Actress Dana Delany

Emmy-winning actress discusses her Desperate Housewives days and her starring character in the new ABC drama Body of Proof.

Actress Dana Delany made a name for herself while still a teen. She built up her résumé on and off Broadway and has had a steady career on the big and small screens and in the theater. A two-time Emmy winner for her China Beach role, she's been successful portraying strong women and is one of Hollywood's busiest actresses. After turns in TV's Desperate Housewives and Castle, she stars in the new ABC drama Body of Proof. Delany also finds time to support several nonprofits, including The Creative Coalition and the Scleroderma Research Foundation.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Dana Delany back to this program. The Emmy-winning actress is back in prime time in a new drama for ABC. It’s called “Body of Proof.” The show airs Tuesday nights at 10:00, and so here now a scene from “Body of Proof.”
Tavis: So tell me about the character you play, and then, I heard a story that sounds like a publicist’s creation. (Laughter)
Dana Delany: No, they would never do that.
Tavis: Yeah, publicists make up all kinds of stuff in this town. But actually, it’s a true story, I’m told. But before we get to the true story, tell me about the character.
Delany: Dr. Megan Hunt is to be a neurosurgeon, very driven. You have to work hard to be a neurosurgeon, so it was all about her career and work, and because of that she lost her marriage, custody of her child and then has a car accident where her hands go numb and she ends up killing somebody on the operating table, so she has to switch professions and become a medical examiner.
Tavis: All right, so that’s the character you play.
Delany: Yes.
Tavis: Okay. So in real life, what happened when you were –
Delany: A week before we were about to shoot I had a car accident in Santa Monica where I was hit by a bus, so I can actually say I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. (Laughter) I know what that feels like.
Tavis: And lived to tell about it.
Delany: But weirdly enough, I broke these two fingers, very much like the character, so when you see the show and I’m going like this, that’s me really going like this, yeah.
Tavis: So what goes through your mind –
Delany: Oh, my God.
Tavis: – when something like that happens and you’re about to play this character?
Delany: Well, as anybody who lives in L.A. knows, I was making a left turn and the person behind me was honking and would not stop honking for me to turn, and there was people in the crosswalk, 8:30 in the morning. I was about to get out of the car and tell her to shut up. I literally had the door open; I was going to go back there. Then the light turned and I thought, oh, great, I’ll turn.
So this was my fatal error – as I’m making the turn, I looked back at her to make this face, like, “Are you happy?” and at that moment I see this red big city bus come out of the right and hit me, and in my mind I’m thinking, you’ve got to be kidding me. I don’t have time for this. (Laughter)
Tavis: Wow. I’m just thinking where was TMZ at that very moment.
Delany: Well, the kicker was one, the person who had been honking left the scene. I was sitting there in shock and I –
Tavis: Of course.
Delany: – and I pointed at her, and I’m –
Tavis: Yeah, of course. You coward, whoever you are.
Delany: I pointed at her, like, you, and she shakes her head and drives away. Then the bus driver, a lovely woman, asked me for my autograph. (Laughter) Only in L.A.
Tavis: Yeah. That’s better than getting flipped off by the bus driver. So are you one of those persons that believes in (makes noise) that kind of stuff?
Delany: You know what, I got two things out of it. One, I didn’t have to act it anymore; I actually knew the feeling, which I appreciate, and two, I don’t let anybody push me anymore. If somebody’s honking for me to do something, I just don’t do it. That’s it.
Tavis: Yeah, that’s a tough lesson to learn in L.A., though.
Delany: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Tavis: It’s tough. So network television, you’ve done this a few times in your career.
Delany: Yes, I have.
Tavis: You ain’t tired of it yet.
Delany: Oh, gosh.
Tavis: It’s such a grind.
Delany: It is a grind, and when you’re 30 it’s fun; when you’re my age, it’s a little harder. Yeah, I love the show, I love the cast and I think we have a great cast, and I think they should do more. (Laughter)
Tavis: And you should do less.
Delany: Yes.
Tavis: I got it. So to your point, at this point in your career what makes the decision – how do you make a decision about whether or not you are going to do X, Y or Z? What’s your process now, and has it changed over the years?
Delany: Yeah, it has. I was so pickier when I was younger. I’m infamous for having turned so many things down that went on to be huge hits.
Tavis: Three things – name three. I’m just curious. Since you said it.
Delany: I set myself up, didn’t I?
Tavis: Yeah, I’ve got to follow you in, come on.
Delany: Well, “Sex and the City” people know about, “Desperate Housewives” the first time around (unintelligible).
Tavis: The first time around, right.
Delany: I’m loath to say this, because I’ll get asked about this one.
Tavis: Go ahead and say it. Drum roll, please. (Makes noise) Go ahead.
Delany: “West Wing.” “West Wing.”
Tavis: Wow.
Delany: But the character didn’t last, I think, past the second season, so I was kind of right about that one. It was the girlfriend of Bradley Whitford, it was – she didn’t last. I knew that character wouldn’t last, because she wasn’t in the West Wing.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. But how many folk in this town can say, “I turned down.”
Delany: Because I’m an idiot? (Laughter)
Tavis: Yeah, I’m not saying it’s something you want to brag about.
Delany: No.
Tavis: But you turned down “Sex and the City,” you turned down “The West Wing.”
Delany: But you know what, I know what it takes to do a network show, and that’s why I’ve said no a lot, because it’s a lot of work.
Tavis: Right. So why did you say yes to this one, then?
Delany: This time around I was on “Housewives,” very happy. That was a revelation to me, how much fun I was having on it, and the head of ABC called me and said, “We have this other show we’d like you to do.” I thought at this point, why not? That was my reasoning – why not. I was the lead – why not?
