Hard to believe, but Cybill Shepherd has been famous for over four decades. Now 62, she was just 18 when she won the “Model of the Year” contest, and her blond-haired, blue-eyed all-American visage became a magazine cover mainstay. Since then, she has motored through the peaks and valleys of Hollywood’s unpredictable career track. At times, her life seemed blessed: She followed up her film debut in “The Last Picture Show” (shot when she was just 20) with “The Heartbreak Kid,” both critically-acclaimed classics. But bombs like “Daisy Miller” and “At Long Last Love” got her kicked to the curb and she often retreated to her hometown of Memphis during the bad times. (She still splits her time between homes in Los Angeles and Memphis.) “Moonlighting,” of course, put her back on top in 1985, and she’s worked steadily since. Currently, she’s costarring on Lifetime’s “The Client List” as the old-fashioned, chardonnay-drinking, big-haired Texan mother of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character, a newly-single parent who’s working in a massage parlor to support her kids. We caught up with the famously outspoken actress and activist during a whirlwind trip to New York.
More: Your new series, The Client List, is officially a ratings smash. How does that make you feel?
CS: Fantastic! I love going to work there. It’s a wonderful place to be—everyone is so great and so professional. And Jennifer [Love Hewitt] is the best. I just love her.
More: You play her mother, an over-bearing lady who isn’t always very supportive, especially given that her son-in-law has deserted his family. She’s been known to start sentences with the phrase “If God had meant for a woman to be alone…” Given your personal views, I just wonder how hard it is to say things like that?
CS: (Laughs) Well, it is a character, it’s not me! Lynette feels that way, not me. So I’m fine with that.
More: You’re known for being vocal about politics and social change, and The Client List is about a massage parlor where sexual acts are also on the menu. So I’m wondering, especially in light of the Secret Service prostitution scandal, whether you favor legalizing prostitution?
CS: It’s dangerous and it’s illegal, and it’s a moral dilemma. As to whether prostitution should be legalized, that’s something we need to talk about a lot more. That’s not something you do overnight. Whatever is done, the people involved as sex workers need protection. So whatever laws we need to protect them, to keep them safe? Those should be in place.
More: Do any of your three children ever wish Mom would pipe down? Do you ever embarrass them?
CS: Well I don’t embarrass them as much as I used to. As the kids get older, they are maturing and understanding that I can be pretty outrageous and speak my mind, and they respect that a lot. I marched in Washington with [my daughter] Ariel in the last big pro-choice march and when I marched in Washington for gay and lesbian rights, [my daughter] Clementine had very much wanted to come, but she got strep throat so I didn’t let her. Embarrasing your children in a nice way is okay, but one thing I would not embarrass my children about is if they were gay or lesbian, or transgender. You wouldn’t want to denigrate a child’s spirit. Our children are like sponges and they pick up on the parents and if there’s hate involved where somebody thinks just because someone is gay or lesbian or just because they want to get married… Marriage equality —I can’t believe we’re still talking about it. This is a nonissue.
More: Have your kids sort of followed your lead, in their careers or their politics? I know Clementine is an actress—you appeared on The L Word together, but what about the other two?
CS: They are very individual. My daughter Ariel is a playwright. She has her first production in Los Angeles this Sunday and then it will be in New York at the Manhattan Theatre Repertory Festival. My son Cyrus starts teaching in the L.A. County Schools next year through Teach America. He’s devoting 2 years of his life to service as a teacher. He’s a history major and he graduates from the University of Pennsylvania in a couple weeks. I’m so proud of him, of all of them.
More: You worked off and on when your kids were growing up. Did you feel torn or guilty at all? How did you handle it?
CS: In my case, I’ve loved the work I’ve done, and I don’t think my children were deprived. Yes, there were games or things I missed, but for everything that I could do, I was there. And I think that that sets a great example for young women and men—that you can work and you can have a family. It’s a huge luxury for a woman to stay home with their kids. Most women can’t afford to do that. They don’t have the choice, they have to keep working.
