Kathy Bates Reveals Her Toughest Role, Looks Back on Career Ahead of Walk of Fame Honor

When Kathy Bates receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 20, the moment will hold much significance. “It’s a big deal to me,” the Oscar winner admits. “It’s going to be right in front of the TLC Chinese Theatre. I just discovered that and kept asking, ‘Are you sure?’”

Bates adds that this is meaningful to her for several reasons. “I have a photograph from around 1956 with my Aunt Lee, right in front of the theater,” Bates says of the location, which was then known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. “She and my grandmother lived out here and we came often to visit them, driving cross-country from Memphis.” Bates can recall spending the day with her mother’s sister, having tea at Bullock’s department store, and walking around the theater. Her aunt died of breast cancer over 40 years ago, but Bates holds her memory dear. “She was a fantastic lady and I loved her so much. She would have gotten such a kick out of all of this.”

The photo Bates speaks of was actually blown up and used in “Misery,” the 1990 film based on the Stephen King novel in which she played Annie Wilkes, the obsessive “No. 1 fan” of author Paul Sheldon (James Caan). “It was blown up and put over the piano and used as a photo of Annie Wilkes and her mother,” Bates reveals. “And ‘Misery’ actually opened at that same theater.”

And the legacy of “Misery” lives on; a play adaptation of the novel-turned-Rob Reiner-movie opened last year on Broadway, starring Laurie Metcalf and Bruce Willis as Wilkes and Sheldon. Bates sent flowers to both of them on opening night. “I was working and couldn’t get to New York to see it,” she says. “I have long admired Laurie, she’s one of the most talented actresses out there and I would have loved to see her portrayal.”

“Misery” was also responsible for introducing the world to Bates, who was an acclaimed theater actress with a few minor film roles prior to landing Annie Wilkes. Though ostensibly a villain who holds Sheldon captive, Bates managed to make the character three-dimensional – something that she’s shown a skill for. Take her turn on “American Horror Story: Coven,” her first go-around in the Ryan Murphy series, in which she played socialite Marie Delphine LaLaurie, who tortures her slaves. Says executive producer Tim Minear, “She is evil, but oddly sympathetic.” Asked if that was in the writing, he continues, “We definitely wrote it that way and it became more of that after we started seeing her on screen. She’s vile and evil and yet when she’s reduced to being a housemaid and pushed around, because it’s Kathy Bates, you can’t help but feel bad for her.”

Bates won an Emmy for that performance, and has been with “American Horror Story” since, also earning noms for the “Freak Show” and “Hotel” seasons. Minear adds that in person, Bates is anything but villainous. “Kathy Bates is probably exactly what you would think. She’s the kind of gal you want to hang out with. She’s a great gal, a real person, and one of the great, old-school movie stars,” he says. “Actors love her, she’s a serious actor, but on the set she’s approachable and hilarious. She’s also very warm.”

“Kathy Bates is probably exactly what you would think. She’s the kind of gal you want to hang out with.”
Tim Minear

Bates majored in theater at Southern Methodist University, where she says she first “really began to take the craft seriously.” After leaving college, she wasn’t thinking about stardom. “I was just focused on being the best actor I could be.”

Bates worked a lot at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and in New York, with two of her most acclaimed roles being Marsha Norman’s 1983 play “’night Mother” and Terrence McNally’s 1987 Off Broadway hit, “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune.”

Bates received a Tony nomination for “’night Mother” for her performance as Jessie Cates, a woman who reveals to her mother that she is going to commit suicide that evening. She says it remains the most difficult role she’s ever played. Portraying someone bent on committing suicide was difficult to grasp, and it was her father who really gave her insight into such a mindset.

“At that time, my father was about 83 and facing an amputation from diabetes,” she says. “He’d lived a long life and didn’t want to face that. I was about 35 and was giving him all the cliché advice about how he had a long life ahead of him, all that BS. And he said, ‘You know how I feel, you’re doing that play.’ And that really shut me up.”

Bates adds that her father did attempt suicide prior to the operation, but her mother found him. “He never forgave her for reviving him,” she says. “And when I got to working on the play, I internalized a lot of that experience without really understanding where he was. It took a while to understand that people who have made the decision are actually relieved.”
Her first instinct was to play Jessie as morose, starting the play with a big sigh. “Our director, Tom Moore, told me that’s not where she’s at,” Bates recalls. “He said, ‘She’s excited, she’s motivated, she’s going through her list. The last thing she has to do is tell her mother.’ And once I understood that, I really got myself on the track of Jessie Cates.”

Both “’night Mother” and “Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune” were two-handers written by acclaimed playwrights that served as perfect vehicles for Bates’ talent — McNally even wrote the character of Frankie with Bates in mind. And both were made into movies without Bates; Sissy Spacek played Jessie in the 1986 movie of “’night Mother” while Michelle Pfeiffer played Frankie in the 1991 film adaptation, “Frankie and Johnny.”

