each character carries with it a life process for me, where I was at the time, how I was relating to myself and other people, and also the fans.  It’s been a long, and rich, and full career.  I owe a lot of that to Herb and Jonathan, and I have great agents, and I have a lot of support.  I would just say that I am very grateful, and excited by each and every role I have gotten to play.

So, what do you think of the dynamite on-stage combo of Judith and Al Pacino? Do you hope God Looked Away will have a Broadway run?  Which are your favorite all-time roles of Judith’s?  What did you think of of her performance in season three finale of Transparent …  and her thoughts on the passing of Agnes Nixon and Herb Hamsher?  Comment below!

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Annenancy dillinghamloveafternoonmarkJames R. Poissant Recent comment authors
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dmr
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dmr

I love Judith Light and loved her on the resurrection series of “Dallas.” I wish Dallas wasn’t cancelled! Most shows that are brought back are not watchable, but TNT’s version of Dallas was great, I thought! Judith’s career is so vast and she is a brilliant and talented actress!

Ricardo
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Ricardo

I agree with you, Judith Light was terrific on Dallas. the lady is a wonderful actress.

Charday
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Charday

Yeah, she was great on DALLAS, a show I miss terribly!

Joel
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Joel

She was the highlight of the Dallas revival.

James R. Poissant
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James R. Poissant

Judith played the quintessential bitch on “Dallas”. Her roles have made her show us her range and boy, does it stretch far!!! Glad to see she is still wowing her fans.

Gaspar Marino
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Gaspar Marino

I LOVE Judith Light and I live in New York City, so I really do hope that God Looked Away comes to Broadway. She is an excellent actress and very worthy of all her awards. I loved her especially in Wit, the Jon Robin Baitz play for which she won her first Tony, the Greenberg play that she won her second Tony for, Lombardi and of course One Life To Life, which was where I first fell in love with her.

Eric Henwood-Greer
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Eric Henwood-Greer

Great interview…
I wonder if her role in this play is based on Lady Maria St. Just who considered herself Williams’ widow, and after he died, had control of his estate until she died often imposing impossible regulations on people who wanted to stage his plays–

Rose
Guest
Rose

Wonderful piece, Michael. Such a talented and fascinating lady. Love her!

Margie Dalton
Guest
Margie Dalton

I love Judith since she played Karen. Amazing gifted hard working actress. Thank you very much for this brilliant interview, Michael. I love Angela WTB. Thrilled went she graced our TV with DALLAS. Pure excellence!!

JasonLovesGH
Guest
JasonLovesGH

Ms Light is a tremendous talent. A class act through and through.

mark
Guest
mark

She was the only reason to watch the Dallas reboot. What a great talent.

loveafternoon
Guest
loveafternoon

I’ll never forget the first day Ms. Light entered as the “new” Karen Wolek and the announcer said, “The part of…is being played by Judith Light.” From that day on she has brought “the light”…it has been one of life’s astute pleasures watching her diverse roles on TV, seeing her on stage–many works that somehow parallel her our deep growth…and ours.

loveafternoon
Guest
loveafternoon

Typo, should read: “…her OWN deep growth…”

nancy dillingham
Guest
nancy dillingham

She is the personification of HARD WORK and TRUE PROFESSIONALISM. And I love it so much that she doesn’t shy away from her work in a soap–OLTL as Karen Wolek–as do so very many other actors. A puzzlement I have always thought. A role is a role is a role. And she was unforgettable. And I love it also that she is so very gracious about her longtime fans–and acknowledges them.
She must be so very fulfilled and happy about her work. I admire her so very much.

nancy dillingham
Guest
nancy dillingham

Forgot to say that I loved it so much that “Karen” had such a sweet story with Judith Light’s real husband (husband to be at the time of the sweet, romantic story).

Anne
Guest
Anne

Judith is amazingly talented on broadway. Her performance in Other Desert Cities was brilliant and more than deserved the Tony Award. Since I live in NYC if God Looked Away comes to Broadway I will be first in line for a ticket.

Breaking News

Anne Heche, ‘Another World’ Alum and TV and Film Star, Dead at 53

Following a catastrophic brain injury from crashing her car into a home last week and suffering severe burns, actress Anne Heche has been declared brain-dead at the age of 53.

In a statement from a rep for Heche’s friends and family, they expressed: “Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend.  Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy. Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact.”

Heche is legally dead according to California law, although her heart is still beating she has not been taken off life support in order to allow for organ donations to take place and to find the right recipients.

 

Photo: AHInstagram

Anne’s eldest son, Homer 20, said in a statement to PEOPLE on his mom’s passing:  “My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom. After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness. Hopefully my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom. Over those six days, thousands of friends, family, and fans made their hearts known to me. I am grateful for their love, as I am for the support of my Dad, Coley, and my stepmom Alexi who continue to be my rock during this time. Rest In Peace Mom, I love you.”

