Cheryl Ladd is happy she’s in her 60s.
When the "People vs. O.J. Simpson" actress first hit the big time, it was for playing Kris Munroe on “Charlie’s Angels.” Controversially, she had replaced the departing Farah Fawcett, and she was thought of mainly for her looks. Cut to four decades later and she’s getting more interesting roles — like Katherine Heigl’s manipulative, domineering mother in the new thriller “Unforgettable.”
The actress says she’s not a lot like her character. She tried to shield her own daughter, Jordan, from the limelight, since it wasn't her choice. (She's since become an actress anyway, appearing in "Cabin Fever" and Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof." Her "Unforgettable" character, meanwhile, demands Heigl have a great job, be a great mother and be flawlessly refined in her looks and manners. (She has a daughter as well as a step-daughter.) It’s driven her crazy — which is partially why she flips out on her ex-husband’s new fiancee (Rosario Dawson) and tries to make her life hell.
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“You really get this sense of this perfectionism women have,” Ladd tells us. We’re supposed to have all of these things [like beauty, exquisite clothes and social graces] lined up like little ducks. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for your true humanity.”
Society may be getting cooler to the idea of gender equality, but the flipside is that females now have more on their plate. Men certainly don’t have to nearly as much. They don’t have to be great dads, and sometimes it doesn’t matter what they look like. (Our president definitely isn’t a looker.)
“It takes them 10 minutes to look good,” Ladd explains. “They shower, they shave, they put on a nice outfit, they brush their teeth, and off they go. Is that fair?
“All little girls want to play dress up. But to do it all over again, day after day after day, it gets … tired. That’s why I like going to the supermarket with a ponytail, blue jeans and sneakers. I’m just this person. It’s a nice way to live.”
Still, things are dramatically different than when she came into the spotlight in the ’70s.
“It’s changed enormously,” Ladd says. “Charlie’s Angels” may have been about attractive women, but they were also very strong and independent. That wasn’t seen a lot in those days. “We kind of broke the mold for acceptable jobs for women at that time,” Ladd says. “It wasn’t that long ago that women were supposed to be teachers and nurses and secretaries.”
Many young girls at the time — and those watching it in syndication today — look up to them as proof that they could do anything. Ladd, however, grew up with few female idols.
“Mine were all actors,” Ladd recalls. “I always wanted to be in the business. So my models were Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Grace Kelly.” She did get to meet Kelly — who she played in the 1983 TV movie “Grace Kelly” — and even Hepburn.
“I almost burst into tears when I met Katharine Hepburn,” Ladd remembers. “She was shaking my hand and said, in that lovely voice of hers that no one else sounds like” — then she slips into a flawlessly shaky Katharine Hepburn voice — “‘You have a wonderful career ahead of you.’ And I just cried.”
Nowadays Ladd has an easier and more fulfilling time acting.
“I’m enjoying my process now more than I did when I was younger,” she admits. “When you’re younger you have to worry about being beautiful all the time, and that is just tiresome. I don’t have to do any of those things now. I can just be a character, whether it’s a grandmother on the prairie or this very put-together woman. When you have a lot of life under your belt, there’s more to bring to the characters. I’m enjoying it. I say no a lot. I’m pretty picky and choosy these days.”
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge