Linda Gray has kept a fairly low profile since her 11 seasons as Sue Ellen on CBS' "Dallas" ended in 1989.
"I was offered series, sitcoms, movies-of-the-week and miniseries," Gray says. But the characters were mostly Sue Ellen wanna-bes. "I said, 'I know I can do that. Thank you for acknowledging that, but I choose to do something else.' "
So Gray acted sparingly. She did a two-part episode of the Arts & Entertainment series "Lovejoy," a cameo in the 1991 Sylvester Stallone comedy "Oscar," starred in the 1992 CBS movie "Highway Casanova" and appeared on stage with "Dallas" spouse Larry Hagman in "Love Letters."
Basically, Gray says, she just stopped her career. "I just pulled the plug. It was a big time out."
It became a time for her to have a personal life. "Let me not get up at 4 in the morning," Gray says. "Let me wonder what I am going to do next. Let me go to museums. Let me travel a little bit and play with my dog and hike. Let me touch the Earth again. I am a very earthy person, and I had to literally get my hands in the dirt and see who I was and where I was going next."
She's now returned full-time to acting. Gray recently optioned two books for possible movie-of-the-weeks and might direct another one herself. First up is the NBC film "Moment of Truth: Why My Daughter?," premiering Wednesday.
Gray decided to rev up her acting career because she realized during her hiatus that she still needed to work. "A lot of women in my position or my age or whatever, get married for a second time and they say, 'That's it,' " Gray explains. "My internal process isn't like that. I feel like I haven't started yet."
These days, Gray says, "I am feeling really aligned with who I am. ... I think maybe part of my quest out there is to find the writers, find the people with the passion that I can bring out to present roles to women. I think there is an abundance of talent out there."
The fact-based "Moment of Truth" chronicles the story of Gayle Moffitt, a mother who struggled to save her teen-age daughter from a life of crime. After her daughter's murder, Moffitt decided to help parents avoid similar tragedies.
Gray was leery about doing "Moment of Truth" when she learned it was a fact-based story. She told the producers: "Don't tell me that because it will turn me off." But the mother of two grown children, Jeff and Kelly, felt her maternal instincts tug when she read the script.
She also decided to do the movie because of the responsibility she believes she has as an actress "to share and educate other women. What it did to me was tap into the time in my life when my daughter was very needy, when her self-esteem was really low. I thought, 'My God. This could have happened to me if I had not paid attention.' "
Gray says the monologue at the film's conclusion spoke strongly to her. Moffitt, grieving over her daughter's death, talks with a woman who had just disowned her daughter because she didn't approve of the girl's behavior.
"I tell her that you have to love your daughter, that you have to love her through what she is going through," Gray says. "I think what compelled me was a lot of people have to hear this during those trying times when their daughters are feeling low-ebbed or very elevated and don't care about any maternal or paternal input."
The actress believes "children need to know they are loved and supported through these terrible times. We all do. We need to have someone love us through those speed bumps of life, as I call them. You want someone who will share and encourage you to be the best at who you are. I think those kinds of values need to be explored."
The real Moffitt was on the set during production, but Gray decided not to have much contact with her. "I knew her story obviously because of the script," she says, but Gray also knew she wanted to rely on her maternal instincts. "I chose not to go into her head."
Though she found Moffitt to be a "lovely woman," Gray found it disconcerting to have Moffitt observing her work. "I would look over and see her," Gray recalls. "My first instinct was, 'I hope I am doing this right.' Then I backed off of that and said I am doing this right. I know it. It feels right to me. I found that it was a distraction to have her around, but I chose for it not to be a distraction. She was there and I chose to ignore her."
Gray also selected her own look for the movie. "I chose to wear the most minimal amount of makeup possible," she says. "They aged me a little bit, so I have a lot of little lines around my face. I wanted to de-glam."
She also decided to pull back her hair. "I didn't care about it," Gray says. "The clothes were totally nondescript, so when I go into hair, makeup and wardrobe, I forgot about everything. I didn't care about what I looked like. It was great to totally be free and to tap in and explore the nuances of who this woman was. It was as if somebody just wound me up and let me go."
"Moment of Truth: Why My Daughter?" airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.