Entertainment » Television

Ann-Margret goes for Emmy gold

by Jim Halterman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jul 27, 2010

Legendary singer/dancer/actress Ann-Margret wasn't sure she heard a voice mail message correctly when the Emmy nominations were recently announced. During a recent chat with the press, she admitted, "I didn't even know that the nominations were coming out that particular day. A friend of mine who lives in New York called, at 6:30 in the morning and I was bleary eyed."

Her sixth Emmy nomination came for her guest appearance as a key suspect in a serial killer investigation on the hit NBC series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The episode that was submitted for Emmy consideration re-airs tonight on NBC and also features some other famous actresses including Susan Anton, Morgan Fairchild and Charlie's Angels' Jaclyn Smith.

Of all the shows that Ann-Margret could appear on, why an edgy, often sexually graphic and violent series like SVU? "First of all," she explained from her home in Los Angeles, "Law and Order: SVU is one of my favorite programs. And, you know, Benson (played by Mariska Hargitay) and Stabler (former Oz hunk Christopher Meloni)... I know them as an admirer. And, of course, I don't know of any actress who would not want this challenge of a drug addict, an alcoholic, a hoarder. I mean what else?"

Epitome of sweet

Famous for movies such as Bye, Bye Birdie, Viva Las Vegas (with Elvis), Carnal Knowledge and Tommy (the latter two Oscar noms), her Vegas shows and television specials and more recently starring in a touring production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, you might think of her as a diva. Instead the actress was the epitome of sweet during the press call and a far cry from the troubled character, Rita Wills, she plays on SVU, a role she approached by researching the numerous social ills her character deals with.

"I find it interesting that they are doing a whole bunch of shows now about hoarders," she said, "because that is indeed a sickness. It doesn’t start off to be but it is. And there’s such a wealth of information out there about alcoholism and drug addiction and, my goodness, what actress would not want to be interested in doing something like this [and] diving into it?"

Still the role hit home, at least in one area. "It was scary about the hoarding thing because I’m such a pack rat." But she’s also come to understand the psychology of such behavior, partly through watching A&E’s reality series Hoarders. "I watch these shows," she explained, "and usually it’s something that makes them go absolutely over the top... a death of a loved one or something that they try to retrieve in their life and they just keep buying things and collecting things and [go to] swap meets and garage sales."

A die-hard SVU fan

The actress said that she has a lot of friends who are going through various problems that she could also draw from. But does she think she can save them? "I keep trying to help these friends of mine," she said. "But they have to get to their bottom. They have to do it themselves really. You can only lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. Their sense of denial that they have they have to get through that. It’s very hard for a lot of people to ask for help because they’re in denial so much they don’t think they have a problem. And where it is obvious to those around them they don’t think so until they just hit rock bottom and they do have to ask for help."

One thing the five-time Golden Globe-winner is thankful for is the support her co-stars. "Mariska and Chris were there for me. I would look at them and they were right there. And Mariska was very protective of me. If she saw that I was nervous or if there was somebody in the eye line or perhaps it was a little noisy or something, both she and Chris would help... they were really protective and helpful and generous as actors."

Being a fan of the series, Ann-Margret did admit that she had her own expectations when she stepped on the set. "I was hoping and praying that when I met them that they really [would be] Benson and Stabler. They really do get along and kid with one another."

Like any diehard fan, she also worked up the nerve to ask a question fans of the show have asked for the past 11 seasons of it’s successful run on NBC. "We’d been working for a while and I asked, ’do you think maybe - maybe, you know, maybe when - when this is like the last episode or whatever, that maybe Benson and Stabler could maybe get together?’ I’m just a real admirer of the show and I want them to get together so bad."

If she happens to win the Emmy is she hoping it leads to more guest spots or, perhaps, a regular series role in a television series? "I don’t know," she said after a brief pause, "because the most important thing to me is really my husband. And, it depends. We all always talk about what somebody wants me to do. We discuss it and will it take a lot of time? Will it take a lot of effort? Will we have to go on location? Will we have to do this? How much do I have to work? You know, five days a week? If it is ensemble - maybe two, three days a week? Because I’ve been offered a couple of things and I knew it’d be too much work. It’d take me away too long." (Note: Margret married actor Roger Smith in 1967, who retired from acting to become her agent. He suffers from a muscular condition Myasthenia gravis.)

Favorite memories

With a career that has spanned over 50 years in music, theater, film and television, one of her favorite memories is performing in the USO shows for the troops in Vietnam in the late 60s. "I remember one morning at 7:00 am they had cleared everything the night before all around and they built a little wooden stand for us. There were about 50 guys there and it was really something. I’ll never forget my times over there."

She said to this day she still hears from the soldiers she entertained during those tough times. "All through the years when I’m performing somewhere I will get these little notes, scribbled little notes saying I saw you in Ho Chi. I love them so much - my guys and all of the military. And every day they’re in my prayers...all of our young guys now who are out there and women. They’re in my thoughts, my prayers, my heart, my mind."

Finally, while she’s always been known simply as Ann-Margret, what does she like to be called in her everyday life? "I love to be called Ann-Margret because that’s my name. I was born in Sweden and it’s pronounced Ann-Margret - Ann-Margret. It’s like here would be like Betty Sue or, you know, Flora May or whatever... some people call me Slugger because of all of my accidents. You know, it’s like a boxer who gets punched out and - but he gets up again. That’s me."

Ann-Margret learns if she won the Best Supporting Guest Actress in a Drama Series Emmy on August 21,, 2010. The Law & Order: SVU episode for which she was nominated re-airs on Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 10/9c on NBC.

Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for www.FutonCritic.com, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, www.jimhalterman.com. He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.


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