It's a heart-rending scene they are shooting at Van Nuys Airport. About as emotional as has come so far on CBS' new one-hour drama, "John Grisham's the Client."
JoBeth Williams, playing Reggie Love, family-law lawyer and estranged mother, is in the lounge clutching car keys, her only sign of nervousness as she watches her children arrive. A recovering alcoholic fighting to regain custody, Love has not seen Alison, 14, and Chris, 11, who live with their father, in two years.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 29, 1995 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 12 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong title--Tuesday's Calendar story on actress JoBeth Williams misidentified the name of the film that received an Oscar nomination this year for best live action short and that was her directorial debut. The film is titled "On Hope."
She reaches out. Alison (Melody Kay) recoils. "I came because Dad made me."
Reggie sounds wondrous at how beautiful her daughter looks. Alison answers that once she wanted to be like her mother, "and now all I want is to \o7 never \f7 be like you. . . . You've seen me," the girl snaps brutally. "Now watch me go."
"Alison, \o7 Alison\f7 ," cries Reggie, running after her. In another take, "Alison. \o7 Please \f7 give me a chance."
Different angles, minor variations. Director James Quinn calls out "Good, that's a \o7 print\f7 ." Assistants and crew smile. Lunch will be earlier than expected. Everyone's happy.
Except Williams. Back at Warner Bros. ranch within the hour, the actress is not at all sure she has done the scene justice. It went by "so fast." Though she's hardly a newcomer to television, this is her first series, and the pace of it has been an eye-opener.
Based on Grisham's 1993 bestseller, which became a 1994 movie starring Susan Sarandon (garnering Sarandon an Oscar nomination for best actress), "The Client"--now set in Atlanta instead of the original Memphis--is centered around Reggie helping children in peril.
"That was very frustrating [on] such an emotionally important scene," explains Williams, munching salad out of a cardboard container. "Because of the time pressure, you become very dependent on the sound being right, the camera being right and everything happening magically at once. And sort of the last thing that gets remembered is, \o7 performance\f7 ? They've got to move on. 'Well it was in focus and there were no airplanes going over.'
"In a feature, you would have spent a couple of hours getting my close-up on that, and getting it right. Here we've got 10 minutes. That's the difference between shooting nine pages a day as we do in our show, and shooting three pages a day in a feature."
What's frustrating in this context is that Reggie is "a wonderful role. It's a very special part. There aren't a lot of them out there."
"She's flawed," Williams says with delight. "She's lost custody, which is part of her motivation to help kids. She has this past and yet she's pulled herself back up. There are a lot of people who have had to overcome those kinds of problems in our generation. She's feisty, she's strong, she's Southern."
But that's the box actresses of a certain age are in. TV is where the good roles are.
"I'm 45," Williams notes. "I'm not going to be getting Julia Roberts roles."
A graduate of Brown University (1970), Williams has run the gamut from theater to daytime soaps, from movies such as "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Poltergeist" and "The Big Chill" to the miniseries "Baby M" and the TV movie "Adam," which earned her Emmy nominations. She continues to do movies--she was in "Wyatt Earp" last year as Bessie Earp, a spunky former prostitute with a feminist viewpoint, but overall in recent years, "TV roles have been much more complicated."
The one that got away--"probably [my] biggest goof"--was "Murphy Brown." "It was written for me," Williams says. Her friend, writer-producer Diane English, "was conceiving the series. We met, we talked [but] I had been trying to be a mother for about six years. And I had just adopted my son, as an infant."
She and her husband, director John Pasquin ("The Santa Clause"), have two adopted sons, Will, 7, and Nick, 5, who are "the light of my life."
A redhead who bears an uncanny resemblance to actress Susan Hayward, Williams is in every scene on "The Client," whether attending a cocktail party in sexy, V-necked black or counseling an Alcoholics Anonymous friend in trouble. But it's Sarandon to whom she's compared. And that can sometimes grate.
If Williams' Reggie seems softer, less gritty than Sarandon's--just as the office and the house she shares with Mama Love appear spiffier and more upscale--Williams suggests that the series character encounters a broader range of situations: "We see sides of Reggie we didn't get to see in the movie."
There has been enough drama in Williams' life to match any of her roles. An only child, she grew up in Houston, "in a household where my father was an alcoholic. My mother always said, 'He's not an alcoholic; he just has a little drinking problem.' He would come home at night usually, fairly bombed, and not ever hit me [or her mother], but he could be loud and abusive, and occasionally break up furniture, put his fist through walls."