Kathy Bates Reflects on Her 'Bizarre' Career
When Kathy Bates looks back at her 40-year career in movies and TV, remarkably she views it as a mixed bag. “I have such a bizarre group of films and characters, and it just doesn’t fit into industry standards,” Bates says. But she lightens up — or should we say lights up? — when chatting about Disjointed, her new comedy for Netflix (streaming now) about an aging hippie who runs a pot dispensary. Here, she talks about the parts that paved the way.
The Love Boat (1978)
In one of her earliest TV roles, Bates hopped aboard the sitcom as passenger Sally Allison, a newlywed who had a hard time getting it on with her husband (played by John Rubinstein). "Every time we wanted to consummate our marriage, something kept getting in the way. He had a rash, and when he tried to carry me into our bedroom he pulled his back out. I went ashore to Mexico and got on the wrong boat."
All My Children (1984)
Bates did time on various soaps including The Doctors, One Life to Live, and this one, playing inmate Belle Bodelle opposite daytime queen Susan Lucci. "I played a brutal character who was in prison with Erica (Lucci). I was so impressed with Susan and how friggin’ much dialogue she could learn every day."
In an Oscar-winning turn in the merciless Stephen King adaptation, Bates played deranged fan Annie Wilkes, who holds author/object-of-her-affection Paul Sheldon (James Caan) hostage. "Fans always want to talk about the ankle scene. They don’t have questions. They just want to make a joke about it. It’s a very brief conversation."
Portraying the unsinkable gazillionaire Molly Brown in the late-’90s blockbuster didn’t sit well with Bates, who bristled at how the script rewrote the real-life woman’s legacy. "It wasn’t accurate, and I’m really not happy about that because Molly did get them to go back [after the sinking] and pick up a sailor. She gave him her fur coat. They took dramatic license that did a disservice to Molly."
Primary Colors (1998)
Bates played political fixer Libby Holden in this roman à clef inspired by Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. "It was really a magnificent project. Unfortunately, the timing was such that when the film came out, people were much more interested in what was really going on in the White House rather than watching a movie about it."
Two and a Half Men (2012)
After star Charlie Sheen was fired from the show in 2011, Bates was recruited to play his character’s ghost in a season 9 episode. "I’m friends with the Sheen family. I called Martin’s wife, Janet, to run it by her because I didn’t want to upset them. They said it would be fine. By then there had been so much enmity between Chuck Lorre and Charlie Sheen that [Lorre] was thrilled when I won an Emmy. Charlie had been nominated but had never won. Janet talked to Charlie and he said he was honored for me to play his character, which I thought was pretty damn cool of him."
American Horror Story (2013-2016)
Like Jessica Lange, Bates has become a go-to grande dame for Ryan Murphy and his spooky FX franchise, having appeared in four seasons thus far. "It was a tough summer for me [in 2012]. My show Harry’s Law got canceled. I got breast cancer. I really thought my career was over. My friend Jessica Lange got me a meeting with Ryan and he pitched the role of Delphine [on AHS: Coven]." It’s a role that would earn her a second Emmy. "I really can’t say it often enough: Ryan Murphy changed my life. I’m forever indebted to him. He’s given me a panoply of amazing characters to play with."
Bates re-teams with Lorre for this multi-camera sitcom, playing weed advocate Ruth. "It’s madcap. It’s like no other sitcom you’ve ever seen. When Ruth was a teenager, she probably had a friend who was ill and she began to see actual medicinal benefits of dope. She’s worked tirelessly to legalize pot because she believes so fervently in its ability to heal people. That‘s Ruth at her core. She really is an inveterate hippie. She is a really cool lady."