Meredith Baxter Takes on Hollywood
By Stacy Lambe
“We’re fucking actors! What do they think?” Meredith Baxter exclaims as she discusses producers being afraid to approach Susan Sarandon to star in Tammy.
When it comes to Hollywood, the 67-year-old actress, who rose to prominence in the late-‘80s as Elyse Keaton on Family Ties (a.k.a. Michael J. Fox's liberal mom), thinks the whole industry is shortsighted. While there has been a long issue of actresses of a certain age being unable to find work, there’s a new perspective being marginalized on TV — the gay perspective of the AARP generation.
While Baxter acknowledges her role as "Grandma Joan" on MTV's new series, Finding Carter — premiering on July 8 — is marginal (“It’s more of a peripheral character”), she points to Vicious, starring Ian McKellen and Derek Jocabi as an elderly gay couple who have been together for 49 years, as an example to follow.
“It’s just about writers and producers to have the temerity to go out there and put them on the screen! I know that people will follow. And you know, the truth is, if their writing is good, it doesn’t matter how old we are, whether we’re gay or straight, it doesn’t matter. The audience will come. And it’s an opportunity to give more visibility to people who have been marginalized before.”
Oh how the times have changed. When Baxter was a staple on TV, there was a time she couldn’t find a co-star to play a pedophile because none of the actors the studio approached wanted to be perceived as homosexual, although that wasn't the sexuality of the character. In the three decades since, however, Hollywood has embraced “playing gay,” according to Baxter, even though it hasn’t quite addressed all the issues.
“Homophobia is being erased a little bit but there’s a real tenacity with the ages that is just, that is just there,” she says.
While Baxter may not see herself represented as an older woman — or an elderly lesbian — on TV, she is providing a voice to those of her generation. In the five years since Baxter came out at the age of 62, the actress has found herself becoming the representative for "late-bloomers."
“When I wrote my book [Untied], some of the most touching responses I got were from women who were saying, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, that’s my story,’” Baxter explains. “And that was stunning for me—because I felt so much shame that it took me so long [to come out].”
The shame has since washed away as she's taken on more of an advocacy role, speaking for the Human Rights Campaign, working with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and getting involved in state marriage ban cases. Baxter says she doesn't subscribe to the celebrity tendency to take a political stand and push an agenda—and stops before she abuses her celebrity status in the name of a political position. But at the same time, she doesn’t view gay rights as a political position.
“This is not just a political point of view. This is my mind — my folks and my children and the lives of so many people who want to get married. And the safety and welfare: This is not something to be slapped aside. So I like very much being part of this."