Mind over medium

It looks doubtful that we’ll ever see Tom Cruise starring in his own TV miniseries, or Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a doctor in a Robin Cook-derived made-for. But they probably said the same thing about Meryl Streep before she starred in and executive produced “…first do no harm” on ABC, and Glenn Close before she made “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story” for NBC.

Some actors simply have an effortless way of flitting between the worlds of feature, TV and stage, using the worthiness of the material as their sole guide in determining whether or not to star in a project.

Take Close. A star of bigscreen classics like “The Big Chill” and “Fatal Attraction,” she also played the lead in the stage extravaganza “Sunset Boulevard” and toplined both “Margarethe Cammermeyer” and the recent HBO film “In the Gloaming,” directed by Christopher Reeve.

“It’s the project that draws me in,” Close says. “The material has to be what drives your decisions. It’s unfortunate, though, that we don’t look at it the same way they do in England, where you’re allowed to do what you want without fear of any judgment or censure.”

Close adds that while she has no qualms whatever about what medium a project appears, she admits, “You have to be careful how much TV you do. The appetite of the medium for material is so voracious, and the audience so big, that you can easily get overexposed and make it harder for producers to think of you for other things.”

James Woods has acted in bigscreen projects including “The Onion Field,” “Casino” and “Ghosts of Mississippi” and won Emmys for his TV work in the Hallmark Hall of Fame projects “My Name Is Bill W.” and “Promise.” He says working in TV not only doesn’t stigmatize him but allows him to get more in touch with his socially aware side.

“For example,” he says, “when I did ‘Indictment: The McMartin Trial’ for HBO, my concern was almost as much with the moral, political and social issues involved in the piece as with playing the part itself.”

While Woods maintains that there has otherwise been little synergy between his film and TV careers, the same is not true of Renee Taylor, who says her regular role on “The Nanny” has opened doors — stage doors in particular — that might otherwise have been shut.

“It was being on ‘The Nanny’ that helped get my name over the title of the play I’m doing now on Broadway,” believes Taylor, who is starring with husband Joe Bologna and Nanette Fabray in “Bermuda Avenue Triangle” in New York.

Taylor adds that of the audience for her play, she figures “probably a third comes because of ‘The Nanny.’ ”

There is less of a stigma today connected with an actor agreeing to do television, Close finds, “though there remains some prejudice in the minds of some.” In fact, Close says she’s in the process of developing more projects for TV at the present time.

“I like the speed of TV. It allows you much less time to contemplate your navel,” Close says.

However, if Close had her druthers, she says, she would rather be on stage than pretty much anywhere else.

“I certainly put theater at the top of the heap,” she declares. “That’s where you can really refine your craft. There’s no lighting man, no camera person, no assistants. It’s just you and a stage, naked. You create something different every night with your audience. That’s as pure as performing gets.”

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