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Interview With Actress Angela Lansbury

Aired February 2, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Angela Lansbury, a living legend of stage, screen, television, a rare in-depth hour with one of the great ladies in all of the business of show business, the one, the only Angela Lansbury next on LARRY KING LIVE.
A very special edition of LARRY KING LIVE tonight. It's always great to welcome her to these cameras, Angela Lansbury, the winner of four Tony awards, three-time Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress. She will star in the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation of "The Blackwater Lightship." It will air this Wednesday night. It'll be available on DVD at the end of March at all Hallmark Gold Crown scores. "The Blackwater Lightship" was also nominee of a big book in Britain, right? It was a finalist...


KING: ... for the...

LANSBURY: I think it was Booker. I think it got on the Booker short list.

KING: Why did you take the role of an aged grandmother?

LANSBURY: Well, you know, I'm no spring chicken, but...

KING: Yes, but you're not an aged grandmother.

LANSBURY: No, I'm not an aged grandmother. I'm a grandmother.

KING: In fact, people will blink first when they see you, right? They'll have to say, Is that Angela?

LANSBURY: Well, I like to think that I broke the mold, you know? I've been known so long as Jessica Fletcher, and I just didn't get to exercise my acting muscles, really, at all.

KING: How did this come about?

LANSBURY: But in this I really do.

KING: How did the project come about?

LANSBURY: It came about really just through Hallmark and John Erman, the director, deciding that they wanted me to play this role.


LANSBURY: Sometimes it's hard to accept God's will.


LANSBURY: I don't think I would have thought of myself playing it, but when I read the script, I could see that it was an opportunity to play a most intriguing and complex old bird of a woman.

KING: Different for you?

LANSBURY: Oh, very, very. I mean, I've...

KING: This is...

LANSBURY: ... done some weird roles, as you know, like "Sweeney Todd" and, you know, Nelly Lovitt (ph) and things like that, but...

KING: "Manchurian Candidate" wasn't exactly...

LANSBURY: And "Manchurian Candidate." Yes. But this one -- this one really required me to pull out some stops that I've never had an opportunity do.

KING: This is a story of a grandmother, a mother, a daughter, right, and a dying grandson.

LANSBURY: My grandson.

KING: Dying of AIDS.

LANSBURY: He's dying of AIDS, and he wants to go home to his granny's house. And nobody quite knows why. But it's "The Blackwater Lightship," and that's the title of the piece, of course. This is a lightship that was off the coast, very close to this old house where granny lives. And he remembered this as a child, and he wanted to go and spend his last days there, much to the annoyance of his mother, my daughter, and my granddaughter, his sister. So these three women have had this sort of contretemps all these years. They've never been able to get along with each other. They never understood each other. And they finally are drawn together. They have to be together to look after this boy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE; I have learned the best lesson in the world. Not to be like you!

LANSBURY: It's all in the past, for heaven's sake!


KING: Well, Rex Reed, in a brilliant review in "The National Observer" -- you must have seen it...

LANSBURY: Oh, bless Rex Reed!

KING: Rex Reed said it's better than any feature film that's come out. Now, this is a television play -- I mean, a television movie. He calls it better than any -- and he calls your performance "marvelous." Now, that ain't a bad word.

LANSBURY: It's a wonderful word. I'm so flattered and so thrilled that...

KING: Is it different when you shoot for television than feature film?

LANSBURY: Oh, yes. Certainly. You're always up against the time.

KING: You've got to get it done.

LANSBURY: Got to get it in the can and get on with it. Money is always a problem. There's always a budget. Movies have it so great, you know, in most instances, although some of the great movies this year that have been cited on the Academy Awards have been made for peanuts. So who knows whether money really counts. But it does for the epics, you know.

KING: Or a guy like Clint Eastwood, who brings it in right at budget.

LANSBURY: Absolutely.

KING: "Mystic River" was pretty good. He did an amazing job with that.

LANSBURY: Well, he's an extraordinary director because he knows the value of a buck and he knows where it will show on the screen.

KING: I notice that Diane Wiest is in this.


KING: Jason Robards's son is in it, the son of Jason and Lauren Bacall.

LANSBURY: Samuel Bard (ph) and Sam -- and -- Betty Bacall's son. He's awfully good in it. He's...

KING: Is he the boy with the AIDS?

LANSBURY: ... wonderful. No, he's not. No. He plays the friend of the boy with AIDS. And what's interesting about this show is, this young fellow, who has AIDS, right, two of his gay friends come to look after him in my house, in Granny's house. They know how to care for him. And we're a little bit suspicious of them, you know, but Granny kind of takes them in with open arms, and she finally ends up just loving them because they're very helpful to her. One of them is a designer and he's going to remodel her dreadful little house. And they look after this little lad. So it's a very warm and touching story.

KING: Hallmark is famous for the way they bring stuff brilliantly to the screen. What do they do that other makers of films don't do?

