Sela Ward: "I'd Like to Misbehave"

Sela Ward tells MORE: "I have a wonderful underbelly that I’d like to share."

by Johanna Schneller
Photograph: Photo by: Perry Ogden

She’s had a difficult year. She lost two beloved aunts, and in January her father, G. H. (short for Granberry Holland) Ward, a retired engineer, died of complications following surgery at age 85. (Her mother, Annie Kate, a homemaker, died seven years ago after a grueling battle with ovarian cancer.) “My father’s death was easier for me, because the last chapter of his life was a really good one,” Ward says. He had a girlfriend and lived in a house on Ward’s farm. After a lifetime of alcoholism, he’d given up drinking. “He got sober when he was 79, when my mom died. Which tells you what kind of relationship they had,” Ward says flatly. “Growing up in an alcoholic family . . . while it wasn’t physical abuse, there is a certain amount of neglect, because if you’re an alcoholic, you’re not there. Things I yearned for and wished I had gotten in my relationship with my
father, or that our whole family unit had been able to experience, were not there, because of the disease.”
Ward and her father didn’t have a big reconciliation when he got sober. “He wouldn’t go there,” she says. Her dad “was not a man of many words; he was sort of the strong, silent type.” Even when she got engaged, years earlier, she remembers, “all he said was, ‘Yup, that’s what I heard.’ Then beat, beat, and he goes, ‘I changed the oil in the Barracuda’ ”—a red convertible he’d given her when she was 15. “He couldn’t acknowledge that I was getting married, so he brought up that car. Maybe that’s why the Barracuda was so meaningful to me: It was a tangible connection, and I kept it forever, until about three years ago. But I got to see a different part of him [at the end of his life], and that was awesome to experience. And totally unexpected. A little late, but amazing.”
Not surprisingly, losing her last parent has made Ward more aware of her own mortality. “You definitely know that you’re next,” she says. “You don’t have that fluffy cushion between you and life. Whenever I returned home, I had a good bed and meals cooked for me, and my favorite cake would be there: yellow cake with chocolate icing and pecans on top. So it is very different. It’s been an ‘eat a lot of chocolate’ kind of year. I’ve put on 10 pounds.”
Another hard question: Ward knows she wants to work, but at what? She’s already hit the zeitgeist bull’s-eye twice, playing complicated women in the TV series Sisters (1991 to 1996) and Once and Again (1999 to 2002), winning an Emmy for each. With midlife women all the rage on the small screen now, it seems like an ideal time to go back to TV. But Ward isn’t ready to commit to those 14-hour days again; she wants to be home with her 15-year-old son, Austin, and 11-year-old daughter, Anabella, in the Bel Air house she has spent the past three years renovating.
“If I could, I’d do a film a year for the rest of my life,” she says. “But opportunities are few and far between in today’s market because of the audience being so young. That makes me sad. I feel I’m so ready. I’ve lived enough life now to give an amazing performance if I had the material. I was happy The Stepfather came up, because I thought it would be fun and different enough. But I really need to do some gritty thing. I keep playing these moms who are so nice. I’d like to misbehave a little. I have a wonderful underbelly that I’d love to share.”
She lets out a cackle, and continues, “You know the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona? Somebody asked me which of the women I’d be. I said, ‘I don’t want to be them, I want to be him [the lothario played by Javier Bardem]!’ I want to be the person who walks into the restaurant and looks at someone and goes, ‘Do you want to go away with me for the weekend?’ I envy that.”
Ward has misbehaved, a little.

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