But it was still theater that led to Bates’ most iconic film role, after she left New York behind for Los Angeles. “My sister lived out here with her husband and my nieces and I thought I’d just come out and see what it was like,” says Bates. She landed a role in the West Coast premiere of Wallace Shawn’s “Aunt Dan and Lemon” at the Mark Taper Forum. “The role I was playing —badly, I might add — was a role Linda Hunt got a lot of attention for. (The character) was a bit of a fanatic.”

Kudos Magnet
Kathy Bates has racked up noms from all the major industry awards, and she’s picked up a few trophies along the way.
13 Emmy noms: Won for “Two and a Half Men” (2012) and “American Horror Story” (2014)
8 SAG Award noms: Won for “The Late Shift” (1997) and “Primary Colors” (1999)
7 Golden Globe noms: Won for “Misery” (1991) and “The Late Shift”
3 Oscar noms: Won for “Misery”

Her co-star Elizabeth McGovern was dating Rob Reiner at the time. “I don’t know how many times Rob came to see that play, but it was a lot. He’d seen my work in New York, but I think this is where he got the idea to use me in ‘Misery.’”

“Misery” changed Bates’ life and career, which has been nonstop since. She’s earned two more Oscar noms for roles in “Primary Colors” and “About Schmidt” and won two Emmys. She’s done heralded arcs on “The Office” and “Six Feet Under” and worked alongside everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (in both “Titanic” and “Revolutionary Road”) to Jessica Tandy (“Fried Green Tomatoes”).

As of Sept. 14, she’s back with the sixth season of “American Horror Story.” “This is my fourth time around and I wish I could tell you more, I really do,” she says with a laugh. “All I can say is it’s a wonderful part, a juicy role, and it’s going to be a fun season.”

Concurs Minear, “I can’t really say anything except that fans of Kathy are going to love this season. All the great aspects of her performances in previous seasons are reprised. There’s a full menu of delicious Kathy Bates hors d’oeuvres and meals to be had.”

Minear adds that Bates has been very involved with creating all her characters. “Madame LaLaurie is based on a real person and she did so much research,” he says. “She comes with suggestions and is a partner in the creation of the character.” When she portrayed bearded lady Ethel in the “Freak Show” season, Minear mentioned that the character was from Baltimore. “She grabbed onto it and created an accent and whole demeanor for the character based on that detail.”

Bates will also headline “Disjointed,” a new comedy from Chuck Lorre and can be seen on the big screen in the upcoming sequel “Bad Santa 2,” in which she plays the mother of her “Primary Colors” co-star Billy Bob Thornton. Again, she can’t reveal much. “I can just say they have a past together and it’s not a happy one,” she says. “But when I got the offer I was so thrilled. I was a huge fan of the first film and I love Billy Bob, he’s created such an indelible character.”

Currently, Bates can be seen on the big screen in Joshua Marston’s “Complete Unknown” with Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon. On Oct. 7, she’ll appear in the film adaptation of the children’s novel “The Great Gilly Hopkins.”

There are several other films set for the next year, including a secretive role in Xavier Dolan’s “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan,” in which she plays the manager of the title character, portrayed by Kit Harington. “There’s not much I can tell you about that, either,” she admits with a laugh. “But Xavier is so talented and the way he composes shots is so beautiful. I feel like that’s all I can say.”

What she can say is that she’s thrilled to find her schedule so packed. “I’m so happy to be busy,” she says. “It’s been an amazing year, and I’m grateful for it.”

Tip Sheet
What: Kathy Bates receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
When: 11:30 a.m. Sept. 20
Where: 6927 Hollywood Blvd.
Web: walkoffame.com

More Film

  • Peter Debruge Variety Best Films of

    Peter Debruge's 10 Best Films of 2017

    When Kathy Bates receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 20, the moment will hold much significance. “It’s a big deal to me,” the Oscar winner admits. “It’s going to be right in front of the TLC Chinese Theatre. I just discovered that and kept asking, ‘Are you sure?’” Bates adds […]

  • Coco

    'Coco' Tops $400 Million at Worldwide Box Office

    When Kathy Bates receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 20, the moment will hold much significance. “It’s a big deal to me,” the Oscar winner admits. “It’s going to be right in front of the TLC Chinese Theatre. I just discovered that and kept asking, ‘Are you sure?’” Bates adds […]

  • Owen Gleiberman Variety Best Films of

    Owen Gleiberman's 10 Best Films of 2017

    When Kathy Bates receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 20, the moment will hold much significance. “It’s a big deal to me,” the Oscar winner admits. “It’s going to be right in front of the TLC Chinese Theatre. I just discovered that and kept asking, ‘Are you sure?’” Bates adds […]

  • Esport BAR conference : Brands &

    Reed Midem Expands Its eSports BAR Event For Third Edition

    When Kathy Bates receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Sept. 20, the moment will hold much significance. “It’s a big deal to me,” the Oscar winner admits. “It’s going to be right in front of the TLC Chinese Theatre. I just discovered that and kept asking, ‘Are you sure?’” Bates adds […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content