LANSBURY: I think they trust the writers. They trust the directors. They trust the filmmakers. They don't interfere. I mean, they certainly are very much aware. They knew what we were doing and they sanctioned everything we did with the story. Not that there was much to do because it was a superb story, to begin with. I mean, it's just a lovely, heartwarming story. And it's wonderfully well-acted by Diane Wiest, who's a superb actress.

KING: She's amazing, isn't she?

LANSBURY: Wonderful actress.

KING: Had you ever worked with her?

LANSBURY: No. So it was a chance. That's another reason I wanted to do it, was to work with her. And Jeana McKey (ph), who is a lovely English actress.

KING: Now, AIDS is the catalyst for the story, but it's not the central -- the central focus is the three women, right?

LANSBURY: It's the three women. It really, really is. And it's -- I mean, certainly, the AIDS problem is the gravy, but the real problem is these women learning to understand each other and to get over their fights with each other.

KING: The director said he wanted you for other roles in the past and never got you.

LANSBURY: Well, that's what he said, yes. Actually, we did use to talk about things, and I was always so darn busy because, you know, I did "Murder, She Wrote" for 12 years. And that took...

KING: For 12 years.

LANSBURY: ... a huge chunk out of my professional life.

KING: I want to talk a lot about that. And we'll get back to -- and again, "The Blackwater Lightship" will air this Wednesday night. It's a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation. And then the DVD will be available at the end of March in all the Hallmark Gold Crown stores. And we'll be talking more about the film as we move on.

Do you miss Jessica?

LANSBURY: I do, but I can't miss her because I'm constantly reminded.

KING: Because she's always on.

LANSBURY: She's always on. And in elevators and in department stores and supermarkets, people just constantly say to me, you know, Oh, I miss you as Jessica, you know, And I watch you on A&E, which is great.


LANSBURY: The killer could have been in this portion of the corridor with a silencer.


LANSBURY: And, Why don't you do it again, you know?

KING: Do they ever bring one back?

LANSBURY: Well, they wouldn't ever on a weekly basis, but we can do...

KING: No, how about a special?

LANSBURY: ... the odd two-hour -- yes, we do specials. And I think CBS would probably like to do a couple, at this point.

KING: Why -- putting yourself aside -- and that's hard to do because you were so the focal point -- why did that show work?

LANSBURY: Good question. I think that it's -- mystery is something that appeals to most everybody.

KING: Whodunnit.

LANSBURY: Whodunnit, yes, to begin with. But this one was driven by a woman, not a silly woman but kind of an interesting woman who was a bit of every woman, who was a wonderfully liberal, broad- minded person.

KING: Busybody.

LANSBURY: ... a busybody...

KING: Got on everybody's nerves.

LANSBURY: ... always noticed everything, poking through and finding answers to questions that nobody else had even thought of. She lived in a community, a very small community, Cabot Cove, which people loved. It was so friendly and warm and homey and all of those things. And then finally, she got very successful and she went to New York.

KING: And you got pretty good guest stars.

LANSBURY: Oh, the best!

KING: More with Angela Lansbury, who stars in "The Blackwater Lightship" on Wednesday night.

Tomorrow night, there'll be two editions of LARRY KING LIVE. It is the election with seven states involved now tomorrow night, two of them doing caucuses and five doing primaries. And so we'll be on at 9:00 and midnight. Woodward will be back, Senator Bob Dole, the regular cast, all the candidates. That's tomorrow night. Wednesday night, you'll see Angela on the "Hallmark Hall of Fame." We'll be back with this darling lady right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have such a thing as a screwdriver?

LANSBURY: Will this do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Granny, that is a flick (ph) knife.

LANSBURY: Don't tell me. You used to be a Hell's Angel.

LANSBURY: Old people living alone need protection.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But what would you do if someone broke in?

LANSBURY: Stab them, disfigure them. That's why I have to learn to drive, so I'm not so isolated out here. Isn't that right, Larry?


LANSBURY: And he's going to teach me.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just ease off the clutch. That's it. Fantastic.

LANSBURY: Right you are.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well done, Mrs. Devereaux!

LANSBURY: I'm going to the house. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)


KING: We're back with Angela Lansbury. By the way, "The Blackwater Lightship" will air on CBS on Wednesday night at 9:00 Eastern. And she is the star, and Diane Wiest is in it. It's a good cast, right?

LANSBURY: Oh, fabulous cast. The boys are terrific.

KING: We have to talk about this, since this is your first film project since Peter passed away. And that's over a year now.


KING: Was that expected? LANSBURY: Yes, it was. It was about three years coming, actually.

KING: He produced "Murder, She Wrote," did he not?

LANSBURY: He did not. He never took the official position of being a producer, but he was behind us all.

KING: Every time I saw you, he was with you.

LANSBURY: He was always with me.

KING: How long were you married?

LANSBURY: For 53 years.

KING: Tell me how -- and everybody's going to face it. Women live longer than men. And so marriages who last a long time, generally, the man will go first. How do you deal with it?

LANSBURY: How, indeed.

KING: Because half of you's gone, right?

LANSBURY: Pardon me?

KING: Feel like half of you...

LANSBURY: Of course. Of course. But you take the other half and you continue because that's what you decided. That's what you mutually decided I would do, that I would keep going. And that's what Peter wanted and that's what I'm going to do.

