Back in 2012, Kathy Bates lit up a cigar, spat out some salty zingers and won an Emmy for her guest role as the ghost of Charlie Harper in Two and a Half Men, the CBS sitcom co-created by Chuck Lorre.
Now she’s lighting up again – only this time it’s a reefer – as Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, the owner of a Southern California medical marijuana dispensary in Disjointed, Lorre’s new Netflix comedy.
Created with David Javerbaum, a former late-night writer for Jon Stewart and James Corden, Disjointed pits Ruth’s tie-dyed activism against the business acumen of her son, Travis (Aaron Moten), a newly minted MBA whose father is a Black Panther turned corporate lawyer for Big Pharma. Ruth wants to rail against The Man; Travis wants to grow their shop into the Walmart of cannabis.
Why would an Oscar-winning actress with four seasons of Ryan Murphy’s FX anthology American Horror Story on her résumé jump a prestige ship for a streaming sitcom? “David is so talented and Chuck has an amazing track record, so I decided to roll the dice with them,” Bates, 69, says from Los Angeles. “I’m not stabbing or slicing anybody up. But there’s an intensity being in front of a live audience again that’s so much fun.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: So, do you smoke pot?
A: Yeah, I do. I’ve had a prescription for some time for chronic pain. I’ve really become a believer. I find it just as, if not more, effective than other pain relief. Originally, when I was going through breast cancer, my oncologist prescribed some, because my recovery was painful and the marijuana was a tremendous help. And now they have vape pens, which are a lot less caustic in terms of smoke. And since you can control the amount of your intake, you can smoke and be functional during the day – although I don’t smoke when I work. That to me is unprofessional.
Q: And you support marijuana legalisation?
A: I do and even more so now that I’ve become more educated about what its properties are. And you see how it’s helping people like the partner of our cannabis consultant, who has cerebral palsy, or the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition, a group of football players I met who were suffering from different head injuries and it helped them tremendously.
Q: In a WebMD article, you spoke about your double mastectomy in 2012 and about “going flat”...
A: Breast cancer runs in my family, and there was something suspicious in my right breast and I thought, you know, just make mine a double. I struggled for a long time with the prosthetics and the heaviness of the bra and the heat. I thought, why am I wearing false breasts when I don’t have breasts? I’m not saying every woman needs to do this, but at my age, what’s the big deal? I’ve had very, very heavy breasts all my life, so quite frankly it was nice not to have much of that. There is a silver lining: I can lie on my stomach when I’m getting a massage.
Q: You aren’t doing ‘American Horror Story’ this season, but you’ve credited Ryan Murphy with reviving your career. Can you explain?
A: At the end of the second season of Harry’s Law, we were cancelled because they said our viewership was too old, and it was a real kick in the gut. Shortly after that, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I felt that, well, maybe I’m done here. One of the worst things you can be in Hollywood is old. Ageism is alive and well. But my friend Jessica Lange had done the first season of American Horror Story, and I said, “Boy, I’d love to meet with Ryan.” And so she arranged for that, and he pitched the character of Delphine LaLaurie to me – and it was spring’s awaking. This little kid inside me that loves to dress up and pretend, that I thought was done for, just came to life again. It gave me confidence. And I owe that to Ryan.
I’ve always felt that if you just were left to your own devices to mature and grow as an artist, it’s like the richness of wine over the years. And that should be appreciated and celebrated in a business that is about art. But the art and commerce butt heads instead of supporting one another. It’s a shame and a waste. Because even at our age we’re continuing to evolve and be inspired by other actors. And when you see the young ones who have that power, you go, “Ah yes, now I can begin to let go a little bit.”
Q: Are you ready to let go?
A: I feel I went through a stormy sea and now I’ve pulled into a beautiful harbour, and I want to be here for a while.
‘Disjointed’ Season 1 is on Netflix
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