An Emmy-winning run on Picket Fences has certainly come in handy for Kathy Baker; she’s appeared in almost every drama by David E. Kelley (with the merciful exception of Snoops) since starring as a salt-of-the-earth doctor in the mid-’90s drama. So it wasn’t surprising that Kelley tapped Baker for his latest Fox series, Boston Public, but the role he offered certainly was: Baker plays Meredith Peters, a rigid mother who ends up handcuffed in the basement by her vengeful son. (Oh, and she accidentally cuts off her hand with a chain saw in an attempt to escape.)
”I was freaked out,” says Baker of her newest gig. ”I didn’t want my [12-year-old] little boy to see it.” Kelley, of course, couldn’t imagine a more deserving guest star. ”Once we decided to chop off a body part, Kathy immediately came to mind,” the exec producer says. ”It’s always been a personal dream.”
That weird fantasy worked out nicely for Baker, whose performance on the nine-episode arc was not only nominated for an Emmy (she lost to Sally Field from ER), it also led to another season of Public. The notoriously mum Kelley neglected to tell Baker about Meredith’s comeback; the actress learned of it from friends on the set. ”[David] talks to you through the script,” she says. ”That’s how I know he loves the character, because he keeps writing. I thought I was going to die.”
Hardly. Besides a permanent date with a prosthetic hook, the creepy Meredith finds love with a creep, vice principal Scott Guber (Anthony Heald). Look for a prickly bed scene for this couple who are anything but sane. ”I’d like it to stay weird and unsure,” says Baker. ”I don’t want it to be happily ever after.”
Though Baker attempted a return to series TV last season by starring as a mother of 12 in the drama pilot Murphy’s Dozen, The WB ultimately passed on the project. Soon after, Kelley offered her the twisted matriarchal role. ”The key to the character is ‘accessible, but approach with extreme caution,”’ he explains. ”It’s a fine line tonally and Kathy manages to walk it perfectly.”
Baker’s been so good at playing weird that her costar Sharon Leal (teacher Marilyn Sudor) asked the veteran actress if she played a similar cuckoo on Fences. ”I took it as a quite a compliment,” beams Baker. ”She sort of believed I was a crazy person.” Give that woman a hand!