Holland Taylor has been in the spotlight for over five decades, playing countless roles in theatre, television and film, and receiving praise for many of them. But amongst a hefty resume of impressive work, Taylor still holds her small role in Legally Blonde close to her heart, telling Vulture that playing law school Professor Stromwell to Elle Woods was one of her favorite to date.
“Well, the part was not that large. I had that big scene in the classroom, which is my favorite scene,” the 77-year-old said. “One of my favorite scenes as an actor on film is that classroom scene.”
Holland, who grew up acting on stage, explained that part of the reason she loved playing Stromwell so much was the way that it was directed and shot — noting that the set and the way that she moved through it was quite similar to a play. Her favorite part about the experience, however, was the character that she embodied and how much power that character yielded as a woman.
“I’ve been very lucky and for whatever reason, I get to play a lot of professional women. And professional women have their own world, their own identity, and their own character based on their profession. Because the whole issue of what roles women play and what roles men play — women get to play the wife, the mother, the sister, the daughter. It’s always in relationship to the man. And it’s unconscious,” she explained. “But to have a profession allows you to play a role that is governed, that is shaped, by the profession. And to be a professional person in the legal field gives you an enormous sense of power and sway, because you know better than anybody.”
She went on to say that her control of the classroom in the notable scene was “very, very exciting,” especially while playing off of Reese Witherspoon’s character Elle.
“It was just a classic case of playing a professional person who had real resonance with the audience. And her saying that one line, now I don’t even remember what it was — ‘If you’re going to let one stupid son of a b**** ruin your life,’” Taylor recalled. “It’s that thing about the elder female wise person that will give you the bottom line about how to behave in your society, about how not to take any bulls*** from anybody. And so that was an iconic moment for me.”
While so many people continue to reference this her quote and many others from Legally Blonde nearly 20 years after the first film was released because of its endless humor and relatability, Taylor also gives credit to the film for introducing so many young girls to the concept of female empowerment.
“It’s a very clever idea, and a really charming entry into the area of women’s rights and the perception of women in our society,” Taylor said. “And Reese is just remarkable. She’s one of our marvelous actresses who has brought a number of roles that will be indelible culturally, and this is one of them.”
As for the roles that Taylor would go on to play, she mentioned that most are similar character roles that only require a few scenes but manage to leave an impact. “It’s like dropping a pearl in a bottle,” she recalled an acting teacher saying of those roles. “I just wasn’t the kind of person you would see in a romantic comedy or in a story about a relationship. I just wasn’t. So I got to play, loosely, the professional. Or somebody who enters a story in some striking way, makes the plot change, and then is gone. So I think that turns out to be character roles. Not the mother or the wife or the girlfriend.”
Still, not having been given opportunities for larger roles left her feeling like she didn’t have enough “territory” when it came to the projects that she was working on. Taylor also shared that there were certain parts about the type of character she ended up playing most that didn’t resonate with her.
“The woman is usually verbally clever and literate, and I certainly am that somewhat. I’m educated. I’m East Coast. Those are the kinds of women that usually — although they are hardly limited to the East Coast — that’s the sort of type. There is some overlap [with me]. But I was certainly not rich. And I’m not a b**** in my life, at all. I’m not superior. I’m not explosive,” she explained. “Other than the deep assessments we have of our lives that we’re now getting educated about through the Black Lives Matter movement, as far as my conscious experience of life was concerned, I was certainly not a prejudiced person. In fact, I’ve been involved in civil rights issues since I was in college. I am personally not that woman that I’m sometimes cast as. But I sure like playing them, because I usually play them with a satirical bent. I usually delight in revealing their unconscious foibles. I delight in revealing how they think everybody’s got to pay.”
At the age of 77, Taylor isn’t done working, revealing that she often gets cast for roles younger than herself. She also isn’t pressured to live her life a certain way as a result of being in the public eye, including the way that she and her partner, actress Sarah Paulson, portray their relationship through public discourse on Twitter.
“I live my life in public. I do everything that I would do if I were an unknown person married to a man. I just live my life,” Taylor shared. “And so if I happen to be seen in public, I’m not trying to be something that I’m not. But on the same token, I don’t talk with any depth about my private life because it’s not my personal style.”
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