Thursday, February 28

In the Limelight: Michelle Forbes

Source: TV Squad

Mysterious. Mesmerizing. Interesting. Dynamic. Compelling. Any and all of these words accurately describe actress Michelle Forbes. She is one of the finest actresses in television, and yet she has maintained a distinct quality that makes her as elusive a performer to come around since Garbo! Intensely private, there's not much known about the Austin, Texas native. (However, I can tell you that she collects clocks -- broken clocks. As she told me, quoting the movie Withnail and I, "Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.")

She's currently making HBO's new drama In Treatment appointment TV, drawing her loyal following to find her latest work as she did in 24, Prison Break, Homicide and Battlestar Galactica. And that doesn't even take into account the millions who first discovered this chameleon when she first burst onto the scene in Guiding Light, and then Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Through all the years, though, Michelle Forbes has continued to defy categorization, refusing to become typecast or trapped by stardom, let alone celebrity. Indeed, you could even say that she's a star in spite of herself.

Michelle Forbes was an instant sensation on Guiding Light in 1987 as Sonni Carrera Lewis. It didn't take long before the powers that be realized she was a cut above the usual neophyte daytime actor. She'd been given a character that was introduced as one thing, a brilliant Venezuelan psychiatrist, who turned out to be impersonating her twin sister, Solita -- or was she? Michelle was playing a good girl who was in fact a vixen, who had good reasons for the evil she did. This was not what 20-year-old Michelle expected to play: "When I got hired, I thought I'd get to wear pretty clothes and talk about who's sleeping with whom. [Instead] we're talking religion, sex, guilt, rejection, loyalty, greed; there are some serious issues here," she said of her role as Sonni/Solita on Guiding Light.

Still, she handled it all brilliantly, and her performance reminded viewers of Bette Davis in her prime. She was nominated for a Daytime Emmy, and GL tried to sign her up for a long-term deal. In a move that would prefigure the rest of her career, Michelle left the soaps after just a couple of years. If she'd wanted to, she could have made a career out of soaps, like Kim Zimmer and Robert Newman, both of whom she played opposite, did. However, Michelle Forbes wanted something more, something different.

In 1991, after guesting on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the producers were so impressed that they created a role for her on the show and in season five, she was introduced as a feisty, Bajoran officer, Ensign Ro Laren. She was a strong character, one who challenged authority, and the fans responded to her immediately. When Paramount greenlighted a spin-off called Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Forbes was offered the chance to take Ro to the space station and become that show's female lead.

Trekkers were astonished that she would turn down the role; was she crazy? No, she wasn't; she simply didn't want to commit to a seven-year contract, which is what she was asked to sign in order to take the role. In her place, Nana Visitor was signed and a new Bajoran character, Kira Nerys, was created. Reflecting on her decision not to do DS9, she told TV Zone Magazine: "There were all sorts of rumors about why I didn't take it, that I was quite arrogant about the whole thing. It wasn't that at all. It was, again, about wanting variety in my career. ...That's not to say I wasn't grateful for the opportunity; I genuinely was. However, I had to make a choice that felt right for me, which was a difficult one, especially as a young actor being offered a steady job."

That quote is 100% accurate. When I knew the actress, her during her time on the soap, she told me that she was not interested in celebrity. She loved acting and the challenge of playing different characters. All the hoopla and stardom was not her thing. A few years later, we met again and she reiterated to me that she didn't regret her choice. In fact, she was more excited that ever about her career and told me she had just finished making a movie with Brad Pitt and David Duchovny called Kalifornia. Clearly, Michelle was doing just fine plotting her own career course.

As an actress, Michelle has handled all kinds of parts. In 1994, for instance, she took to comedy when she appeared on a classic Seinfeld episode, "The Big Salad," as George's girlfriend. And she more than held her own opposite Kevin Spacey and Frank Whaley in the satiric feature Swimming with Sharks.

Dramatically, the actress made notable additions to Homicide: Life on the Street, as M.E. Dr. Juliana Cox, and on the hit series 24, as presidential aide Lynne Kresge. One series that didn't make it was Wonderland, a grim, dark drama set in a mental institution in which she played Dr. Lyla Garrity. The subject matter proved too controversial for ABC.

As a professional actress, Michelle Forbes always seems to be doing interesting work. In 2004, she learned British Sign Language (in just six days!) for a role in the BBC drama, Messiah. She was a semi-regular on Prison Break in 2006, and did a memorable two-parter in Waking the Dead in 2007.

However, it was her characterization at Admiral Helena Cain on Battlestar Galactica starting in 2005 (which she recently reprised in 2007's Razor episode), that's brought her tremendous acclaim. Speaking of Battlestar Galactica's Cain, a tough-minded, ruthless, militaristic hawk, she told the Chicago Tribune, "I think that there is something compelling... about her sense of duty, and her sense of getting the job done at whatever cost. There is comfort in that in difficult times, in times of war. But people like that may be misguided."

Right now, Michelle is appearing as therapist Paul's (Gabriel Byrne) wife, Kate, on HBO's In Treatment. As with so many of her characters, there's nothing simple about Kate and her complicated relationship with Paul makes for fascinating drama.

Fascinating, in fact, may be the perfect word to describe Michelle Forbes. She never fails to be a fascinating presence in whatever endeavor in which she participates. And that, although she may not like to hear it, is why she's a star. Just don't expect her to ever play the same role in the same way. That's not her style. In her own words, she states it clearly: "As an actor, you want as much variety as you can muster up. Otherwise you just keep playing the same chord over and over again."

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