From Ghostbusters to GCB, the many roles of Annie Potts
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The actor: Annie Potts began her acting career in the theater before making her television debut in 1977, but it wasn’t until her film debut in 1978’s Corvette Summer that she made her first real mark. After small but memorable roles in such iconic ’80s movies as Ghostbusters and Pretty In Pink, Potts made a major splash as part of the cast of the sitcom Designing Women. She can currently be seen playing yet another sassy Southern woman as Gigi Stopper on ABC’s GCB, which airs its season finale this Sunday, May 6.
GCB (2012-present)—“Gigi Stopper”
Annie Potts: Gigi is just absolutely fabulous. She’s sort of Auntie Mame-level ridiculous and, you know, she’s a big socialite, conservative, a life-of-the-party girl. The whipped cream on top of the trifle of Dallas. I saw in the paper the [original] name of the show, and I immediately went, “Well, there’s got to be something for me in that!” [Laughs.] Because I can relate to every part of that title.
The A.V. Club: So the script for the pilot lived up to the title for you?
AP: Oh, yes, I thought it was delicious. Bobby Harling, who wrote it, is an old friend of mine, and of course I know his work well and I know him well. I never dreamed he’d do TV, although I certainly tried to lure him into it years ago myself. “Please write something for me!” [Laughs.] So 20 years later… Everything about it appealed to me. I’ve had some pretty serious bona fide success with roles within groups of Southern women, so the region and the themes that bubble out of it are like second nature to me now. And I love what it represents. It’s all the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful of America, really, and all of that makes it a natural hotbed of activity that’s fun to animate. We’re in an animated spot down there in Dallas.
AVC: The original, non-acronym version of the title would definitely qualify as a “noisy” title. Were you surprised that the series never made it to air as Good Christian Bitches, or did you always figure it was inevitable?
AP: Oh, I was sure that that was inevitable. But I thought that it was important to let it go on long enough so that most everybody heard what it actually was, and so it would create a juicy little scandal. You know, scandals create a lot of audience. So they can come for the scandal and stay for what we’re really about, which is being super-entertaining. As I was saying, I just went up to Canada with Bobby Harling, and everybody was saying, “What is this show?” I said, “I really think it’s a true screwball comedy, in the classic sense of the term.” Because, you know, the classic screwballs would always be about rich people misbehaving and getting into trouble and trying to get out of it, ultimately doing the right thing. Preston Sturges did it, and his stuff always had beautiful women in beautiful clothes. We meet every criteria for a screwball comedy, and I think it’s a good way to go with describing it.
Busting Loose (1977)—“Helene”
AP: I remember I cut my own hair for that. And that I worked with Adam Arkin. The divinely talented Adam Arkin. So underrated. Every time I do a piece and they go, “You know, you need a husband in this,” I ask, “Can Adam Arkin do it?” Because Adam Arkin is so good. Of course, he’s directing more now, and I think he enjoys that. But that’s what I remember about that show.
AVC: I know you appeared in several episodes, but were you actually a regular on the show?
AP: You know, I think I was more of a recurring character on that. I don’t think you’d call me a regular, but I was on enough that I kind of dipped my toe into that area. The first time I was actually a series regular was on a show called Goodtime Girls.
Goodtime Girls (1980)—“Edith Bedelmeyer”
AP: I don’t think we actually did a full season. I want to say we did maybe 17 episodes or something. But that was really fun. They were trying to capitalize on the Spielberg movie was that was getting ready to come out—1941—and thinking that everyone was gonna go gaga over everything World War II. [Laughs.] It was really a cute script, though, about a bunch of women stuck living together in an attic apartment in Washington, D.C., because of the housing shortage during the war, and I enjoyed it. And I met my dearest, dearest friend for life on that show: Francine Tacker.
AVC: Given that Garry Marshall created the series, maybe ABC was figuring it would have another period-piece sitcom success on its hands.
AP: Yeah, it was certainly working well for his other shows [Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley].
AVC: Did you enjoy the period costuming?
AP: Yes, well, I’ve lived in vintage clothes most of my life, so I loved it. And still do.
Crimes Of Passion (1984)—“Amy Grady”
AP: Mmm. Ken Russell. Interesting. Very, very interesting. [Pause.] I, uh… Oh, what to say about that? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that film. But then, I don’t watch a lot of my work. I’m not really interested in seeing it after I do it. Because I came from theater, where, you know, it’s impossible to actually review your work, so why would I bother under any other circumstances? [Laughs.] So I don’t think I ever saw that. Maybe a glimpse here and there. I think it certainly turned into something that it didn’t seem to be originally.