More: This has been in the news lately, regarding Mitt Romney’s wife—
CS: There was a big kerfuffle about this. I have a great feminist friend, [Democratic pundit and lobbyist] Hilary Rosen, and she said that Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life and there was a lot of talk about that, and Ann acted like “it wasn’t easy raising five boys!” and, of course it’s not easy raising five boys. But it’s a hell of a lot easier if you don’t have to work. You can’t judge anyone if they don’t stay home with their children. The minute we say that women have to stay home with their children until they’re 2-years old and we start to try to legislate that, it’s stupid. Is the state going to pay for those first two years? I don’t think so.
More: This brings up something that a lot of us have experienced: that women can be harder on other women. Have you found that to be true?
CS: Yes, that’s true, but I wouldn’t say it’s true in my career, because I’ve had a lot of men that were really pretty horrible to me. (Laughs) And on my very first movie [The Last Picture Show], I worked with Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman—these incredible actors! And they were like my mentors. I had never acted before, but they were so supportive. It was a great way to start a career. The great thing about The Client List is that it’s a girls’ club. Moonlighting was a boys’ club.
More: Which seems so odd because it was really built around you—you were the star.
CS: Yeah of course it was my show, but it was also Bruce Willis’ show and Glenn Gordon Caron’s, the creator. There was a point where I disagreed with him. He had my character, Maddie, who was pregnant, marry a guy she had met 3 days before on a train—some kind of wimpy guy. And I disagreed with that, and Glenn Gordon Caron made sure I knew that I was not a producer.
More: Off the top of your head, what’s your proudest professional moment?
CS: That’s a hard question. Because I’ve had such a long career, I’ve had a lot of moments that I’m very proud of. I’m very fortunate to have the career I have, to still be working at 62. No matter what we want to say it’s still a man’s world and Hollywood is still a men’s club, so you get to a certain age as a woman and if you’re still working, it’s incredible because there’s not that many jobs.
More: Have you thought about plastic surgery, Botox, fillers?
CS: I did have some work done on my eyes last summer but no one would really know. This is the thing about that: We’re coming back to choice—for women or men. If you want to have work done, have it done. Don’t let anyone tell you not to do it. I think the thing about aging is, don’t fight it too hard. It’s going to happen. If you’re lucky enough to live long enough, you live through menopause. And then you come out the other side and you go, “Life is still great.”
More: Do you imagine working until just the day you drop?
CS: Yes, I do. I love what I do. I’m fortunate that I can be selective enough to not have to do anything. I did a couple of pilots over the years and the scripts were great, but the pilots weren’t very good. And I was really happy they didn’t get picked up.
More: What’s one thing you wish you could tell your 25 year old self?
CS: “Relax, will ya?!” (Laughs) Gosh! You know, I became world famous at 18, and dealing with fame like that at an early age, and coming to New York, I don’t think I felt very confident. I don’t’ think I started feeling confident until… (Pauses) Well, I gave birth to Clementine at 28, and then I think at that point, the center of the universe switched from me to my child. I was the sole supporter and that, actually, is what I’m most proud of—my children.
More: Time for some random questions. What’s left on your bucket list?
CS: Well there’s a couple movies I’d like to produce and star in. One of them is based on an extraordinary book written by a friend of mine, Deborah Strobin, called An Uncommon Journey: From Vienna to Shanghai to America. It’s a story of how a brother and a sister who escaped to freedom during World War II. And the other thing I’d love to do is some kind of tribute to Doris Day. She’s under-appreciated and brilliant in everything she did. She was the number one box office star and she was the number one vocalist in America.
More: You’ve been married twice—would you do it again?
CS: I would love to get married again, but live separately.
More: I think a lot of women can relate to that thought! Now, please say the first word or phrase that pops into your mind to describe some of your male costars. Jeff Bridges [from The Last Picture Show]?
More: Robert De Niro [Taxi Driver]?
CS: Unbelievably attractive.
More: Burt Reynolds [At Long Last Love]?
CS: Love him forever.
More: Bruce Willis [Moonlighting]?
CS: Sexiest man alive.
More: Mark Harmon [Moonlighting]?
CS: The best! I would like to go out with him now.
More: Robert Downey Jr. [Chances Are]?
CS: We had a lot of chemistry. He will always be my boyfriend.
More: What’s your biggest indulgence?
CS: Chocolate! I like darker chocolate. They say it’s good for you.
More: It is—it has anti-oxidents!
CS: I know! And I’m going to have some right now…
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