Tavis: Dana Delany is a two-time Emmy award winning actress who has starred in a number of notable shows, including “China Beach” and more recently “Desperate Housewives.” Starting this weekend you can catch her in the new film, “Multiple Sarcasms.” The movie also stars Timothy Hutton and Mira Sorvino. Here now, a scene from “Multiple Sarcasms.”
Tavis: Dana, nice to have you on.
Dana Delany: Thank you.
Tavis: I was online yesterday, looking at some gorgeous photos of you at the correspondent’s dinner. You went this year to the White House correspondent’s dinner?
Delany: Yes, I did.
Tavis: I’m seeing all this debate about – I love Jay Leno, Jay is a friend of mine – but I’m seeing all this debate how Jay did. How’d Jay do to you? Do you think he did okay?
Delany: I’ve got to say Obama beat him.
Tavis: I keep hearing that. Sorry, Jay. (Laughter)
Delany: Yeah. The last time I saw Jay there it was Clinton, and then Clinton beat him too, so maybe he should just stop. (Laughter)
Tavis: I heard Obama was really funny, though, this year.
Delany: Yeah, he’s good. He’s got timing. I sat next to one of his speechwriters, the young guy, Jon Favreau.
Tavis: Jon Favreau, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Delany: Yeah, and he was listening, going, “Yes, yes.” (Laughter)
Tavis: Like a good speechwriter.
Delany: Yeah, “He got it, he got the laugh.”
Tavis: Like a good speechwriter. When you go to these dinners, it’s such a huge ticket; everybody wants to go every year. When you go, what do you do when you go to D.C. for these things? What do you do there?
Delany: Well, I was there with the Creative Coalition, because I’m co-president with Tim Daly, so they lobbied Congress for funding for the arts, the NEA, public school system, that kind of thing.
Tavis: What do you make of the fact that in a country that professes high culture, that the funding for arts programs in schools is abysmal?
Delany: Yeah, it’s bad, and I grew up in a public school with arts programs, like the show “Glee.” I was in the glee club, and it really was a great thing. But we’re trying to change the dialogue so that arts is not the dessert, it’s part of the main course, because it’s been proven that if you have arts in the school you do better in math and science. So it’s all connected, it’s holistic.
Tavis: That message is real, but it’s also not a new message, those facts you just laid out, that when you have arts, kids tend to do better. That message is real, but it’s not new. Is it getting through now, you think, with this Congress?
Delany: I think that certainly the president and the first lady are behind it. It’s a matter of money – where do we get the money? But we have a very inventive chairman of the NEA, Rocco Landesman, and he’s going to – I went and met with him, and he’s finding money where nobody found it before, so. (Laughter)
Tavis: That’s what you need these days.
Tavis: Tell me about this movie, and I have to say it real slow, because I messed up in rehearsal for this. (Laughter) So I’ll get this right – “Multiple Sarcasms.”
Delany: Oh, very good. (Laughter)
Tavis: Tell me about the movie.
Delany: Well, it’s set in the ’70s, it’s directed by Brooks Branch, and I grew up in the ’70s and I love those movies like Paul Mazursky movies, where it’s got drama, comedy – it’s just like life, like “Unmarried Woman.” So that’s why I want to do – it’s like that. It’s a good kind of midlife crisis in the ’70s.
Tavis: Tell me more about your character.
Delany: I play the wife, the longsuffering wife. (Laughter)
Tavis: Did you have to work hard to get into character?
Delany: No, not at all. (Laughter) I’ve never been married, but yeah.
Tavis: Your costar, great actor.
Delany: Tim Hutton. Yeah, he is. I had just done a series with him called “Kidnapped” that didn’t last, but we really like working together so he called me up and said, “I have this movie I’m doing, I think you’d be right for it. Are you interested?” I said, “Well, send me the script,” and I was shooting two days later.
Tavis: You said a moment ago that you did a series with him, “Kidnapped,” and it didn’t work, and you said that with such relative ease. I guess when you’ve been around this business for a while you get used to that, but how have you, over the course of your career, processed movies or TV shows that don’t work?