AVC: How so?
AP: Well, I think that, you know, all of a sudden, Tony Perkins apparently decided that he should dress up in his Bates Motel outfit. [Laughs.] I don’t really know what happened. I had no scenes with him. But by the time the film was at that point, it was just, like, “Huh?” I remember having a very nice lunch with Kathleen Turner, who I thought was so pretty and smart. She invited me to have lunch in her trailer with her one day. But that’s about all I remember about it. That was a really long time ago. That was 30 years ago!
Texasville (1990)—“Karla Jackson”
AP: Oh, my favorite. A fabulous role. A role very much like GCB, in fact. Just a fantastic Texas woman, and an astonishing cast. It will last forever in my memory because I got to work with Jeff Bridges, who I do think is the best actor I ever worked with, not to mention the loveliest person. That’s a pretty stellar combination. I think my work was pretty good in that, because most of my stuff was with Jeff, and when you have a great acting partner… And I adored Peter Bogdanovich. Adored him. Peter loves actors, and I think that it shows in his work. And he’s also just a sweetheart of a man. But that Jeff Bridges… ain’t nobody like him.
AVC: Expectations were obviously high for the film, given how many people love The Last Picture Show. Were you conscious of that at the time you were making Texasville?
AP: Yes, and… I mean, everyone who had been in the original came back, except for those who had passed away, but it was a very different kind of book that Larry McMurtry wrote. I think that the film lost its way, because it really wasn’t about—it was very much about the present and not about the past, and I think that it might’ve been stronger had they made it more like McMurtry’s book. They had been so faithful in the original to McMurtry’s novel. But, of course, they’re making a sequel, so there were expectations that there weren’t with the first, when they didn’t have to meet any expectations but just fulfill the beautiful story that McMurtry had drawn. But you’re hamstrung when you do a sequel. I had a wonderful experience on the film, though, so it’s still dear to me.
Toy Story (1995) & Toy Story 2 (1999)—“Bo Peep”
AP: Well, it was just fun. Fun and crazy lucrative. Who knew? [Laughs.] I get tons and tons of fan mail that I sign for the doll. They ask me to sign a picture of an animated character. It’s not even me! Which is so unbelievably bizarre to me. The people who collect Pixar and Disney animation things, I have come to learn, are legion. But I do feel really stupid signing for a doll.
AVC: Bo Peep’s role was decidedly smaller in Toy Story 2, and then she was basically written off in a single line of dialogue in the third film. Do you know if there was ever any talk at all of bringing her back for Toy Story 3?
AP: I don’t know. I mean, if they’re talking about not bringing you back, they don’t generally bring you in on the discussions. “You know, we were thinking about it, but we finally just said ‘no’ because the character wasn’t—and, frankly, you weren’t, either—all that interesting.” [Laughs.] So I wasn’t brought into those conversations, so I don’t know, but I just assume that they thought that Woody needed to move on. You know cowboys. But those people are great. They’re geniuses, those Pixar people, and if they didn’t think that Bo Peep needed to be in the third one, then she didn’t need to be in it.
Corvette Summer (1978)—“Vanessa”
AP: Oh, my first film! I was so excited. And I had the most wonderful time. It set the bar so high, because those guys, [director/co-writer] Matthew Robbins and [producer/co-writer] Hal Barwood, were so wonderful. They were classmates of Spielberg’s and just so, so talented. They wrote The Sugarland Express for him. And they were just lovely, lovely people and took a chance on me. Mark Hamill, also, just a fabulous guy. I didn’t know anything about film, working in front of the camera or anything, and we were 24 at the time, but he’d already made a bunch of TV movies, and he was very knowledgeable and helpful to me. He’d go, “No, you don’t want to do that, because, see, the light’s there…” He was so kind. We had a ball.
AVC: You pulled a Golden Globe nomination for New Star Of The Year for your work on the film.
AP: I did!
AVC: Was it odd to get that kind of recognition right out of the box?
AP: Well, right around that time, I was thinking, “Gee, I don’t know why everybody says it’s so tough here in Hollywood. It seems like a breeze to me!” [Laughs.] Of course, I’ve had a really wonderful career, but there were spots of it where it was not so easy. Coming out of the gate and getting a nomination for my first film, though, I was, like, “Oh, hey, fun! I’m diggin’ this!”
