"She haunts me. She haunts me a little bit." Tyne Daly is
speaking about the person she's been embodying on stage on and off
for the last two years - Maria Callas, the opera icon of the
You might remember Daly from her Cagney and Lacey fame or her
Gypsy days on stage, but lately she's been here in London starring
in Masterclass at the Vaudeville night after night.
I chat to her on a cloudy bank holiday morning - "I'm a little
nostalgic," she says. "My kids are leaving and the show's coming to
an end." And when I apologise for intruding on her nostalgic
morning, she breezes, "No, no it's just full disclosure." I'm
stunned; full disclosure to a journalist is like the promise of
fourth base on a first date.
Masterclass is an examination of celebrity and performance, and
how they affect each other, she explains. Maria Callas was a very
talented extremely exacting woman who was top in her field, and
then, because of the course of her life experience, marched into
huge celebrity. Married to Aristotle Onassis she was "the royalty
of celebrity before celebrity was a cheapened entity," Tyne informs
me, perhaps guessing that I'm not quite of a generation that would
know this. "I mean everybody's a celebrity now. You know? You make
a video and you're a celebrity. The saying fifteen minutes of fame
has become about five. She's one of the ones who lasts.
"And she lasts for two reasons - one, because she was a genius in
her field. She was an amazing musician, and a wonderful opera
singer and a wonderful actress. And secondly, she was also a
scandalous person who had a marriage and then a long long affair
with the richest man in the world at that time.
"But she's fascinating, endlessly fascinating," Tyne continues,
utterly enamoured with her subject. "I've read about a dozen
biographies - her mother wrote a book, her sister wrote a book.
Arianna Huffington wrote a book. Oh jeepers." And if I wasn't
buying Callas' significance before I was certainly reaching for my
wallet at that.
What's perhaps even more exciting for Tyne is that this role has
been her London debut - "To make a debut at this stage in the game
is pretty thrilling." She belts out a throaty solid laugh, totally
incongruous with the fact that she's a trained singer, yet somehow
And what of her television days - are they behind her? Tyne finds
there's something wonderful about being with a live audience. She
explains it like this: "When I'm on television, I could be at home
doing the laundry or taking the kids to school or whatever." In
Masterclass she loves how there's no 'fourth wall' between her and
the audience - "they're there!"
But surely, surely, she misses Cagney and Lacey, I implore on
behalf of her TV fans? Her co-star Sharon Gless was in London last
year starring in the West End show, A Round-Heeled Woman and Tyne
was at the closing night in London. "There are a lot of jobs and
you meet a lot of people, but that one..." she trails off. "We
established a really solid partnership and friendship."
Tyne has certainly had a long and productive career - I ask her
whether she can give me a couple of highlights, but it's an
impossible question. "Right now my favouite role is Maria Callas.
In a couple of months my favourite role will be Lady Bracknell" -
her next project is The Importance of Being Earnest in
Massachusetts. Tyne clearly loves her job - and her characters.
"It's my obligation to love whoever I'm playing," she explains.
"You love the murderer, you love the fallen women, you love the
sacrificing mothers, you love the cops, you have to love them all.
So I do love them all. The judgement part you leave out."
I rephrase my question - have any roles been challenging?
"Sure, I played the wife of a Nazi war criminal once on stage," she
states stoicly. "And she was difficult to love, but she was
fascinating. And she was a person." The simplicity with which Tyne
says this is refreshing in its candidness.
"You can't play a category. You have to play a human being," she
continues. "And the more particular you make her and the more
specific she is, the wider her appeal becomes actually, because
more people can relate to someone who's a human being." Actors and
writers, take note.
Tyne describes herself as "anti-categories". Considered by some as
a feminist icon for the strong female roles she often plays, she is
reluctant to label herself. "The powers that be like to keep you in
your category. So they say, if it's a girls' show, it's a feminist
show. That for me cuts out about half the audience."
That isn't to say Tyne doesn't empathise with feminist causes -
she's quick to recognise that "we live in a world that leaves women
out a lot, and at the same time uses them as a very easy cheap
workforce." For the first time during our conversation, her
matter-of-fact voice has a slight edge. "They are unfairly
represented, they are unfairly educated, they are unfairly paid -
so that's a true concern in the world. But in terms of my capacity
as a story teller, which is my trade, I like to tell stories to as
many people as will listen."
And she does just that: in between seasons of Masterclass she
squeezed in a new musical, It Should Have Been You - "to refresh my
spirit," she claims, though if I was working as hard as she was
(she hasn't had two days off in a week for as long as she can
remember) a beach holiday would probably have been my choice of
spirit-freshening. Nonetheless the show went down a treat and will
be revived on Broadway in Autumn, after Tyne stars in The
Importance of Being Earnest as Lady Bracknell.
And will London's stages see Tyne strut her stuff on them again
any time soon? "I have a wise friend who says you must never travel
as if it's the only chance to be there," she says cryptically. "So
I'm pretty sure this is not my only chance." I can almost imagine
her winking at the other end of the line. Stay tuned - we ain't
seen the last of Daly in London yet!