She’s in a State of Grace
March 07, 2001, Entertainment Tonight
DINAH MANOFF’s nest is anything but empty with a new TV movie, “The Amati Girls,” a new FOX Family TV series, “State of Grace,” and raising her son DASHIELL.
ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT: I imagine after having a seven-year run on “Empty Nest,” plus all the work you’ve had since that, gives you some financial security. So were you looking to go back into a series because you missed being a part of one, or did “State of Grace” come along and you said, “I can do this for seven years”?
DINAH MANOFF: Well, strangely enough, I’m working on the exact same sound stage on which I did “Empty Nest” for seven years. “State of Grace” is shooting on Stage Four at Renmar, which is where I shot “Empty Nest,” which is just so weird. There are a lot of sound stages I could be on.
DINAH: I was looking to do something that challenged me and when I read “State of Grace,” I just said, “I have to play this woman. I mean, I really want to be her. She’s mine.” So, I went after it. I auditioned for it.
ET: She’s a little neurotic.
DINAH: Uh-huh. Well, but she’s not like my character in “Empty Nest” in any way.
ET: Oh, no. Totally not.
DINAH: Except for neurosis, but that may be just me bleeding into all my characters. I’m not sure that that’s the character’s fault. (laughs)
ET: (laughs) What I enjoyed about “State of Grace” is that it’s a comedy, but it’s not too sitcom-y. So, how different is the process for you as an actress to shoot something that doesn’t have a live audience but is still a half-hour comedy?
DINAH: It’s a relief to me. It’s so much more of a relaxed process not having to be on, not having to perform, getting to do it over again if you’re not happy with the take. And finding the story’s rhythm along the way rather than being pumped up to that sitcom automatic rapid fire kind of rhythm that’s required when you’re doing four camera.
ET: Does that mean there are some days you work, and some days you don’t, instead of having to go in five straight days?
DINAH: Yeah. There are some weeks when I only do three days.
ET: So, the lighter schedule really helps you to be a mom too?
DINAH: Yes. This was like the ultimate schedule for being able to be home with my son, Dashiell. Dashiell’s just turning four next month, so he still requires a lot of me. And with “State of Grace,” I’m actually home more than I am at work, which is a miracle.
ET: After HAMMETT?
DINAH: Yes. After Hammett. That’s right.
ET: I’m sure a lot people will compare “State of Grace” to “The Wonder Years” in the coming-of-age aspect and the voice over narration. But I also see it as a fish-out-of-water show with a Jewish family in North Carolina. Do you think that aspect will be explored, or do you think that’s just sort of a set up for the humor?
DINAH: Well, the fish-out-of-water aspect is the comedy of the show — for me, at least. Everything that I do on this show is about me feeling like I’m on another planet. As far as “The Wonder Years” go, the only thing we have in common with “The Wonder Years” is that it’s a narrative in flashback. This is a story about two girls coming of age. That hasn’t been done on television, and it’s very timely to do a show about young women — adolescent girls — finding themselves. And that’s really the heart of the piece. The rest of it is really the premise.
ET: Evelyn, your character in “State of Grace,” and Denise in “The Amati Girls” are so different. We talked a little bit about why you were attracted to playing Evelyn. What was it about Denise that you liked?
DINAH: Well, I wanted to work with ANNIE DeSALVO, who’s the writer/producer of “The Amati Girls.” I felt that Denise was really the character who was most autobiographical for her. I liked Annie and I kind of liked the idea of expressing her voice. What I liked about Denise was that she was bumbling through life, which is how I feel all the time. Denise was just bumping into walls, making mistakes, being awkward and picking herself up. Also, I was thrilled that MARK HARMON was going to play my boyfriend because you know, who wouldn’t be?
DINAH: And the rest of the cast. When I found out that MERCEDES RUEHL was doing it ? I think it had all the elements that make an actor want to get up and go to work.
ET: So, were you cast before your mother?
DINAH: Oh, yeah. In this case I was. (laughs)
ET: So, did the producers decide, “This is a great chance to have LEE GRANT come in because they’re related.?”
DINAH:You know, I have no idea how that happened. I just know one day after I’d auditioned — I can’t remember if I’d already gotten the job or not — my mother’s agent called the house to ask me about the project. And he said, “Well, you know, there’s feelers out for Lee to do this. What do you think?” I said, “Gee, I think that would be great.” So she came from New York, stayed with me and we got to go to work and hang out together a lot. It was really fun.
ET: I think of your mom as a pioneer.
DINAH: Yeah. Me, too.
ET: Is it really hard to follow in those footsteps?
DINAH: No, it’s much easier. Because any time you have somebody who has gone before and can share their experience, strength and hope with you, it makes life much easier. I have the benefit of all her experience.
ET: A lot of second generation kids seem to get into trouble, but we’ve never heard negative press about you. What do you think it was about your life that helped you to avoid that and go on to have a successful career?
DINAH: (laughs) Why did you never hear negative press about me? Because I was lucky! There was certainly a lot to tell. I probably just made my mistakes more quietly.
ET: You lost your father when you were very young. And recently RICHARD MULLIGAN died. Did his death feel like you were losing your father again?
DINAH: Absolutely. It felt completely like losing my father, yes. I had a very, very close and wonderful relationship with Richard. For the seven years that I was on “Empty Nest,” I felt very secure in his love. Not just for me but for the whole cast. Richard was very generous with his heart and I was very connected to him. It was a very, very painful loss. It was very much like losing my father.
Empty Nest Alum Returns
Empty Nest star Dinah Manoff – who played angsty Carol on The Golden Girls spinoff – is quietly making a comeback. Now she’s Evelyn Rayburn, a purse-clutching Jewish mom on Fox Family’s charming new dramedy, State of Grace (airing Mondays at 9 pm/ET), which debuted last week to nifty ratings.
Set in 1965 North Carolina, the series concerns a Jewish family’s ties with a wealthy Southern brood via the friendship of two little girls. And while Manoff’s alter ego is a fish out of water, the actress feels quite at home. “There are so few roles for Jewish women on TV,” she tells TV Guide Online. “I’ve spent my career trying to pass as a non-Jew, because in order to work you have to be more generic American. But this speaks to my heart about people I know.”
Especially refreshing, Manoff says, is not being “consigned to repeat behavior” – a sitcom trap she fell into on Empty Nest. “Though playing Carol was a lot of fun,” she smiles, “I wasn’t living in the healthier parts of myself. So I would really have to shake her off after a day’s work, since I’m a more grounded person than desperate, self-obsessed Carol ever was.”
The Nester’s feathers were really ruffled when co-star Kristy McNichol – who played Carol’s sparring sis, Barbara – left the show to fight manic depression. “I love Kristy,” Manoff says. “I felt very protective of her and I didn’t feel there was any scandal in it. There were medical reasons why she left. It was a shame for us because we missed her – and the show suffered for it. Without her as a foil, it never really sparked for me again.”
Today, Manoff still misses TV dad Richard Mulligan, who died of cancer last year. “Richard was a very, very private man,” she recalls. “So I felt very privileged to have shared seven years of intimate time, working closely with him. He was the most gracious professional and a great man.”
– Daniel R. Coleridge