Delany: It takes a while. When you’re younger, you take it very personally and it’s really devastating, but I’m at the point in my career where it’s like, “All right, what’s next?” I don’t take anything personally now at all. I’m just happy I get to work at this point. (Laughter)
Tavis: Not a bad thing in this town. I know this, I could offer detail; I’m not, because I’m not sure how much this might embarrass you or how much of this you want out there. For your fans, they can dig and find it. But you have turned down – and I’m not going to call the roles – but you’ve turned down a number of notable roles on television and in reading for our conversation, I was like, “She turned that down?” (Laughter) “She turned that down? She turned that down?”
Delany: I’m an idiot, what can I say? (Laughter)
Tavis: I didn’t say that. (Laughs) But I’m thinking of at least three things that went on to be major hits and you turned three things down. I’m not going to name them, but what’s your process for deciding what you want to do and what you don’t want to do?
Delany: Well, okay, several things. I don’t like to repeat myself, so sometimes it’s a role that I’ve already done.
Tavis: Fair enough.
Delany: So I don’t want to play that role again. Other times it’s there’s certain people involved that I know that it’s going to be a problem and just artistic things, and I don’t want to do that. But mostly, you do the best you can at the time and hopefully it all works out in the end.
Tavis: A minute ago, you said you don’t take things personally when they don’t work, so I guess the flip side of that question, or the adjoining question, when you turn down something that does, in fact, become a hit, even though you had principled reasons for not doing it, you ever say, “Oh, maybe I should have?”
Delany: Yeah, of course. I’ve had those 3:00 a.m. moments where you lie in bed and you go, “What did I do?” Definitely, I’m human. But like “Desperate Housewives,” for instance, I turned that down originally, which everybody knows. Boring story now, but I’m on the show now. So sometimes, it all – you do it when you’re ready to do it.
Tavis: How does that happen? How do you end up turning down – since we’re talking about it, the character Bree, that’s what you turned down, three times, I’m told, but who’s counting.
Delany: That’s exaggerating. (Laughter) Now let me put it this way – I turned it down once. My agents kept keeping it alive, which they should not have done. They were agenting.
Tavis: That’s what agents do.
Tavis: They agent in this town. So how does that happen? How do you end up turning something down and then ending up on the show seasons later?
Delany: Well, that I was very lucky. I turned it down because I had just done a show called “Pasadena” that Mike White wrote that I loved – I thought it was great. Didn’t last more than 11 episodes, but it was a very similar tone, a similar role. Marc Cherry ended up making it a hit. I think he somehow found the right formula of comedy, drama and mystery, and I call it the little trinity. Somehow, he found the right balance there.
Then I was lucky that three years into the show he called me up and he said, “Are you ready to come on now?” That’s really unusual in Hollywood. Most times when you turn someone down here they say, “Screw you; I’m never working with you again.”
Tavis: I was about to ask you that. So what happened – even though you have your principled reasons for doing it, you know what you do want to do, you don’t want to do. No matter how much time you take explaining to the producers, I love you, it’s a great project, but it’s just not right for me right now, I just did something similar – no matter how nice you are at explaining that, you’re right, there are folk in this town who say, “Screw her, you’ll never work in this town again, at least not with me.”
Delany: See, the problem is I don’t take it personally, but they do. (Laughter)
Tavis: So does that ever factor into your process of turning something down, whether or not this is somebody you want to potentially offend?
Delany: Yeah. Well, I’ve learned over the years that you need to really communicate why you’re doing it. I didn’t know that early on, and I really have had directors come up to me and say, “Mm, big mistake, wasn’t it?” I go, “Sorry.”
Tavis: Speaking of “Desperate Housewives,” speaking of trinity, your character has gone through some serious character iterations on this show.
Delany: Yeah. See, I feel lucky, and this is a bonus of not being on the show originally. The four leads are so iconic now that I think Marc Cherry is very careful not to mess with that, who they are as characters, whereas I’m the wild card so he can throw anything at me.
So I’ve gone from killing my husband in the first season to being a battered wife to then becoming a stalker, and then I ended up in the loony bin, and now I’m gay. (Laughter) Not that you become gay because you were in a loony bin, but –
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but only in Hollywood can you go through that many iterations in one character on one show. But you’re having fun.
Delany: I’m having a ball. I had never expected to have so much fun as I’ve had on that show.
Tavis: Well, we are glad to have you on. The movie is called “Multiple Sarcasms,” starring Dana Delany and Timothy Hutton, and of course the “Desperate Housewives” stuff you already know. Dana, good to have you on the program.
Delany: Thank you very much, Tavis.
Tavis: Great to see you.
Delany: Thank you.