Tavis: Yeah. This is a strange question – since you’ve been around this for a while now, is there an ingredient that makes this stuff work that you look for when you read the scripts, or not?
Delany: No, because my taste is so not the public taste. I tend to like darker, stranger things, and this is very much what people like. It’s a procedural, every week there’ll be a different body, you’ll figure out how the person died. But this show is a little bit different. We have more of a character, family stuff going on, there’s a little bit more going on.
Tavis: It’s funny, I would never have imagined you saying that you like darker, stranger things, because the stuff that we have seen you play over the years, stuff you’ve become really well known for, I don’t see dark or necessarily strange in that. You’ve got a bubbly personality, you’ve got a good sense of humor, you’ve got a lot of energy. I don’t get the darker, strange thing.
Delany: I do. I like cable. I keep trying to get on cable and they keep pulling me back to network. (Laughs)
Tavis: Since you raised it earlier, what do you make of the fact that for whatever reason or reasons, we are, at the moment, in love with these procedurals? It’s like these kinds of shows –
Delany: I have a theory. I think it’s – and I understand this, because I’m one of those people, because I do like mysteries. You’ve talked to Michael Connelly, and I just am an addict for those books. I like a good mystery. I think for us in the modern age, it’s we come home from work, we’re tired, we want to have that hour or whatever, 45 minutes, where something is solved, we feel something’s wrapped up and complete. We rarely feel that in our own lives.
Tavis: You made a comment earlier about the fact that – you were talking about cable versus network, and network keeps pulling you back in. What is it about this business, to your point, since you’ve been at this a while now, that keeps pulling you back? Why have you, like, not gotten over this whole –
Delany: Because I love to act. I truly – that’s the only reason I do it, I just love what I do, I really do. I’ve had probably the purest moments in my life acting, which were just honest, pure moments, and that’s so lucky that I get to do that.
Tavis: Now, I could unpack that 18 different ways. (Laughter) How do I read the person, Dana, how do I read this coming out of Dana Delany’s mouth, that the purest moments I’ve had in my life I had when I was acting. Not when I was living, not when I was being, not when I was – but when I was acting. How am I supposed to read that?
Delany: Well, this is the big secret about acting – I mean good acting, not cheesy acting. Good acting is you’re just being and you’re not lying and you’re not acting, you’re using yourself and your own life and being honest, and it’s the antithesis of acting, the good moments.
Tavis: That’s a good answer. That’s a very, very good answer. (Laughter) I didn’t know where you were going with that one, but that was a very good answer.
Delany: It’s true.
Tavis: I accept that. I accept that. Good acting – I hear the distinction.
Delany: Good acting, yeah.
Tavis: I hear it. You did some research for – I read somewhere that you went to see –
Delany: Yeah, four different autopsies.
Tavis: Ooh.
Delany: Yeah.
Tavis: All right, so what’d you see? You didn’t pass out?
Delany: It was great. Oh, no, I loved it. I want more.
Tavis: Wait, wait, wait, wait – you can’t love an autopsy.
Delany: Oh, no, you can. It’s fascinating, and an honor to get to have that, because think about it – it’s like this secret club that I actually get to see what’s going on in here.
Tavis: So what’d you see? Like, what’d you think?
Delany: Oh, my God, genius. Whoever came up with this thing that we’ve been given is a genius. Whoever you believe it is.
Tavis: The body itself?
Delany: The body, yeah. My favorite part was – and by the fourth one, they were letting me participate and I got to cut out the brain, do the buzz saw, open the cranium, cut out the brain, take it out, and underneath that brain is this little bone box that was developed by somebody, and inside is the pituitary gland that is protected by this little, like, jewel box of bone underneath the brain. That’s genius technology, whoever thought of that.
The four people were men that I saw, and not one of them should have died. It was all self-imposed, their deaths. One guy was heart disease, didn’t go to the doctor – he didn’t have any health insurance so he didn’t go to the doctor. One was a heroin overdose, one was alcoholism and one was a gunshot wound to the head.
Tavis: Wow.
Delany: All men.
Tavis: This has nothing to do with this conversation, but it just makes me think of it since I always think of this when I think of him – we recently commemorated the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, and I always remember this, Dana. King was under such stress, as we all know, from just reading history, the guy was under stress as the leader of our people and trying to change this country through nonviolence, King is assassinated at the age of 39, and when they do the autopsy on his body they say that he has the body on the inside of a 65-year-old man.
Delany: Wow.
Tavis: He’s dead at 39.
Delany: Wow, yeah.
Tavis: But the wear and tear on his insides were that of a 65-year-old man.
Delany: I believe it.
Tavis: To your point, these autopsies can show you a lot.
Delany: Yeah, so it’s up to us.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. Wow. So you’re having fun on this, “Body of Proof?”
Delany: I am. I like the science part, that’s my favorite part, doing that stuff, yeah. The crew laughs at me because when I get to pull out the buzz saw and go (makes noise) I get, like, giddy. (Laughter)
Tavis: You know what? You see what I mean? Bubbly, yeah, but now I’m starting to see that dark, strange thing. I get it.
Delany: It’s there. (Laughter)
Tavis: It all makes sense now. This conversation has come full circle, so we’re done. Thank you. Dana Delany, starring in “Body of Proof,” at 10:00.
Delany: (Unintelligible)
Tavis: Exactly (unintelligible) – 10:00 on ABC, Tuesday nights.
Delany: Yes, on Tuesday night, yes.
Tavis: There you go. Dana, good to have you back.
Delany: Thank you.
Tavis: Good to see you.
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Last modified: April 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm