Q&AA Mother of an Exclusive: My Chat With 'Chuck's' TV Mom, Linda Hamilton
By Maureen Ryan, AOL.com
- September 20th, 2010
"She is not your ordinary homemaker."
That's Linda Hamilton talking for the first time about her role as Mary Elizabeth Bartowski, matriarch of the spy clan that produced Chuck Bartowski. Viewers will first meet her in 'Chuck's' enjoyable season premiere (8PM ET Monday, NBC)
, which also features guest stars Dolph Lundgren, Harry Dean Stanton and Olivia Munn.
In an exclusive interview, Hamilton talked for the first time about her return to prime time (if you can believe it, coming back to TV made the 'Terminator' and 'Beauty and the Beast' star nervous), and she also discussed what Mama Bartowski's return will mean for her kids, Chuck and Ellie.
Two decades ago, Mary left her kids with no explanation. But don't expect Mama to bake some cookies by way of an apology.
"It ain't all apologies and sentiment, that's for sure," Hamilton said. "She has her own agenda and it just kind of goes crazy from there."
Below, Hamilton talks in detail about her role and her desire to stay with the show as long as they'll have her. (The transcript below, which does not contain spoilers, is edited and slightly condensed. There is some Mildly Spoilery Stuff at the end of the interview
I was there in the Comic-Con audience when they announced that you were going to be Chuck's mom and it was just total pandemonium. It was craziness, people were so excited that you were joining the show. How did you first hear about the role, and how did it come about?Linda Hamilton:
It was an Internet rumor. A fan mentioned it at a convention in Philadelphia several months before I heard from the 'Chuck' [producers] themselves. A fellow said, "Rumor has it that you are going to be on 'Chuck' next season,' and I was like, "Nope. Not this Linda Hamilton."
But I had just met Robbie Duncan McNeill [a 'Chuck' executive producer and director] a few weeks before that. So I thought, "Hmm. I think that sounds like a pretty good match." I had only just heard of 'Chuck,' but I stared investigating and I thought I would be a little proactive. So I called Robbie and I think maybe the fact that I expressed interest might have pushed it over the edge. I think I was on a list at that point. But you know, within a month, I got a meeting with [co-creators and executive producers] Josh [Schwartz] and Chris [Fedak] and it took off. You know, it's funny, I heard the rumor first.MR:
And you made it into a fact. That's so great.LH:
Yeah! So to that fan, by the way, I have to say I'm really sorry, because now it sounds like I was lying to them.MR:
Well, it was one of these things where it was meant to be, I think. It was just fate.LH:
Yeah, I think so too. I'm just so excited by the possibilities.MR:
Well, everything I've heard about the new season is that you are driving it. Your character is really the the lynchpin of season 4. Is that your understanding too -- that she's a big part of the mythology?LH:
Well, I certainly hope to create that. It's almost too much to hope for at this early on -- I've barely even begun to work my charms on everybody, but I am doing whatever I can to pull out all stops to just keep this up. I think it's absolutely wonderful, it's just such a great show to work on and I'm like, "I am you're biggest fan right now." I just love them. [The show] has got a special approach and it's so light on its feet. I would just love to work like this for years to come.MR:
It was exciting to see you in the season 4 premiere. Will it be just scenes of you here and there for a while, and then some episodes where you're very heavily featured? How will that work?LH:
It's going to go like that. Yes. It's a sort of a strong beginning, a bit of a break and then, wow! Just hopefully [we'll] go and run with it all the way to the end. Well, no - hopefully there is not an end!
And I'm not really sure that all of the story lines are worked out ahead of time. So I'm just [thinking] that my job depends on doing a really good job every day and they'll want to keep bringing me back.
That's also just the most wonderful discovery - I've forgotten that in prime-time television you just keep going and going and you don't necessarily know what the outcome is ahead of time. Right?MR:
Yeah, it can be flexible.LH:
Yeah. And they haven't necessarily worked it out, or they're just keeping it all a big secret and maybe they're intending to kill me in two weeks and I just won't know. [laughs] But I'm [approaching it as], in for a penny, in for a pound. And can't wait to see what happens next. I just enjoy that. It makes it very alive when you don't know how it's all going to come out.MR:
Well, what is your take on the character? What have you been told and what do you feel like you want to bring to her?LH:
Well, Mary Bartowski is the absentee mother of Chuck and Ellie and the most that I can really say about her is that ... she is not your ordinary homemaker. [Note from Mo: I've redacted part of this answer. It's in the Mildly Spoilery section below.]MR:
Well you never are, are you?LH:
I guess not, and what is normal? [laughs] So she comes back into Chuck's life with an agenda and you know, she is definitely a strong, forceful [woman] -- definitely a force to be reckoned with. It ain't all apologies and sentiment, that's for sure. She has her own agenda and it just kind of goes crazy from there. But we like crazy.MR:
So, in terms of going crazy, does that mean lots of stunts, lots of physicality? Do you enjoy that, or are you hoping that there isn't just much of the physical stuff?LH:
Well, I try not to have expectations. I'm really a little bit of a latecomer to the show, but I'm game, I'm game for anything, as long as it fits and works within the plot parameters. As long as the tone [fits,] I'm good to go for anything. But there have been some pretty action-filled days. That's all I'm going to say. And I do enjoy that -- having to be so light on one's feet and just sharply focused in these big scenes. I enjoy that. I've missed that.MR:
Were you at all nervous about coming back to prime-time television? It can be a bit of a grind. Were you at all hesitant or did you become a fan of the show and just decide to just plunge in?LH:
I loved the show. It made me laugh out loud. I hadn't been a fan until this all came up and then I scurried to try to catch up, but the fact that it made me laugh out loud said a lot. And, you know, all I want is the grind.MR:
I have just been so absent from television or absent from, you know, prime time. I would love the grind. I'm an empty-nester as of two weeks ago, so this is kind of a wonderful. It's the perfect time for me to get very involved in the show, so I don't sit at home sobbing.
I was actually a little bit intimidated by prime time.MR:
Really? Why would you be?LH:
It's been, I don't know, 20 years or something since I was on prime time. I might be exaggerating a bit, but I stopped doing movies for CBS 12 years ago and I don't know that I've been on prime time since. So, it's like, wow!MR:
Well this is the show to come back with. It can be a lot of fun.LH:
Yeah, it's good. I do feel like it's perfect timing right now. I will do everything I can to remain on this show.MR:
But, you know, Chuck and Ellie, they say that when their mom left, it was the worst day of their lives. Is that kind of a heavy burden for you to bear, for your character, or is it challenging to you?LH:
Well, it's very interesting to walk the line of credibility and tone. I mean, as a mother, [i] would understand how impossible it would be to leave one's children like that. And how impossible not to carry the burden, the guilt, back with you when you see them for the first time. And the power of the mother's imagination for 20 years of [wondering], "Where have those children gone? And what was prom like?" Just imagine the thousands of hours that have been spent contemplating seeing one's children again.
But that's not what this show is about necessarily, so you have to create all of that, and then stuff it down and go and do what the job requires as spy, or as actress. I don't know that there's going to be a lot of room for that, the stuff that we know is really painful and burdensome. But listen, if we can go with the lighter touch with all of this, I really think that's the way to go now. I'm tired of grief, loss and death.MR:
So, grief, loss, death -- unh-uh. "So, yeah, I was a bad mom, but get over it!"MR:
That leads into my next question, which is -- 'Chuck' is a really funny show, and I was wondering if you were enjoying getting to do some comedy? Are you actually getting to do comedy?LH:
Not as much as I would like to, but we're working on that. You know how the show goes. There's always a moment of this and a moment of that. I think it might be a bit early in the game for my moments. Although I would love to start with those right away. It's like, "Well, Chuck got it from somewhere!"MR:
I'm a joker too, but no, we're not playing that right yet. And so if there's the slightest opportunity, yes, I'm working on it, but right now it's just pushing the story and upping the intensity, upping the stakes. The writers are great -- they just do so many throwaway [lines] that are great. So that's what I want. I want a whole bunch of throwaways.MR:
The whole cast is so good at playing different levels and I think that's what's enjoyable about the show -- that there can be a serious scene but with a comedic level, there can be a funny scene with a serious emotional moment. I love the mixture of tones that they're able to build in.LH:
I couldn't agree with you more completely. Yes, and to sort of have it all be so very palatable too. That's a very appealing package, in my opinion. It harkens back to '80's television too, you know, 'Moonlighting,' and [shows with a touch of] a comedy, but also glamour, a lot of things.MR:
Speaking of things from the past, obviously you had this iconic role in the 'Terminator' films. Have they tried to work in references to that yet? Because they love the references on that show.LH:
Well, I know there was one that went missing immediately and I hope it wasn't any statement about me. But it was a moment in an episode where Chuck is following me and I'm sort of hustling through this warehouse and he's like, "Mom, you're still very fit." And I [think], "Now, that has got to be some sort of hidden reference." But then they took it out of the script and I kind of was afraid to ask if they just don't think I'm fit anymore. [laughs]MR:
So at this point in production, are you more intensely involved in the day-to-day of each episode?LH:
Well certainly, they're giving me some great stuff to play. I've worked four days this week and four or five next week. There have been some good busy times.