KING: So you handled the death before the death. You discussed it.

LANSBURY: Yes. Yes. And I think that...

KING: I'm not going to dwell on this. I just...

LANSBURY: No. No, don't.

KING: Because you can help a lot of people...

LANSBURY: I can't talk about it. But I can tell you that you have to make those kind of plans and you have to come to those understandings.

KING: But it's still -- with all the understanding, it's never -- right?


KING: How did the children handle it?

LANSBURY: They were quite marvelous because they also understood that it was going to happen. And they've been so incredibly supportive of me, and they couldn't have been a greater, you know, comfort in every possible way.


KING: Let's talk a lot about Angela Lansbury. You've had an extraordinary career as primarily a character actress. You've had the lead in many things, but people think of you -- you're not a femme fatale lead, right?


KING: You were never the ingenue. Always beautiful but never the sex object. How do you look at -- Angela Lansbury's career is?

LANSBURY: I think of myself really as a journeyman actress, you know? I really -- I will go out there and I will attempt almost anything that I think that I can bring off. It could be almost anything. The only thing I absolutely draw the line at is playing a character that has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Now, the only time I did it was in "The Manchurian Candidate."

KING: She didn't have any redeeming...

LANSBURY: And she didn't have any redeeming qualities.


LANSBURY: I want the nominee to be dead about two minutes after he begins his acceptance speech.


KING: Why did you do it?

LANSBURY: Why did I do it? Because John Frankenheimer just talked me into it.

KING: What a man.

LANSBURY: But how could I turn that part down? I mean, you couldn't turn that down.

KING: One of the great parts in film history.

LANSBURY: Oh, absolutely. No question about it.

KING: Frankenheimer passed away, too. What a loss.

LANSBURY: Yes. Yes. Terrible loss.

KING: And you worked with Frank Sinatra in...

LANSBURY: And he was a young man, for goodness sakes.

KING: You worked with Jim Gregory, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey.

LANSBURY: I've worked with...

KING: They're all gone.

LANSBURY: ... the greatest actors, and they're all gone. This is what's so desperate to me, that I -- here I am, I still go on, you know, like the tides.


LANSBURY: Where did you start?

LANSBURY: But it's interesting. I started in London as a kid, you know? My mother knew that I had sort of an inbred talent. She was an actress, so I guess I inherited it from her. But I also think I got a lot of it from my grandfather, who was a great politician, you know, George Lansbury, great pacifist and labor leader. And he had this incredible ability to just to bring a crowd to its feet, you know? Well, I didn't have that ability...

KING: Did you see him speak a lot?

LANSBURY: I sure did. He spoke in places like the Albert Hall in London, you know?

KING: Oh, yes, the...

LANSBURY: In Hyde Park and...

KING: Where you get up and talk...


KING: Any time, you just get up and...

LANSBURY: Well, he was...

KING: Protesters.

LANSBURY: It was always on a -- he was always...

KING: Angry people.

LANSBURY: Well, no, because he was the first commissioner of works in the -- you know, in MacDonald's cabinet, so he was a -- he was a member of the cabinet in London in those years. And as I was a little kid, I used to be taken to see him, you know?

KING: How old were you when you left?

LANSBURY: I was 14 when I left London.

KING: How did you -- at 14, how did that happen?

LANSBURY: Well, you know the war started in 1939. And I was at school, studying to be an actress and going to dancing school and all that...

KING: So you always wanted that?

LANSBURY: Yes. I didn't want it. It just was...

KING: Thrust on you.

LANSBURY: It seemed right and proper. It was thrust on me because of the war.

KING: Yes.

LANSBURY: The war thrust things on a lot of people, you know? It really did. And thank God it did. It forced my mother to get me started because I actually turned out be the breadwinner, the first breadwinner. When we came to this country, I got a scholarship to a drama school, and then I came out to Hollywood, couldn't get arrested, you know, for the first year.

KING: Who came? You and your mother and who else?

LANSBURY: My mother and my twin brothers, Edgar and Bruce Lansbury. And they were both brilliant young guys, you know? One was a writer, one was an artist.

KING: Are they gone now?

LANSBURY: No, no. They're very much here. So thank goodness they're...

KING: So what took you to Hollywood?

LANSBURY: Well, finally, my mother got a job first as an actress, and she wired me one day and she says, It's a lot cheaper to live in Hollywood, so come on out.

KING: Where were you?

LANSBURY: I was in New York. So I put the kids back in school -- the boys, Edgar and Bruce. And I got on the old Challenger, that train that journeyed from Chicago to LA, and I ended up in Hollywood. Well, I couldn't, couldn't get a job as an actress. I was only 16 -- 17 -- no, 16. So I got a job in a department store. And finally, a friend got me into a studio. And it was to do...

KING: Audition?

LANSBURY: ... to audition for "The Picture of Dorian Gray." And so I met the casting director and I got the part. Finally. I did "Gaslight" first, though.

KING: Well, "Gaslight" was -- whoa, what a movie.

