Holland Taylor plays Texas’ colorful Governor Ann Richards on PBS

One-woman show was written by star Holland Taylor

Holland Taylor stars in “Ann,” airing as part of “Great Performances” Friday on PBS (check local listings).

Many people considered former Texas Governor Ann Richards quite a character … and she has been that even more literally for Holland Taylor.

The Emmy-winning veteran of such series as “Two and a Half Men” and “The Practice” developed a one-woman show not only as its star but also its writer, conveying Richards’ thoughts and personality through excerpts from the late, lively politician’s speeches and phone calls. Taylor brings the play to PBS with the “Great Performances” presentation of “Ann” Friday, June 19 (check local listings), appropriately recorded in Texas (Austin, specifically) and airing as part of public television’s all-summer salute to female trailblazers.

“I met her once,” Taylor reports of Richards, the Democrat who led Texas in the early-to-mid-1990s. “I had, actually, a private lunch with her and one other person — and I fell in love with her, but I was already in love with her from her persona in our culture, because she had been around by then quite a while.  And I think that knowledge of her is what really fueled my desire to write the play. I felt she was a very valuable, necessary hero in our culture, and that’s why I wrote it.  And I researched it, (with) deep immersion, for three years before I put pen to paper.”

Still, Taylor admits “Ann” didn’t emerge from her keyboard fully formed: “It took about seven productions of the play, before New York (where Taylor earned a Tony Award nomination for the play), before I felt I was doing it halfway well. I’m not a particularly good mimic, and I went to somebody who tried to train me to speak that Central Texas twang.” Philadelphia native Taylor adds that she hasn’t wanted to see other actresses’ stagings of “Ann,” though she’s “glad that the play is being done.”

Richards’ innate spirit gave Taylor a lot to work with as both writer and actress. “She was always the life of any party,” recalls Taylor. “She was a convivial person who wanted to be amongst people. In fact, she even said, ‘I feed off of people. People give me energy.’ She felt kind of morose by herself… and when she (began) that enormous role of governor, and she was so loved in Texas because she did such good (there), she could say anything to anyone anywhere and it was charm itself.”

The significant other of fellow actress Sarah Paulson (“American Horror Story”), Taylor notes that Richards was “a liberal” and “a progressive politician,” yet she maintains that “Ann” ultimately is not “a political play. It’s like if there would be a play about Amelia Earhart. There would be flying in it, but it wouldn’t be about aviation.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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