Getting To Know Linda Lavin Beloved as Alice, Linda Lavin returns to CBS with the fresh new comedy 9JKL.
Posted on Nov 13, 2017 12:00pm

If she were British, she'd be Dame Linda Lavin, and on either side of the pond, she has cred to burn. Winner of two Golden Globes, a Tony, two Obie Awards, and two Drama Desk Awards—and an inductee of the Theater Hall of Fame—the glam 80-year-old remains an omnipresent critics' darling of New York stages as well as an acclaimed cabaret chanteuse.

STREAM: Full Episodes Of 9JKL On CBS All Access

She debuted 55 years ago on Broadway, where her director, the legendary Harold Prince, became her lifelong mentor. It was her switch to the small screen in 1976 that made the Portland, Maine-born actress a treasured household name, with her titular role as Alice in its nine-year run. Now, with the new comedy 9JKL, Lavin returns to TV as Judy, the quick-witted wife to Elliott Gould and mother of Mark Feuerstein. Alice's "new girl in town" is back!

9JKL stands for three side-by-side New York City apartments where Mr. Feuerstein's out-of-work actor is sandwiched in "K" between his hilariously doting, boundary-free mom as well as his dad, with his brother, sister-in-law, and their new baby on the other side. Having fun?

A great time! What attracted me when I read the pilot script was that I knew I'd have fun. I played Mark Feuerstein's mother on a show [Conrad Bloom] in 1998 and love working with him, so I'm glad to be invited to the party. I love the way Judy loves her son, and because I have such a strong fondness for Mark, it was an easy job to say yes to.

What do you most dig about Judy?

She's loving, positive, funny, smart, emotional, romantic, and has a witty streak of irony. She's had a great life, and she knows it.

Because of that sassy, determined waitress, Alice—who not only made a huge impact on single working women, but also, as you've said, politicized you—you've been a bona fide star for 41 years now. How has Alice shaped you?

I was able to play this beloved character who, in reruns today, now has generations of people who have grown up with her and the issues of her life: Being a single mother with a dream who needs to make a living.

She still represents 80 percent of all blue- and pink-collar women who are still making just over 59 cents to the dollar of what men make. She brought me into the arena of awareness of women's financial issues, health care issues, and all kinds of benefits that working women still struggle for.

She speaks, to this day, for a lot of women and families, and that fills me with gratitude and a real sense of accomplishment.

PHOTOS: See These Shots Of The 9JKL Cast Looking Lovely And Letting Loose

You're calling from the home you share with your husband of 12 years, actor-director-musician-painter Steve Bakunas, in New York's Hudson Valley. Do you still have a pad in Manhattan?

I'll always keep my apartment in New York, because I have good friends there and I work in the city. And my musical director, Billy Stritch [also Liza Minnelli's musical director], lives in the same building, so that's where I rehearse with my band, too.

That's convenient! Like Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, and Betty White—who all remain vital entertainers—do you plan on being one of those ladies who just keeps trucking with her career?

I'm always happy to see women of age working in a field that I've chosen to be in. But I don't throw myself into the future as much as I live in the moment. And I don't compare myself to anybody else. That doesn't make sense to me.

But as long as I want to work and as long as it's fun, then I will continue to work, absolutely. I'm in good health, I do what I want to do when I want to do it, and it's all working for me in a way that's doable and gracious and not an overload.

SUBSCRIBE: For More Fascinating Celebrity Interviews And Profiles, Subscribe To Watch!

Right on. So when you look back on your glorious career, what do you see?

I feel extremely grateful for the opportunities I've had and the choices I've made. It wasn't all a trajectory up to the sky—there were a lot of left and right turns and, sometimes, extreme disappointments.

But there's a resilience and persistence I have, and for that I'm grateful, too. I've been lucky and challenged and had a great career expanding my abilities and my perception of the human condition. That's something I really wanted to do, and that continues. I've been blessed!

By Brantley Bardin | Originally published in Watch! Magazine, November-December 2017.

Photography by Cliff Lipson/CBS.

Watch all-new episodes of 9JKL on Mondays at 8:30/7:30c on CBS and CBS All Access.