They're not being half-hearted about it. I think they had to go behind closed doors and figure out some great story line and I'm glad that they're maximizing me. Nothing would be worse than signing up and sort of having them use the name and the fame and not really use the actress. And I want them to use the actress.MR:
Absolutely. We want to see a lot of Mama Bartowski. I think Chuck [Zachary Levi] could go on vacation at this point and it could be you and Sarah [Yvonne Strahovski] and Casey [Adam Baldwin] and that would be totally cool.LH:
Well, it's very cute because I worked a lot last episode and my character on the call sheet was number 14, and this week she's gone up to number 10.MR:
Well, you are heading upward. This is only a good sign.LH:
I'm the heading up that ladder. Can't wait -- some day I'm going to be top of the show. Watch out Chuck!MR:
Yep, seriously, Zac, watch your back. Mama's coming for you. So what has it been like day-to-day, I mean have you just been you know, getting back into the routine?LH:
Yeah, it's been a little nervy, you know, 'cause it's you know, for one, working in L.A. comes with its own reality, which is like getting yourself to set every day, you know, finding maps. I'm learning my computer so I can pull down call sheets and then don't have to have scripts hand-delivered. So I'm sort of playing catch up at home, playing catch up with just the level of energy that is required [when you are] coming in and spending 15 hours a day [on set or in transit].
So, I'm figuring that all out and just working as fast as I can to fit in. I mean, there's not much time for me to rest in the motor home this week. Like, "Oh my God, these mouthfuls of words!" [laughs]
But you know, it only takes a few days to settle in and relax. 'Cause I really feel at home. My very first day was several months ago and I'd never had a first day that felt so not like a first day. It just felt like I was coming home. The job happened rather quickly -- by the time the job was offered and contracted, I think I had six days to get ready. I felt like I was really catching up the first little bit, but now I'm very comfortable.MR:
Well, what's it been like working with Zac and Yvonne and Mr. Baldwin?LH:
I haven't worked with Mr. Baldwin yet. But Zac and Yvonne have been the staples and, you know, they're just so tall and young. [Jokingly] I really hope I don't have to do too many scenes with them. They're both tall and beautiful and young. No, really, they are lovely. We're having a great time.Mildly Spoilery Stuff below:
According to Hamilton, Mary Bartowski "disappeared because she was deep undercover as a spy."
Hamilton also said she had a lot to do in episodes 6 and 7 -- when I spoke to her on Friday, she was starting work on episode 7, which she said would keep her busy for most of this week.
And this was our final exchange:MR:
I know you can't say a lot of specifics about what your character will be doing, but is there a favorite scene or a favorite moment that people should look forward to?LH:
I think Thanksgiving is going to be one of the best shows we've ever done, or seen.MR:
Oh, Thanksgiving with the Bartowskis. I'm in.LH:
It's not your ordinary Thanksgiving dinner.MR:
I can only imagine. I'm going to imagine that Mary does not cook.LH:
Also, here are descriptions of the Sept. 20 and Sept. 27 episodes of 'Chuck' from NBC's press site, as well as a fun but spoilery season 4 video from Zachary Levi and other 'Chuck' actors [CLICK LINK BELOW]