LANSBURY: So I was put under contract.

KING: You were put under contract, and you did "Gaslight"... LANSBURY: A major studio...

KING: ... before you did "Dorian Gray."

LANSBURY: That's right.

KING: So your first movie was a hit.

LANSBURY: Yes, it was. I got nominated for an Academy Award. Isn't that ridiculous? I mean, at the age of 18, you know, there I was out in Hollywood, and I was on my way. And I really never stopped.

KING: Worked with some pretty good directors, to kick it off.

LANSBURY: Great directors. Great, great directors. The best. You know, Cecil B. DeMille and George Cukor and George Stevens. I mean, there wasn't anybody...

KING: "Gaslight" was directed by?

LANSBURY: By George Cukor.

KING: He was something, huh?


KING: That was a scary movie.

LANSBURY: It was a very scary movie. And it's coming out on DVD. I have to mention that because it's -- you know, it's one of the old movies that is coming out. And who is it? Letterman. It's Letterman's favorite movie. And if ever I go on his show, he'll always say to me, Tell me "Gaslight."

KING: Well, it was -- I mean, a guy trying to knock off his wife and doing it...

LANSBURY: Great thriller.

KING: Did you like Ingrid Bergman? Did you like her?

LANSBURY: I loved Ingrid Bergman. She was the most unusual woman of her time. She really was. She was such a plain, wonderful Nordic sort of woman, you know?

KING: And what was Boyer like?

LANSBURY: Boyer was a charmer, the sweetest guy in the world. He was a sex symbol, you know?

KING: Oh, was he!

LANSBURY: He wasn't like that at all.

KING: "Come to the casbah." LANSBURY: Oh, yes. I know, but he was such a sensitive, sweet man. I mean, to a kid like me, you know, this really meant so much.

KING: The career of Angela Lansbury. What a story. She stars in "The Blackwater Lightship. It airs Wednesday night on CBS. It's a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation. We'll be right back.


CHARLES BOYER: And whom are you going to the musical with?

LANSBURY: A gentleman friend, sir.

BOYER: Oh, now, you know, Nancy, don't you, that gentleman friends are sometimes inclined to take liberties with young ladies?

LANSBURY: Oh, no, sir. Not with me. I can take care of myself. When I want to.

BOYER: You know, Nancy, it strikes me that you're not at all the kind of girl that your mistress should have for a housemaid.

LANSBURY: No, sir. She's not the only one in the house, is she?




KING: In 2000 -- in the year 2000, our delightful guest was awarded a Kennedy Center honor. What was that like?

LANSBURY: Oh, that is a -- it's an incredible experience, I have to tell you that, to sit up there in the box, you know, with the president of the United States and all of the other honorees all around and to be paid tribute from the stage, it's an extraordinary event in life.

KING: Who introduced you?

LANSBURY: Well, I don't think anybody introduced me.

KING: Oh, they did it as a group of people?

LANSBURY: Yes, a whole group of people. Some of the terrific actresses. They came out. They sang my songs. It was just amazing. And then they had an entire chorus of men who sang "Mame" to me, all done up in black ties and -- you know -- black ties? White ties and tails, you know? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

KING: What took you to -- I mean, here you are. You're in "Blackwater Lightship." You're the aging grandmother in a poignant story, right? Poignant is a good word for what we're going see Wednesday night. And you were in musicals. Could you always sing?

LANSBURY: Yes. Yes, I could.

KING: Your voice is very recognizable. Anyone who sees (UNINTELLIGIBLE) movie knows that voice.

LANSBURY: My voice has always stood by me. I've had it ever since I was a kid. I really had a freak voice when I was a youngster, and I could sing very, very high. And I didn't have a belting voice. I had to learn how to do that for Broadway, to do "Mame" "Gypsy" and "Sweeney Todd" and all those...

KING: What was the first musical you were cast in?

LANSBURY: It was called "Anyone Can Whistle." That was Steve Sondheim's first musical that he wrote the music and the lyrics for.

KING: You did that on Broadway?

LANSBURY: Yes, I did that on Broadway.

KING: Did the stage frighten you?

LANSBURY: No. I was always comfortable on the stage. I felt absolutely at home on stage. I always feel at home on stage. And I love it more than anything, but...

KING: Many film actors resist it.

LANSBURY: I know they do, but once you get a taste of it, a real taste of the theater and that feedback from the audience, you never forget it. And anyway, it's your -- it's your path for the moment that you're on it. Nobody can bring down the curtain, you know?

KING: It ain't the director's medium.

LANSBURY: No. Nobody can say, Cut, you know? So...

KING: How did you get "Mame"?

LANSBURY: I got "Mame" simply through -- really through Jerry Herman. Jerry Herman...

KING: The writer.

LANSBURY: ... saw me in "Anyone Can Whistle" -- you see, the first -- the first musical. And he -- he absolutely -- he just only wanted me. And there were many other very big ladies, like Lucille Ball and Ann Southern and Mary Martin who wanted, were interested in doing it. And he said, No, I want Angela Lansbury. I didn't know why!

