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A Real Hoot : FAITH FORD CREATES 'MURPHY'S' CORKY ON INSTINCT

July 18, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five years ago, Faith Ford's career began to click. Not only did the former model have a recurring role on ABC's "thirtysomething" as a fumbling secretary, she was constantly going out on auditions.

So when she read for the role of Corky Sherwood on a new CBS sitcom called "Murphy Brown," starring Candice Bergen, the Louisiana native looked upon it as just another audition.

"I didn't have a script at that point," recalls Ford, during an interview at her publicist's Beverly Hills office. All Ford had been given were some pages--or sides--of a script and the information that Corky was a former Miss America who was a reporter on a fictitious prime-time TV magazine series called "F.Y.I."

Still, from the description and the script pages, Ford felt Corky was someone she could have grown up with in Pineville, La. "I knew these girls," says Ford, who, unlike Corky, has no trace of a Southern accent. "They are groomed to be in beauty pageants." And the reason these girls go into beauty pageants, Ford says, is because it's an easy way out of small-town life.

Ford felt so comfortable with Corky, she explains, the audition was just a "hoot. That's why I didn't take the whole thing seriously. It probably worked in my favor because I wasn't nervous."

In retrospect, Ford doesn't think she gave a good reading. But the producers and writers, she says, were looking beyond it. "They were looking at what I had to say, what I wanted to bring to the character because they didn't have many set ideas about her background or anything," she says. "So I just went in and rattled off how I think she is probably from Louisiana or the South. They started laughing from the time I went in the room."

She thought, however, that they were laughing at her. "I just sort of left and that was that," Ford recalls. "The sides went into the trash. That's what I do when I go on an audition. I didn't think of it after that. I just put it out of my mind." But then she kept getting these calls from her agents saying, "They are really interested in you. They want you to come back."

After Ford auditioned with Bergen and met with CBS executives, "Murphy Brown" creator and then-executive producer Diane English offered her the part. But Ford had doubts about playing the role. "I really wanted to do this other thing that was around because it was something that wasn't dumb."

She addressed her concerns over Corky with English during a phone conversation. English put her mind at ease, telling her Corky wasn't going to be the dumb blonde and the butt of everyone's jokes.

"She said, 'Whatever you bring to the character is going to be right,' " Ford says." 'It's your responsibility to do it. We are not going to argue with you that much because you are going to bring in the soul of the character.' That's when I decided to do it."

Ford arrived at Corky's distinctive Southern accent and clipped walk by instinct. "It was just in my brain," she explains. "It was something inside of me that was destined to come out. I have a lot of characters in my head. It depends on the mood I'm in if they come out. I have just observed people my whole life. It's just my favorite thing to do." And out of the "Murphy Brown" cast of crazy characters, Corky seems to have evolved the most. Over the last five seasons, she's gone from a naive, unsophisticated fledgling journalist and virgin to a happily married woman to a bitter divorcee with an eating problem.

"I have become a bit jaded actually," Ford says. "Life isn't a bowl of cherries. There are problems. I was the only one who was Miss Perfect, Miss Perky. You are finding out she's just the opposite."

It was Ford's idea to have Corky deal with her failed marriage by eating. She recalls Corky first started overeating in the episode in which Murphy had a party after Jim Dial's (Charles Kimbrough) wife returned to her singing career.

"We all had cake to celebrate and I was supposed to take a bite of cake, so we could all go home," Ford recalls. "Nobody would volunteer to eat the cake, so I volunteered. The way I decided to do it was not only was I going to eat it, I was going to relish it. I just took it upon myself to have eating be the thing that was an escape for me."

Ford says it's common sense that Corky's changed over the seasons. "People have many dimensions, so it's only logical that if you are going to play a character for a long time that with each year, with each show, with each thing they write for you, you are going to find new dimensions. After you do a series this long, that person becomes you, or you become that person. I have decided that Corky is a part of me and always has been. That's how I look at it."

"Murphy Brown" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBS; repeats of "Murphy" air Mondays-Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. on KNSD.

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