By Greg Hernandez on Oct 1, 2009
Before she was a three-time Emmy winner and Oscar nominee for You Can Count on Me, Kinsey and The Savages, Laura Linney was Mary Ann Singleton in the classic Tales of the City miniseries and its two sequels.
Mary Ann really was the anchor of these productions based on the novels by Armistead Maupin. Tales was a ratings sensation when it aired on PBS in January 1994 but also hugely controversial because of its gay themes, nudity, and illicit drug use.
I just loved it!
So what a thrill it was to meet Miss Linney at last night’s Outfest Legacy Awards honoring her Tales producer Alan Poul. When he convinced her to take on the role of Mary Ann, Linney was already an established New York theater actress but had only a few small previous screen credits.
“Thank God I wasn’t aware of what a beloved character that was or I would have been completely intimidated,” she said. “I was really lucky to fall into job and the people were wonderful and they are people who I have remained friends with for 20 years now.”
After Tales of the City aired, Linney began landing big roles in such movies as Primal Fear, The Truman Show and Congo.
But she returned to the role of Mary Ann in 1998’s More Tales of the City which was done by Showtime after PBS backed out due to the controversy over the first miniseries. Then in 2001, the year after her first Oscar nod for You Can Count on Me, Linney starred as Mary Ann again in Showtime’s Further Tales of the City.
“It was just fantastic writing about fantastic people, people who loved each other and I adored it,” she said. “I knew when I was making it that it would be very special.”
Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Billy Campbell and Barbara Garrick were in all three miniseries but some key roles were recast after the original production for various reasons including the key role of Michael “Mouse” Tolliver. Marcus D’Amico originated the role before it was taken over by Paul Hopkins.
Since Mouse was such good friends with Mary Ann, I actually asked Laura which Michael she preferred!
“I loved them both,” she said diplomatically. “They were both different.”
With all of the roles she’s had on television (she won every award in sight for the John Adams miniseries), in feature films and in her Tony Award-nominated stage career, I wondered where the role of Mary Ann Singleton ranked among it all.
Linney did not hesitate: “It’s my favorite job, hands down. It was the first time I was on something from beginning to end, I had a lot of responsibility, I met people who I still feel so privileged to know. It was a great, great magical job.”