KING: Were you ticked that you didn't get the film?


KING: Rosalind Russell got it, right? And she was...

LANSBURY: No, no, no.

KING: Who was it?

LANSBURY: No, no. It was Lucille Ball who got...

KING: But who also didn't sing much.

LANSBURY: No. No, she didn't. No. There was -- it was a little bit of a mistake, I think. I shouldn't say that because I adored Lucille Ball. I thought she was the most wonderful, wonderful comedian. But I just think it was a bad show for her to do.

KING: And "Gypsy" -- now they've revived "Gypsy."

LANSBURY: Now Bernadette's doing it.

KING: Bernadette Peters. Did you enjoy "Gypsy."

LANSBURY: I loved "Gypsy."

KING: Now, there you had to belt.

LANSBURY: I sure did. Oh, God, yes. I -- you know, I thought I couldn't do it, and then I learned that I could do it. I learned to sing and really -- not like Merman, but I certainly learned to belt big.

KING: How many movies did you make?

LANSBURY: About 56, I think. Not that many.

KING: Not for that -- in a very long -- you began in the '40s.

LANSBURY: Yes, '44, '45 was the beginning.

KING: Can you say that you pretty much handpicked your -- in other words, did you have to do a lot you didn't want do?

LANSBURY: I did when I was at MGM, yes, because MGM, under a term contract, you did what you were told. And sometimes I hated it, you know? I was playing -- well, I played Walter Pigeon's wife when I was 19, you know, and he was 48 or something. So I mean, I didn't -- I wasn't happy doing those things, but I did them, you know. And they're in the hopper now, part of my past.

KING: Is it harder for the character actress in the role she doesn't like?


KING: Or doesn't like the script, or -- you have to do it.

LANSBURY: Yes, it is hard. It is hard. Yes. It is hard. It's like in "The Three Musketeers," you know, with -- I wanted to play the Lana Turner role, you know, and I have to play the queen of France instead. And Frank Morgan played my husband! KING: The wizard?

LANSBURY: Yes, the wizard. What a sweet guy he was. You know, there again, I was playing out of my league, out of my timeframe. And it was just -- it was just disappointing.

KING: Anthony Quinn told me, though, that no matter what the role is, the actor gives his all.

LANSBURY: Oh, sure.

KING: In other words, you give it everything you've got, whether it's Tennessee Williams or a funky playwright, right?

LANSBURY: I hope so.

KING: Can't throw a part away, right?

LANSBURY: Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, no. No, you wouldn't dream of doing that. You'd be letting yourself down. You can't do that.

KING: Yourself?

LANSBURY: Yes. You'd be letting down your own -- your -- you know, we all have levels of performance.

KING: Being other people -- why do you like being this grandmother Wednesday night? Why do you -- what happens to you? Are you Angela Lansbury, or are you her?

LANSBURY: I'm absolutely her, I hope. I hope you don't see one glimmer of Angela Lansbury on that screen. If you did, I will have failed. I have got to sell you on the idea that I'm somebody else.

KING: But it is, as they say, the willing suspension of disbelief, right? I know it's you.

LANSBURY: Oh, sure.

KING: But once it starts, I can't think of her as you. You're Granny, right?

LANSBURY: No. If you thought of her as me, I would have failed totally.

KING: All right. Playing comedy, we'll talk in a minute, when there's no audience to laugh. Our guest is Angela Lansbury. She's won four Tonys, three-time Oscar nominee, stars in "The Blackwater Lightship" airing Wednesday night, a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation on CBS that also will be available on DVD at the end of March at all Hallmark Gold Crown stores. Back with Angela after this.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flowers are blooming -- or is that your perfume, Jess?

LANSBURY: Maybe it is. It's a new brand I kicked up at the chemist. They just got it in.


LANSBURY: They almost did it. They were that close to getting away with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who? What? Jess, you're speaking in tongues again and you know how that worries me.

LANSBURY: Leo was murdered, Shawn (ph), and I think I know who and I think I know how it was done. But we just have to make sure. Come on.


KING: We're back with Angela Lansbury who stars in "The Blackwater Lightship." Playing comedy, when you play it on stage, you hear them laugh. The timing is a little easier. What do you do when you're saying funny things and the only people there are the crew and the cast?

LANSBURY: Well, you recognize the fact that what you're saying, or -- that the scene is a humorous scene. You have to assume that that silent audience, your television audience is going to see the funny side of it and that they're going to enjoy it and laugh. You don't know that they will, but you hope to God they are.

KING: But the pacing time when they're laughing you don't want to be talking, right?

LANSBURY: No, exactly. You take your chances there. You could never in a very realistic story like this, you could never leave room for laughs. You can't do that in a movie. This is like a movie.

KING: The actor on his death bed who says dying is easy, comedy is hard.


KING: Some people are not comfortable with it. Actors who are just not comfortable with comedy. It is a different ball of wax, isn't it?

LANSBURY: It is. But we're not talking about out and out sitcom type comedy here. We're talking about very subtle character comedy. There's a difference, as you know. You have to just -- you have to trust your instinct as to how far to take it, how little or how much do.