Amazing Stories (1987)—“Mrs. Bev Binford”
AVC: You gave voice to the mom in the “Family Dog” episode of Amazing Stories.
AP: Which was directed by Brad Bird, who has certainly gone on to bigger and better things. [Laughs.] I also worked with… At the time, I didn’t know who Stan Freberg was. I had no idea that I was being a voice next to a legend. I don’t know, I guess I skipped that part of my education. And I believe Tim Burton designed the characters on that, didn’t he? It was really amazing stuff, and it was just a little hint of how gifted he and Brad were.
AVC: Did you actually record in the studio together with the other voice actors?
AP: No, I… Well, you know, maybe I did. Again, that was a long time ago. I don’t really remember. Animation is very singular. Like, even the Toy Story movies. People will go, “Oh, gosh, you’re so lucky, getting to play opposite Tom Hanks!” And it’s, like, “It may have appeared to be that, but we were never in the room together.” [Laughs.] It’s an interesting and demanding art to do voices. I have been told so many times that I have a distinctive voice, but of course, I don’t hear my own voice as others do, so I don’t know. I actually would’ve liked to have done more voice work.
You could probably tell a minute ago that I really love Larry McMurtry, and they asked me to read one of his books that had a female heroine [Telegraph Days]. It was just a wonderful book, and I had the best time doing it, because there were lots of different voices to do. I ended up winning an award for that, although I can’t tell you what the award was. But it was really a lot of fun, and I thought after doing it, “That was great!” I mean, it’s great to read a whole book and get paid for it. I’ve been reading books to my kids for years, but I’d never gotten paid for it before. [Laughs.] After that, I briefly decided that maybe I should start charging my children per story. That never really took off, though.
King Of The Gypsies (1978)—“Persa”
AP: Oh, that conjures up so many dinner-table conversations. What a cast. And what an odd little film. Frank Pierson, a legendary director. I loved him. Loved him. Shelley Winters… I would only start that conversation if I’d had two martinis and you were actually here at my dinner table. [Laughs.] But she was fabulous. I thank her all the time for, in the short time that I worked with her, so many fantastic stories that I could share. And Susan Sarandon was in that. Wonderful, talented, sweet Susan Sarandon. You know, it’s all about the people you work with, really. That’s what it’s all about.
AVC: I interviewed Eric Roberts when they released the film on DVD, and there were two big takeaways from the conversation: that he learned everything not to do on a movie set from Shelley Winters, and that Sterling Hayden never worked unless he was high.
AP: And proceeded it to prove it, no doubt. [Laughs.] Yeah, uh, it was a very interesting film. Let’s just leave that one at that.
Designing Women (1986–1993)—“Mary Jo Shively”
AP: Well, what can I say about that except that it kind of made me a household name? And due to that group of women and where we were in time and how that played out, that made a lot of people feel that I was their dear friend who visited them in their homes often. So many people still come up to me and say, “I just want to tell you that I love you,” and I think that it is primarily based on how enduring and endearing those characters were, so I have really reaped the benefit of that, and I think I probably will for my life long. And, of course, so many dear, dear friends from that. So, hey, it’s all good, y’know? [Laughs.]
AVC: At the risk of calling up the choosing-a-favorite-child cliché, do you have a favorite episode?
AP: I think probably “Big Haas And Little Falsie” will probably go down as Mary Jo’s classic piece. Why? Because it was hilariously funny, for starters. But isn’t that enough? [Laughs.]
Pass The Ammo (1988)—“Darla”
AP: That was sort of fun. It was certainly fun to play a televangelist. And I met my dear, dear friend Tim Curry on that, who I worked with a bit later on a sitcom called Over The Top. That film, though, was madness. The director [David Beaird] was mad as a hatter. But we had a real good time, and that’s all that matters.
AVC: Did you enjoy the opportunity to sing onscreen?
AP: Actually, I forgot I sang in that. [Laughs.] But yeah, I did enjoy that.
Ghostbusters (1984) & Ghostbusters II (1989)—“Janine Melnitz”
AP: [Adopts Janine voice.] “Ghostbusters! Whaddaya want?” [Laughs.] Again, that’s one keeps echoing through many generations. From the reading of it, immediately, such an amazingly original concept and so geniusly executed with those wildly talented guys. Y’know, I loved it.
AVC: How long did it take to nail down exactly how Janine was going to sound?
AP: Oh, you know, I just came in with that, and they said, “Yeah, that’s right.” [Laughs.]
AVC: What did you think about the change in her look from the first film to the second? Did you have any hand in the redesign, as it were?
