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The free-spirited sort

June 15, 2008|Choire Sicha | Special to The Times
  • IN FROM THE RANCH: Singer, actress and horse lover Betty Buckley is on the cultural radar with a ?Happening? role and two recordings.
IN FROM THE RANCH: Singer, actress and horse lover Betty Buckley is on the… (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles…)

Film, TV and Broadway star Betty Buckley moved back to the ranch in Texas nearly five years ago. She appears in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening." She has recently released two CDs, including an archival recording, "1967," which was engineered by T Bone Burnett. As she explains it: "He was the only game in town. We were both 19."

So you're coming to New York.

The premiere is Tuesday. It's very exciting. I haven't seen it. And the producers have written me some really sweet e-mails, thanking me for my contribution. I play a very weird, scary person -- in fact, my character is one of the reasons it got an R rating. I saw bits and pieces when we were doing the ADR, the looping. I called my manager -- I said, "Uh-oh." I just hope people remember that I'm an actress. I think people have a very short imagination in the world -- that you are whatever you play.

Really? Do you worry that the jobs . . .

My father really ingrained that into me. He insisted I major in journalism. He thought any profession in show business was illegitimate. But fortunately, I haven't had to rely on that. The Catch-22 is I have to work all the time to pay for the cutting horses. I keep foundering in my attempts to be a serious competitor.

So you're off at the horse shows!

Yeah, when I can! I made a new decision this summer. I've been throwing so much money away, I've done so poorly, I've decided to wait. I'm working with a new trainer, and I'm just going to go into a real practice summer.

You went to Vietnam, to visit hospitals. What do you remember of that?

Actually, the summer I graduated college, 1968, I went with Miss America on a USO tour. We were supposed to go to Vietnam, but some performers were killed so we went to Korea and Japan, where the wounded were sent. So at 21, I saw the results of a war. And growing up in the '60s in Texas, it was a very suppressive world. My father was a strict fundamentalist, and a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force -- and a hawk! So my values were seriously altered by that experience. And I realized the world was not as black and white as my father insisted that it was.

What do you think when you listen to the 19-year-old you on "1967"?

There were many things about my younger self I didn't think were good enough. . . . I was assessing it relative to a rock 'n' roll criteria. Janis Joplin had come from Texas, I was a big Jefferson Airplane fan. . . . I saw my singing as too girlish and too pure. I was a cheerleader at Texas Christian University, so I'd go scream at the games to make my voice husky, so I could sound sultry at the jazz clubs.

You've been unmarried for something like three decades. Is that great?

Have I? I think you're right! I was married in my 20s. Oh, it's been a series of serial monogamies.

Did you ever try other options? Polyamory? Free love?

When I was in my 20s, I believed in open marriage. But that was a stupid thought! I'm straight, if that's your question.

It seems that marriage, as wonderful as it is, is just one way to be.

I haven't seen a marriage I'd like to emulate. Which is a sad statement. I just think I'm a very independent person, if you will. And I never wanted to be conventionally married, even when I was married. And so I married my best friend, a guy named Peter Flood, who was a wonderful person. . . . He convinced me we should be married. I was not comfortable in that framework. I always fantasize a situation where you could have a big house and you have your wing and he has his wing. And you can meet somewhere in the center from time to time! . . . It seems that in our culture -- it's not just specific to me, I think -- people have a hard time seeing people, to separate them from the roles they expect of them. That's a problem. I think we're meant to meet and appreciate and love individuals as individuals, for their uniqueness, not for what capacity they fulfill. I don't want a commitment to a role. I play roles in my profession.

Now one's life can be arranged in an extended family, a family of friends.

Years ago I realized, in my 20s, you can select your own family. Though these days I think our culture has a lot of issues. . . . We're programmed from the beginning all toward this bigger, better, best. The accumulation of things includes people, slotted in certain roles. We put everyone in boxes and are judgmental and cruel. It's a waste of so much time and energy.

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