Grandes Dames

As a new actress tackles the lead role in Ann, Holland Taylor Reflects on the Late Texas Governor

by Dorothy Guerrero
Photographs by Claire Schaper
Holland Taylor’s Ann

In March 2013, Ann, written by and starring Emmy-winning actress Holland Taylor, opened on Broadway. From that point on, the memory of the sassy, idealistic and hard – scrabble Texas governor was forever linked to the actress from Philadelphia who had poured herself into the role in her late 60s.

Six years later, the play has been produced in cities across the country with actresses eager to step into those sensible heels. Recently, I sat down with Taylor and we spoke about Governor Richards’ place in our collective memory and the style that made her unforgettable.

Dorothy Guerrero: Can you walk me through your relationship with Ann Richards? How did you came to write a play about her?

Holland Taylor: Well, I met her once with Liz Smith, who was her dear friend and another great Texan. She meant a lot to me as an American icon while she lived, but when she died, I was just undone. My mournful feelings persisted for so long, I thought it was unusual. What’s going on? You didn’t really know her. Why are you so upset? And I just realized that she symbolized something so important. She was a critical voice in American culture, and I couldn’t bear that she had left it.

It wasn’t so much that I wanted to play a part in preserving that voice. It’s that I wanted to do something creative with my feelings.

Guerrero spoke with Taylor in her room at Austin’s Four Seasons Hotel, a place where she spent hours and hours writing the play and meeting with potential investors.

DG: What do you have in common with her?

HT: I don’t know that I have anything in common with her. I don’t feel any special right to portray her. I don’t feel I have anything that is personally in me that qualifies me, but I do feel that I was somehow called. The idea for the play really took over like wildfire, because once I started researching, I was completely willing to submerge my life into it, and I did that for three years before I set pen to paper. I only started writing because I thought, Jesus, I’d better get going with this so I’ll still be able to perform it.

DG: Has the play changed a lot over the years, with different actresses in the role?

HT: About 10 actresses have already played her, in smaller theaters over the country. Every actress brings her own particular flavor to her Ann, but the play is what holds the shape of this creation, and the play does stand alone, on its own very well. This play is going to take its place in the library of plays about great heroes. She’s a great romantic hero, really. It’s not so much a biography. It is really a visitation with her.

DG: What excites you about Libby Villari’s performance in ZACH Theatre’s latest production?

HT: They had been in talks with a number of actors to do it. The way these things happen, people’s schedules conflict, this plan falls apart, that plan falls apart, and it was fairly close to the time where they had to go to production. It turns out, right under their own noses was this wonderful Libby Villari, who really tore a page right out of Ann Richards’ playbook. She had created productions of it in churches and town halls as a fundraiser for various political candidates—Beto O’Rourke among them. She raised a lot of money for candidates by doing this play. It is burdensome, difficult, backbreaking work to put this play out. When I heard that she was doing it fast for candidates, I thought: That’s the woman Ann Richards would love. It turned out perfectly, and right when the ZACH needed someone, there she was.

DG: Have you given her any advice?

HT: Oh my God, yes. I actually talked to quite a few people who would play Ann. Because they actually need some background material. There’s a center section in the play, sort of the jewel of the play, which is when we see an hour in the life of the governor in her office. You see her in action, and there are about 25 people that she talks to. I always talked to the actresses about those individual people, what the relationship was with them, what the issues were that are discussed, so that they have some more background.

DG: I often wonder about what Richards would think of 2019. What do you think she would say?

HT: This is a woman who lived well and lived responsibly, and participated in her world. I think unlike me, who wants to crawl back into bed at what’s happening in America, she was a fighter and she was positive. I know her pretty well, but that’s beyond anybody to really know exactly what she would say at this time. She had that moral strength, that integrity, that foundation to speak out in a ringing way about what was happening. Eventually, in this period, somebody is gonna have to speak at such a level that the government takes action, and I hope that’s what happens.

DG: What did you discover in your research about her personal style?

HT: First of all, she was sensible about her hair. Her hairdresser is Gail Huitt, and she did Ann’s hair forever. Ann decided, and I think Gail encouraged her, to get one look and stick with it. Because her hair wasn’t easy, she had to really do it. Can you imagine Ann with any other hairstyle?

DG: Absolutely not.

HT: Neither could she, so she stayed with that one thing, and they maintained that all of her life. With clothing, she always had to have help as governor, because she wasn’t exactly spending a lot of time shopping. She had colorful clothes, and she had clothes that sometimes had a little bit of a military-on-parade style. Little bit of the leadership look in some of those big jackets, and she wore big jewelry and big earrings and big, colorful clothing. She was a very smart dresser. She sometimes wore things that were quite witty, like, a chrome-yellow silk blouse with a black-and-white checked jacket. I thought, that is chic.

DG: Do you think her style has informed anyone coming up, or has power dressing changed?

HT: People don’t dress quite as strikingly as Ann did. I think it’s more relaxed clothing. But Elizabeth Warren always wears a brightly colored jacket. I think they all have to find their own way.

DG: That’s so true. What about your personal style philosophy?

HT: It’s very interesting, when people put on an item of clothing, they go yes or they go no. For my part, I don’t look good in anything fad-y. I always look ridiculous if I’m wearing something of the moment. I look ridiculous if I’m wearing something overtly frothy or frilly. It’s not my style. I’m extremely classic. I have clothes for 20 years because I don’t buy clothes a lot. I like to get very good things and keep them forever.

I might have Armani suits from forever. I have old Saint Laurent things. I have a Chanel jacket from long ago. I just wear the same things. I don’t tire of those. I also buy in a pallet. I buy a lot of pale clothes to mix and match them all the time. Grays, beiges and greiges, and blues. Pale, pale blues and pale creams and whites. Everything goes with everything. I don’t know how old these clothes are [she motions to her immaculate cream suit] — 15 years? Probably.

DG: Do you have any thoughts on Texas style, or Austin style, and how it’s changed?

HT: Well, Austin is just everything. It’s one of the greatest cities I’ve ever been in. It’s the most easygoing. I really love Texas, and I didn’t experience Texas until I started to do this work. But I’ve been amazingly welcomed by Texas. It’s been a little bit of a mystery to me, why this Yankee gal would have the extraordinary privilege of creating work about this favorite daughter of Texas. It makes me think there’s someone upstairs who’s orchestrating it.

DG: Someone in particular?

HT: Someone in particular.

 

Holland Taylor’s Ann, starring Libby Villari, runs through September 8 at ZACH Theatre.


Read More From the Style Issue | September 2019


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