AP: Absolutely. I mean, everybody changes, right? [Laughs.] It had been five years, and I was in the middle of shooting Designing Women as well, so my hair had grown out and I had to wear a wig, and I wanted to differentiate my two characters, anyway, so… I don’t know, I thought that was a natural progression for her.
AVC: And were there ever to be a Ghostbusters III, would you be interested in doing it?
AP: Yeah, and I think I’d like to wear that wig again, too. [Laughs.] That was a really good wig! But yes, absolutely I would. And I actually hear that it might happen.
AVC: Even with Dan Aykroyd saying that he won’t do it without Bill Murray, and Bill Murray apparently refusing to commit to it?
AP: Well, it’s hard to tell, and you never know. But I don’t think Bill has ever committed to a script, anyway. Everybody just shows up and waits, and most of the time he shows up, too. [Laughs.] I think you will find that’s historically true. Look, Bill’s a wild card. Everyone knows that.
Flatbed Annie & Sweetiepie: Lady Truckers (1979)—“Flatbed Annie”
AVC: In case you hadn’t heard, it’s available for viewing [as of this writing] on Netflix.
AP: I don’t recommend it. [Laughs.] Every experience is valuable for one reason or another, and… I forget what it was in that. But I think it was one of those things where I called my agent and I said, “Get me something that will get me out of town.” Y’see, I am a workaholic. I love to work, because I find value in almost all of it. I mean, some of it’s dreck, but mostly… Well, no, it’s all enjoyable to me, because I love to work. I like people, I like my work, and I like to do it, so I was, like, “Sure, I’ll go there and do that!” Okay, so maybe I should’ve been a little more discriminating. [Laughs.] But, really, it’s been a life well lived.
AVC: Do you remember anything about Billy Carter’s acting chops on that film?
AP: Well, I’ll tell you, it endeared me to him forever. He was darling. You know, he was struggling with addiction problems that were rough, and it must’ve been a real challenge for him to be in the shadow of his brother. I had nothing but affection for him.
Who’s Harry Crumb? (1989)—“Helen Downing”
AP: I was in Vancouver for months and months with John Candy. Who was lovelier than John Candy? That was fun. You know, sometimes when you have so much fun, it doesn’t come out as well as… If that film could have conveyed just how much fun we had, maybe it would’ve been a little better. Maybe not. [Laughs.] But it sure was a good time. And John was just a great guy. That was a fun character to play, too. I liked playing bad. It’s nice to be naughty once in awhile.
Dangerous Minds (1996-1997)—“Louanne Johnson”
AP: That show is very dear to my heart. It was a great role and a great show by a couple of very talented writers, Andrew Schneider and Diane Frolov. We had a good run at it. We did 17 of those, and looking back at them, there was some really solid television writing and a wonderful cast.
AVC: Was it intimidating at all to be more or less stepping into Michelle Pfeiffer’s shoes?
AP: You know, I never saw the movie. I read the book, but I didn’t feel that it would serve me in any way to see the movie, because I was so different from her, anyway. We were essentially reinventing it, and what I wanted to do, really, was be like the author. I wanted to be like the teacher herself, not like someone else’s performance. You can’t function that way as an artist. Unless you’re very specifically doing that, that is. Two years ago, I went in and took over for Hope Davis in God Of Carnage, and my job was to take over for her, so I went in and I studied her, because that play had already been designed, and it was my job to… I mean, I brought myself to it, and it was a little different, but I would’ve been a fool not to follow her lead. It just wouldn’t have felt right. But, no, I couldn’t and wouldn’t even try to step into Michelle Pfeiffer’s shoes. That would be folly. [Laughs.]
Pretty In Pink (1986)—“Iona”
AP: Another one that’s a multi-generational film. People keep loving that. And I’m so sorry that we don’t have John Hughes around anymore to be a guide for teens. I mean, he was just really extraordinary in that way. He just knew how kids ticked. And we don’t have anything to give kids now but, like, vampire movies. Which is too bad.
AVC: It’s interesting that Iona, who’s one of the few adults in a teen-driven film, comes across as one of the characters with the most depth.
AP: Gosh, I don’t know if I can comment on that. I mean, I thought they all had depth.
AVC: What I mean to say is that the adult characters in teen films don’t tend to be terribly fleshed out, whereas Iona actually had somewhat of a backstory.
AP: Yeah, that’s true. But, you know, John Hughes was always good at that. His characters weren’t cardboard cut-outs.