The talented actress is best-known to soap opera fans for her Daytime Emmy-winning dual roles as twins, Vicky and Marley Hudson on Another World.  She had two sons, Homer with her ex Coley Laffoon and Atlas, 13, with actor James Tupper.

Throughout her career Heche appeared on TV shows and films includingL Men in Trees, If These Walls Could TalkDonnie BrascoI Know What You Did Last SummerSix Days, Seven Nights, and Gus Van Zant’s 1998 remake of Psycho. Back in 2020, Anne became a celebrity contestant on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

Heche’s stormy relationship with Ellen DeGeneres made headlines throughout her career, and today, DeGeneres shared: “This is a sad day. I’m sending Anne’s children, family and friends all of my love.”

Michael Fairman chatted with Anne back in 2020, in a memorable conversation for You Tube’s Michael Fairman Channel touching upon her career start on Another World, being a champion for the LGBTQ community, her relationship with DeGeneres, the ups and down in her career, and her demons and childhood past.

You can watch the conversation below.

Now, share your thoughts, condolences, and remembrances for Anne Heche via the comment section.

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Breaking News

Anne Heche ‘Not Expected to Survive’; Suffered Severe Brain Injury From Fiery Crash

In just heartbreaking news, Daytime Emmy-winner, Anne Heche (Ex-Vicky/Marley, Another World), is not expected to survive after days in the hospital following being severely burned in a fiery car crash when her vehicle struck a home in Mar Vista, California last Friday.

According to family and friends of the motion picture and television star in a statement, “Unfortunately, due to her accident, Anne Heche suffered a severe anoxic brain injury and remains in a coma, in critical condition. She is not expected to survive. It has long been her choice to donate her organs and she is being kept on life support to determine if any are viable.”  Deadline notes, the actress will be taken off life-support.

The statement went on to say, “We want to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers for Anne’s recovery and thank the dedicated staff and wonderful nurses that cared for Anne at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills hospital.  More than her extraordinary talent, she saw spreading kindness and joy as her life’s work — especially moving the needle for acceptance of who you love. She will be remembered for her courageous honesty and dearly missed for her light.”

There are plans for Heche to get an Honor Walk, which is a hero’s goodbye donor patients receive by hospital staff as they are wheeled into the operating room in their final journey.

Heche will be featured on Lifetime’s Girl in Room 13, set to premiere this fall in September. Lifetime’s Executive VP  and head of programming, Amy Winter, revealed earlier this week at the TCA press tour, “As many of you know, Anne remains in critical condition and all of us here at Lifetime are deeply concerned for her and everyone affected. This project is important to Anne, along with each and every one of us. We all sought to make a film that would bring attention to this appalling issue of human sex trafficking.”

In addition, TMZ had reported that following toxicology reports, Cocaine was found in Heche’s system following the crash. They also found fentanyl. However,  sources say fentanyl can often be used as a pain medication in hospitals, so there is no confirmation that it was in Anne’s system at the time of the crash.

Anne was an amazing actress with such a tortured life.  We send thoughts and prayers to all her loved ones during this difficult time.  Share your thoughts on the latest update on Anne in the comment section below.

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Breaking News

Anne Heche in “Extremely Critical Condition”; Still in Coma Following Fiery Car Crash

Although earlier reports over the weekend had soap opera alum and Daytime Emmy-winner, Anne Heche (Ex-Vicky/Marley, Another World) in stable condition following crashing her car into a home, on Monday an update on her condition looked more grim.

According to a statement provided to Deadline by Heche’s rep: “At this time Anne is in extreme critical condition. She has a significant pulmonary injury requiring mechanical ventilation and burns that require surgical intervention. She is in a coma and has not regained consciousness since shortly after the accident.”

Since last Friday, Heche has been hospitalized following a harrowing incident where she crashed her car which caught fire into a private home in the Mar Vista area of Los Angeles.

In addition, Los Angeles Police Department Officer Annie Hernandez told City News Service that investigators obtained a warrant for a blood draw from Heche.

Over the last few days, a new episode of Heche’s podcast “Better Together” with her co-host Heather Duffy was released, which showed the actress slurring her speech.

Erroneous reports said that the podcast which dropped on Friday, was also recorded that day, and that Heche had been drinking prior to her accident during the show.  However, it has come to light that Heche taped that episode last Tuesday, not the day of the crash.

Share your thoughts and prayers for Anne as we continue to monitor and update the situation on the film and TV star, via the comment section below.

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GH’s Nicholas Alexander Chavez (Spencer) talks with Michael Fairman immediately following his Daytime Emmy win for Outstanding Younger Performer in Drama Series. Leave A Comment
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