Holland Taylor (‘The Chair’): ‘I felt like a bad child’ playing a foul-mouthed Chaucer scholar [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I felt like a bad child,” declares Holland Taylor about playing Joan Hambling, the foul-mouthed Chaucer scholar on Netflix’s “The Chair.” The ensemble comedy stars Sandra Oh as the chairperson of a university English department balancing the egos and idiosyncrasies of her fellow professors. Along with Taylor, the series also stars Bob Balaban, David Morse and Jay Duplass. In our exclusive video interview (watch above), the Emmy-winning actress talks about the freedom she found in playing Joan and the connection between scholarship and acting.

Taylor initially responded to the liberating aspect of playing a woman who says what she thinks and gives little thought to her wardrobe and makeup. “Her filter is faulty,” argues Taylor. “So I just played this faulty filtered person who didn’t care at all about her appearance. And I, as an actor, was liberated from being worried about that.”

The role of Joan also gave Taylor an appreciation for the work involved in literary scholarship as well as a sense of empathy for how that scholarship might be less respected in today’s academic settings. Taylor describes imagining a student ending up in Joan’s course without having any interest in the works of Chaucer. “You’re going to look out at a bunch of dead looking eyes of people glancing down at their phone,” she says. “I did have an awareness of how hard that would be for someone at 70 who had gone into that field when scholarship was respected.”

Taylor also sees significance in the way the show treats older professionals, particularly women. The actress says that there is a direct parallels between the show’s depiction of older academics and the way older actors are sometimes treated. “I was always a character actress,” she says. “I think the actors who are really challenged are the ones who were great beauties and great leading ladies and great megastars. They have to adjust not only to an industry, but a society that definitely discards them.”

“The Chair” was filmed during the height of the pandemic, something that Taylor says definitely impacted production. The actress describes staying in a hotel that served no food, resulting in Taylor and Balaban walking the freezing streets in search of dinner. “It was very hard, but I will tell you — and this is something I’ve always known is true,” she says. “When you’re actually doing the work, all of that goes away. The escape from the fears and the odd malaise that come over me because of this pandemic would go away when I was at work because the work was so stimulating and fun and I had a lot of friends who were part of it.”

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