Holland Taylor is Having Quite a Year with Netflix's 'The Chair' and Apple TV+'s 'The Morning Show'

CUL_PS_Holland Taylor
Photo Illustration by Newsweek; Source: Frazer Harrison/Getty

"I've thrown a lot to the wind. I am becoming less and less edited."

Twenty years after Holland Taylor became everyone's favorite professor in Legally Blonde, she's back to giving lessons in Netflix's The Chair, but this time they're about ageism, not feminism. "I think one of the most difficult things about ageism this character reveals is her lack of impact, her lack of ability to even be heard," Taylor says about her character Joan, a distinguished senior professor on the verge of forced retirement—unless the new chair of the department (Sandra Oh) can stop it. But she says these kinds of stories are exactly what there need to be more of. "We are now as a society becoming more alert to all the different ways people are marginalized." Adding to her already successful year, Taylor will next appear in the second season of Apple TV+'s The Morning Show (September 17), playing the chairman of the board for the network. "She raises her voice, but quite infrequently, because what she says and decides is what's going to happen; she has this stillness, that kind of power." Taylor says she is taking a thing or two from the freely opinionated characters she plays. "I've thrown a lot to the wind. I am becoming less and less edited."

How do you think The Chair shows the impact of ageism?

All stories about any particular world inform us about the world or just human life. I certainly see The Chair being about what life is like and how humans struggle and what the challenges are. The world of an academic institution is just the framework where we see the story but is a very common story. My character gave me an opportunity to tap into my own understanding of what it is to be marginalized because of age. I have to really tap into my imagination there because, in fact, I've had a very privileged career in terms of my age—I work as much now as I ever did, if not more, and that's probably a rarity. But I do see all around me, and I have experienced the edges of the ageism that exists in our country. There are many countries where elders are revered and looked to and admired and rewarded for their life and given a place of high esteem. I think one of the most difficult things about ageism and that this character reveals, is her lack of impact, her lack of ability to even be heard. Does it not occur to you that I might know more than you about a given subject or rather, that I simply have an experience that might illuminate you if you listen? As an actress, it gave an opportunity to show the real distress and the torment of being marginalized at the end of her life in a way that is painful to her sense of who she is on the planet. We are now as a society becoming more alert to all the different ways people are marginalized.

Holland Taylor is Having Quite a Year
Holland Taylor as Joan in episode 104 of 'The Chair' ELIZA MORSE/NETFLIX © 2021

How did you find Joan's point of view in The Chair?

Amanda Peet, one of the creators of the show, early on said Joan is not edited. She's at an age where she's thrown those restraints aside. That was the greatest guide for me. It also was something I responded to personally. I am cautious, and I think I'm a person who doesn't want to offend anyone, and I certainly don't want to hurt a person's feelings. I don't want to be aggressive and provocative with people. At the same time, I've thrown a lot to the wind. I am becoming less and less edited.

What was it like joining a cast like Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show?

She doesn't appear in the jumble of employees at the network, she's the chairman of the board of the whole network and the news division is just one of her many concerns. And as a chairman of the board of a large corporation, she's thinking broadly about money and properties. So when she comes down from the mountain and comes down to the network, she just comes in like a laser to perform whatever function she has to do that day. She doesn't cut any corners and goes right to the target she has to deal with like a laser. She knows her power. Sometimes she raises her voice, but quite frequently, because what she says and decides is what's going to happen, she has this stillness, that kind of power.

Is it difficult joining a show in its second season like The Morning Show?

I come in like this needle. Just come down, the bomb strikes and she flies out. So that's sort of my experience as an actress, too. I might not be on the show for a month-and-a-half. In fact, I went to Pittsburgh to shoot The Chair and then two-and-a-half months later I came back and did another one for The Morning Show.

Are you surprised how much of a classic Legally Blonde has become?

Well, I can't say I thought that specifically, but I did think it was really, really well done. The director really had a clear vision, and it was being beautifully performed. I knew it was going to be an effective movie. And I certainly thought the themes were just great and the script was just satire enough, right on the edge of being believable that she could accomplish these things. But I didn't know it was going to become this huge. People still say the quote back to me, "If you're going to let one stupid prick ruin your life, you're not the girl I thought you were." [laughs] It really captures the imagination.

When we spoke with Sarah Paulson, she mentioned you don't necessarily share her love of The Real Housewives franchise. Has that changed?

Well, I've never watched. [laughs] Or maybe she played me one? I was just so put off. The thing about Sarah, she likes being put off. She'll often play a character I would have judgments about, but that's the character she wants to play. This is the difference in our approach, she's much broader, much more accepting of humanity, much more willing to include all types of her admiration.