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VICTORIA PRINCIPAL: Acting on Her Own

April 07, 1991|SUSAN KING

For nine seasons, Victoria Principal played Pam Ewing, the sweet wife of oil magnate Bobby Ewing on CBS' "Dallas." She left the show in 1987 and has proven there is life after series television. Principal formed her own production company and has been busy making television movies, including "Mistress," "Naked Lie" and "Blind Witness."

Her latest, "Don't Touch My Daughter," airing Monday on NBC, is a change of pace for Principal. She sheds her glamorous image to play a middle-class math teacher named Linda Hemmings, whose small-town life is shattered when her 11-year-old daughter is accosted on the way home from a friend's house. When the molester continues to stalk her daughter, Linda takes matters in her own hands.

Principal made her film debut in 1972's "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" and was featured in "Earthquake" and "I Will...I Will For Now." In 1975, she became an agent-trainee and represented actors, writers, directors and producers. She returned to acting in 1978 when cast as Pam in "Dallas."

Principal talked about "Don't Touch My Daughter" with Susan King.

You're producing "Don't Touch My Daughter" as well as starring in it. How did you find the property?

Ken Kaufman bought the book, which was called "Nightmare," by Marjorie Dorner. I am executive producer with Ken in association with his company and mine. We worked on it for three years because it's a very powerful subject. We wanted to be sure that we were as true to the story as possible but that morally we didn't send out a message we didn't intend to--that we were not condoning vigilantism.

You play a very plain woman in "Daughter." Were you looking to do a very deglamorized role?

The role didn't call for glamour. I always hoped that I didn't need to deny the way I look in order to be perceived as a good actress, but maybe I was wrong.

My agent saw the very rough cut and he turned to me and said, "There is not going to be any doubt in anybody's mind that you can certainly act because you are sure not pretty." I said, "Thank you, I think."

Why did you take a hiatus from acting after you left "Dallas"?

The first two years I took off to put the company together. I realized the public needed time to get over the "Pam" persona. There is a very strange thing that happens when you are on a successful series and you play a role that people like. When you leave they are mad at you. They are mad because you have taken away somebody they enjoy. I had to stand back and go underground and stay out of sight for a couple of years. I did the movie "Mistress" immediately (after "Dallas") that broke the ice, which put me in an entirely different direction. Then I spent the next two years forming the company.

But weren't you worried about your future when you left "Dallas"?

I guess I was the first woman who ever left prime-time and went on to a career. It is usually a kiss of death for a woman to leave, not a comedy, but a drama. And that was the prediction when I left and because I did disappear for two years, it was misinterpreted that I simply couldn't work. That made it very difficult in terms of my pride, but I knew it was necessary if I was going to be successful.

Are you interested in directing?

Not really. It hasn't been part of my ambition. Acting and producing are two full-time jobs and holding two full-time jobs and maintaining a happy marriage and good health. ... I have always been drawn to the production and the business end, that's why I was an agent.

Why did you leave acting to become an agent? Were you tired of acting?

No. I became very successful at 21 and had only been here for half a year and had no family or friends. There was no one I could talk to and to become very successful at 21 is very overwhelming, and to become equally unsuccessful by the time you are 23... I struggled back from the disaster that was a movie called "The Naked Ape."

"Naked Ape" went down the toilet. It came out and was pulled so fast the popcorn was still warm. I got confused in my personal life and professional life.

I easily envisioned myself being a Hollywood tragedy at 25 and I didn't want to be. It seemed to me the only way I could make changes in myself was without public scrutiny. And getting out of acting was the only way I could successfully do that. But I had to support myself and I loved business. I planned on becoming a production assistant and I was offered this job as an agent-trainee and I took it and I loved it.

Would you ever do another television series?

I have a deal with ABC through my production company. It is a commitment for 13 episodes. I own it and am starring in it. We are just in the process of deciding when to start.

"Don't Touch My Daughter" airs tonight at 9 on NBC.

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