KING: Where did you shoot "Blackwater?" LANSBURY: We shot the whole movie in Ireland. We shot it in Dublin, outside of Dublin in Bridge's Day (ph) which is in County Witlow (ph) near Wexford. And they found this old house on the edge of the sea right by a real lighthouse. And we shot the whole thing there.

KING: Didn't that cost more than finding a lighthouse in California?

LANSBURY: Actually, not. I don't think so. I don't think you could have -- you couldn't have doubled what we managed to bring to the movie by being in Ireland.

KING: Real ireland?

LANSBURY: It was the best fall they've had in Ireland in years. The weather was superb. And the shots of Dublin, the aerial shot of Dublin, that will just take your breath away.

KING: Do you like Ireland?

LANSBURY: I love Ireland. I have a home there, you know. Peter and I built a home -- in 1991, Peter and I built our dream house on the sea there. It's there.

KING: Go there much?

LANSBURY: I go there at least once a year. And more often if possible.

KING: Do you watch your work daily?

LANSBURY: Watch my work daily?

KING: Do you look at the dailies?

LANSBURY: No. No, I don't. That I find can be quite disturbing. You start to fool around with things that you have no business fooling with. You have to trust the director.

KING: Take direction well?

LANSBURY: I think so. Unless I don't agree with the director, in which case I'll give him a hell of a good argument why I should do something different.

KING: Ever direct?

LANSBURY: I have never directed. But I think I could. I have thought about it. I'm a bit long in the tooth to start.

KING: You never directed like a "Murder She Wrote" episode?

LANSBURY: No. Never did. I left that for my son, Anthony, who is a terrific director. He's really taken care of me for years. KING: When the show so surrounded you, did you ever notice some directors who would be a little in awe, a little hesitant to say, I don't think you should do it this way? After all, you know Jessica Fletcher.


KING: That would be hard to do an episode in its ninth year.

LANSBURY: Very much so. But we -- yes, it would be difficult for a director to come in and tell me what do as Jessica Fletcher. They wouldn't dream of doing that. I did that -- I could do that in my sleep.

KING: You knew that part.

LANSBURY: I always loved doing it. Do you know why? Because I got to meet a whole new group of actors every week. And I had some of the best New York actors who came out to do the show. I don't think there was an actor, a featured actor in New York who didn't do the show. And a lot of older movie people who had retired from the work.

KING: 12 years is historic for an hour of weekly drama, is it not?

LANSBURY: It's the longest.

KING: Hard to think -- you owned Sunday night.


KING: Did you ever turn down anything you regretted?

LANSBURY: No. I never regretted what I turned down.

KING: In other words if you turned it down, you turned it down. Did some go on to be big hit performances?


KING: Do you want to tell me any?

LANSBURY: I don't like to because of the actress who played it. She got the Academy award.

KING: Someone got an Academy award for a role you turned down? You got to tell me what that was because she still got the award, she still deserved it.

LANSBURY: Nurse Ratched.

KING: You turned down Nurse Ratchet? With Jack Nicholson.


KING: "One flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." What a -- I saw the play.

LANSBURY: The director took me to lunch and told me the part. He told me where they were going to shoot the movie. I said, I'm sorry. I can't do this role.

KING: Because you didn't like her?

LANSBURY: No. I couldn't bear her.

KING: So you have to like the character -- except for the first lady -- first -- second lady, vice president's wife in "Manchurian Candidate", you found something to like in every role you played.

LANSBURY: I think so.

KING: So you couldn't find anything to like in Nurse Ratched.

LANSBURY: No, I couldn't.

KING: When you saw the movie what did you think?

LANSBURY: I knew even more that I made the right decision.

KING: You're glad you didn't play that role?

LANSBURY: I'm certainly glad I didn't.

KING: You are an amazing woman.

LANSBURY: I think Louise Fletcher is a great actress.

KING: She deserved it?

LANSBURY: Oh, and how.

KING: Because you hated her.

LANSBURY: But it was very hard to top that role, wasn't it?

KING: Ah, smart. Our guest is Angela Lansbury. She stars in "The Blackwater Lightship" Wednesday night. We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. I killed him. I was so riled last night. I drove to his office and I...

LANSBURY: And you argued with him and struck him with the trophy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That's what it was.

LANSBURY: Ned, I'm sorry, but the trophy was not the murder weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, Tommy (ph), I can't just leave him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jessica. Help Anne (ph). She's innocent.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have a lovely view here.

LANSBURY: You can get fed up looking at the sea. If I could turn the house around I would. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). One, two, three. Quick. All of you. It's nosy neighbors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dora (ph). Dora. We just happened to be passing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we've saw all of the cars and we wondered were you all right.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have plenty of visitors, Dora.

LANSBURY: I'm just down for the day, Helen and a few friends.


KING: We're back with Angela Lansbury star of "The Blackwater Lightship."

It airs on the Hallmark Hall of fame Wednesday night on CBS. And the DVD will be available the end of March at all Hallmark Gold Crown Stores.

Did you have anything to say about the cast?

LANSBURY: No, absolutely not.

KING: The cast was locked in.

LANSBURY: Absolutely locked in, yes.

KING: You got along, right?

LANSBURY: We all got along. We met for the first time in Ireland and we just hit it off.

KING: Is that important or essential or not necessary?

LANSBURY: I think it was very necessary in this instance.

KING: Because.

LANSBURY: Because it was very close quarters that we were working in. We had a very short space of time to do some very, very subtle intricate work together. Actors need to have that sense of comfort. They have to feel they're working in a comfort zone, and we did. We had a wonderful lunch together in Hunter's Hotel, outside in County Whitlow (ph). And we all met, and we sat down and we read through the whole thing. We got to know each other. We got to chat with each other. And we felt like a little family, and that's important. It's a very close-knit group, you know, that come up with a good show.

KING: When you see other films, other stage play, do you say, here's the way I would have done it?

When an actor looks as an actor as opposed to a layman?

LANSBURY: You know, I'm -- maybe I'm an odd ball, but I always watch another performance as audience.

KING: You do? You're an audience.


KING: You don't say, boy, I would have done that differently?

LANSBURY: Well, I'm not saying that it wouldn't just possibly go through my head. I might say to myself, I wonder why she did that?

That was a curious choice, choice. We talk about choices. Again, this all has to do with the building of the character. So, I think that in the main I'm a good audience.

KING: That's interesting. When you don't watch dailies -- so you saw "The Blackwater Lightship" when it was done?

LANSBURY: I saw it when it was completely finished. Didn't see a frame of it.

KING: Where did you see it in a private room?

LANSBURY: Yes. I saw it -- I saw it -- actually I saw it in -- in my own house. In my own television room.

KING: What was it like to watch yourself?

LANSBURY: I sat and watched it all by myself.

KING: What is that like?

LANSBURY: Well, it's a very curious feeling.

KING: I bet. Not many experience it.

LANSBURY: No. No, absolutely not. And you know, people say you never see yourself the way others see you. KING: Correct, or you never sound?

LANSBURY: You never sound. It's always bit of a shock. And I would kind of -- I have learned to watch myself objectively, I think, as an audience might. And that is calming to me. Because unless I say to myself oh my goodness. And in this I have had those moments, believe me. And I did in this. Don't be shocked by what you see in this movie.

KING: Because you look so bad?

LANSBURY: Like the back of a cab.

KING: But there's nothing you would change?

LANSBURY: No. No, there isn't.

KING: Do you also judge the movie? Are you also, in addition to watching yourself, are you -- an audience is something you're in. Are you saying, this is good?

I like the way they did this?

This came out well?

LANSBURY: Yes. Yes, I am capable of doing that. I can say that. Yes. Yes. I guess -- yes.

KING: You can be objective?

LANSBURY: I can be objective, yes, I can. Yes.

KING: Even though you're subjectively in it.

LANSBURY: Yes, I can. And I can also be very objective to the degree that I can say, this -- well, I'm not going to talk about "Blackwater" but I'm going talk about other shows that I have done. And I can say to you honestly, this isn't going to work. This is OK, but it's not as good as it should be. So I can make that objective. In this instance, I think this is such a good sorry. These three women are so rifting in their own way. I include myself. Granny Dora is a riveting character, she really is. Whatever I did with her, I couldn't kill her, if you know what I mean. You know what I'm saying. She was a natural. So, from that point of view, I could say that I truthfully felt that it worked.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Angela Lansbury. Two election coverage tomorrow night at 9:00 and midnight. Tell you more about that when we sign off. Back with our remaining moments with Ms. Lansbury, the star of the "Blackwater Lightship," right after this.


LANSBURY: I told them to build me an assassin. I wanted a killer from a world filled with killers, and they chose you, because they thought it would bind me closer to them. But now we have come almost to the end. One last step and then when I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into death for what they did to you. And what they did so contemptuously underestimating me.




KING: "Beauty and the Beast."


KING: Did you enjoy singing when you're not on screen, you're a voice-over?

LANSBURY: That was a rare experience. And I loved doing it. You know, I almost didn't do it. I didn't think I could sing that song. And ...

KING: "Beauty and the Beast." You didn't think you could sing? You sang it perfectly.

LANSBURY: No. No, I didn't. I didn't. They sent me the demo and ...

KING: Someone else singing it, right?

LANSBURY: Yeah. It was Aaron (ph) singing. He sent me the demo. And I listened to it and I said, wow, this is kind of -- I don't know I can sing this the way he was singing it. Because he was kind of singing it the new way, you know, rock, rock. So I said look, I don't know if I can do this, but I want to do it desperately. I really wanted to do it. I wanted to be Mrs. Potts. So -- because this was just the beginning of this new wave of everybody wanting to do animated voices, background voices. So I worked on it, worked on it and I worked on it. And I sent them my demo. And they said, absolutely, this is it. You do it. You got it. You do it your way.


LANSBURY: So I did, I did this, a little cockney-like.

KING: I know -- I don't like to get personal. I'm a character in "Shrek," in the new "Shrek."

