Marcia Gay Harden is known as a thief. In the best kind of way. The Academy Award winner seems to steal every scene she is in, whether she’s guest starring on Apple TV’s The Morning Show (earning an Emmy nomination); navigating a broken marriage on Netflix’s Uncoupled, or being a fierce momma bear in the recent movie, Gigi & Nate.
But she’s also been called an angel. That was from Jim Belushi, who played Harden’s husband recently in Gigi & Nate.
“She’s an angel, not only as a person, but as an actress. She has such depth and understanding and when I’m standing with her on screen, I’m lost in her eyes. When [filmmaker] Nick Hamm says ‘cut’ it’s jarring, because I’ve gone into this world with her. What a joy it is to work with her.”
Marcia Gay Harden: Boss Mama
In addition to narrating the science fiction story from Audible, “Upgrade Soul,” Harden is now also starring on the new CBS/Paramount Plus comedy/drama series, So Help Me Todd, where she plays Margaret, a lawyer who hires her son (played by Skylar Astin) to work for her law firm as in-house investigator, solving cases while dealing with their complex relationship.
I think part of her journey is that she has to learn to see him for who he is and let him be who he is.
The characters are based on real life; creator/executive producer Scott Prendergast, crafted the series based on his own life, where he helped his mom track down her wayward ex-husband, who suddenly had disappeared.
“My mother every day is calling and asking me, ‘Well, you know what Marcia is wearing today?’ ‘How is Marcia doing her hair?’ My mother is so thrilled to be played by Marcia!” Prendergast said.
Harden is enjoying working with the mother/son storyline dynamics.
“I’m learning what I want him to do. I think that Todd, as Skylar and I have chatted about it a bit and as Scott has written, I wouldn’t say a ne’er-do-well, because I think he means super, super well. I think he’s a little bit ADHD. Sometimes I’ve wondered if he was a little spectrum. But what Margaret really wants him to do is be responsible. And so they have this whole wonderful battle between the millennials and my generation, where those ideas of responsibility and the ideas of how you show up in society aren’t necessarily reflected in the new generation.”
She continued: “And so Margaret’s really fighting for him to pay his bills, get out of bed, go to work in the morning. And the good thing is, he is. He’s doing all those things. I think part of her journey is that she has to learn to see him for who he is and let him be who he is…love always wins.”
Learning Tolerance, On Set and Off
While Prendergast pointed out that Marcia and Skylar could “make the phone book sound funny,” with their banter, in each episode, showrunner/executive producer Elizabeth Klaviter strives to balance both the comedic moments with the drama of solving cases.
I say to my kids, `Look. If you fall in love with a giraffe, just bring the giraffe home for Thanksgiving. That’s all I care about.
“I think Skylar and Marcia both, and the entire cast, are great at really finding a way to ground and root the humor in a natural and organic performance, where we believe that the characters care,” Klaviter says. “We believe that the characters are invested. We believe that the characters are fighting for truth. And at the same time, we get to enjoy their expert and almost lyrical, rhythmic comedy and also their extraordinary physical comedy that pays homage to a different generation or a different era of television mysteries.”
Added Harden: “I don’t think it’s so unusual that we would be doing comedy and drama. Like, if you look at Ted Lasso, it’s really, really, really funny and it’s goofy at times and it’s silly at times, but it also always makes you cry. It always pulls at your heartstrings. It’s also serious drama. So this feels like it’s in a really great genre to me that we’re all so familiar with.”
Off camera, Harden is the mom of Eulala and twins, Hudson and Julitta, and considers herself a bit more laid back than her CBS character.
“I’m fairly strict, but I’ve learned over the years to just be tolerant,” she acknowledged. “As the kids grow up, they blossom into who they are, and I think it’s a lesson that Margaret needs to learn. I say to my kids, ‘Look. If you fall in love with a giraffe, just bring the giraffe home for Thanksgiving. That’s all I care about.’ I just care about family. That’s the kind of mom I am.”