LANSBURY: Oh, are you?

KING: And I'm a woman. I'm Doris, the ugly stepsister.

LANSBURY: That's wonderful.

KING: I work in a bar.

LANSBURY: Oh, you're working in a bar? That's great. KING: It is a kick to just do a voice. It's a kick.

"Manchurian Candidate," the one part where you didn't like the person but played it because Frankenheimer talked you into doing it. Were you happy with the finished result?

LANSBURY: Yes, I was happy with "The Manchurian Candidate." I wouldn't have missed that for the world. That was the most important movie I was in, let's face it.


LANSBURY: We are at war. It's a cold war. But it will get worse and worse until every man, woman and child in this country will have to stand up and be counted, to say whether they are on the side of right and freedom or on the side of the Thomas Jordans of this country.


KING: They're going to remake it. A mistake?

LANSBURY: I'm sorry to hear that.

KING: Because it's such a shocking ending. Right? And everybody who has seen it before knows the ending. You can't change that ending, because it's the -- it's the only ending.

LANSBURY: I don't know how you can remake that movie. You know, I just don't know, except that they're gambling on the fact that a huge audience never saw the original.

KING: Did you like working it?

LANSBURY: Oh, yes.

KING: Was that an enjoyable experience? Working with Sinatra?

LANSBURY: Oh, the best. The best. It was great. It really was absolutely great.

KING: Sinatra told me that Laurence Harvey was one of the most underrated actors, and that he was terrific. Do you agree with that?

LANSBURY: I do I agree with it. I do agree with it. I think he had an interesting and fascinating career, but nobody quite understood him.


LANSBURY: Oh, yeah. Women just wouldn't leave him alone. Just taking him out of his hair.

KING: Did you like Frank?

LANSBURY: I liked Frank. Frank was a good help to me, you know. When I did "Mame," Frank offered to come to New York and teach me every line of the songs. And that's what (ph) he's done.

KING: No kidding?

LANSBURY: Yeah. He was so enthusiastic about me doing it. He thought this was the greatest thing in the world. Just loved that. I mean, he loved the idea of me doing theater and doing "Mame."

KING: Did you ever get, like you're in the seventh month of doing it, did you ever say, oh, this again? Or does it still jab you when you walk out?

LANSBURY: Believe me, it jabs you. When you're on the side of buses and New York loves you, you love to go out there every night. Believe me. It's like a race. You know, curtain opens, out you go and New York is yours.

KING: Henry Fonda told me once when he did "Mr. Roberts," he didn't miss a performance. He couldn't wait until 8:00. He couldn't wait to be Mr. Roberts.

LANSBURY: There you go. It's absolutely true. The theater is magical and it's addictive.

KING: What about now? Would you go back?

LANSBURY: Well, without Peter, I think the theater would be a very lonely life for me. So I don't think about going back to the theater.

KING: So what is like life? You take roles. Obviously, you did this.

LANSBURY: Yes. I wanted -- I'm thinking of going back into television. I want to do a half-hour comedy. I want to do...

KING: A regular comedy?

LANSBURY: A regular comedy.

KING: You want to do a sitcom based around you?

LANSBURY: Not a sitcom. I hate that word. But let's say a very human, good comedy.

KING: In the "Friends" vernacular?

LANSBURY: Smart. Yes. Smart, and a little bit off the wall, and show some of the zaniness that I know is built into me, which I've never had a chance to show.

KING: Have you seen any scripts? Have you talked to people?

LANSBURY: I have talked to some writers, and I'm in the process of talking to writers. So don't be surprised at anything you read.

KING: I will not. Will this be your own production? LANSBURY: Well, it will be done in conjunction with CBS, I believe.

KING: I see. So I'm getting here, Angela, the feeling that there will be a pilot.

LANSBURY: Yes, there might be. Not this season. But you never know. We might be a mid-season replacement. See, I'm learning the lingo. Mid-season replacement.

KING: That means you have to work every day, then. Back to the grind.

LANSBURY: No, no, no. It's bankers hours, believe me, compared to doing an hour drama.

KING: Alan Minken (ph) wrote "Beauty and the Beast."

LANSBURY: Alan Minken (ph).

KING: "The Blackwater Lightship." People should watch it and you're proud of it.

LANSBURY: I'm very proud of it, and I hope they will love it as much as I did making it.

KING: Always a delight seeing you.

LANSBURY: Thank you, Larry. You're a darling.

KING: It airs this Wednesday night. "The Blackwater Lightship," the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation on CBS at 9:00 Eastern, available on DVD at the end of March at Hallmark Gold Crown stores. Our guest has been one of the best, Angela Lansbury. I'll come back and tell you all about tomorrow night right after this.


KING: Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE with Angela Lansbury. Two shows tomorrow night, 9:00 and midnight, as we cover the elections as they head West and South. We'll be on top of the scene with Bob Woodward and Bob Dole, and Wolf Blitzer. And of course, candidates as guests, and then a second show as well with more guests. That's all tomorrow night. Thanks very much for joining us. Aaron Brown and "NEWSNIGHT" is next. Good night.


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