The Sassy Jill Taylor
"HOME IMPROVEMENT'S" PATRICIA RICHARDSON DOING THINGS HER OWN WAY.
A forthright Texan with a tart tongue and a ready smile, Patricia Richardson is all aflutter at the moment in her dressing room in Stage 4 at Disney.
She's heading into the week-off part of "Home Improvement's" three-weeks-on, one-week-off schedule. With her three children, she's taking a break in Mexico, but her passport has gone missing. "Would the border guards let me pass if they recognize me?" she wonders. But she decides she'd better not chance it. Her assistant is dispatched to look again at home.
"This has been an intense year, with some heavy Jill episodes," she says, referring to her character, Tim Allen's stand-up-for-herself wife. "It's been six years; I'm tired; I'm building a new house; I've got three demanding kids--I need a break!"
Richardson likes to call her show "Man Improvement," feeling that it does a public service in that regard. "Tim Taylor seems like an idiot macho guy," she says, "but look at the difference between what he says and what he does. He's a loving father and husband. Family is the basket he's put all his eggs into. That idiot macho stuff--the show is just sending it up."
As for Tim Allen, she credits him with "keeping everything going. Tim feels the obligation to make the day go easier for everyone, even under intense pressure. He's a non-confrontational person. I'm more confrontational, and his way is better."
Despite six successful years on the show, which aired its season finale Tuesday night, and the assurance of at least several more profitable seasons, Richardson remains so self-critical that she often can't watch herself. Sometimes it's herself, sometimes it's Jill Taylor, that she can't watch. "Every week is a struggle," she says of the hard slog that making a top sitcom entails. It's a struggle that has brought her two Emmy nominations. "Because we all care so much, we rewrite daily and block extensively all week instead of just standing there, reading the script and finishing in four days.
"Sometimes I think if I ever hear of the Taylor family again I'll go out of my mind. Most of the time, though, I compare the job to a long run in the theater--a really, really long run. It is the same character and it is the same kinds of situations week after week. But it's also a different one-act play every week.
"And it's sequential because of the children growing up. That keeps us in touch with reality, and we can have shows about sex and drugs. In a way, the show is a serial. Now Jill is getting her degree and that's affecting Tim. He's threatened that I'm more educated. We may have some shows where he has a little midlife malaise."
Richardson's own home life is less traditional than that of the unshakably married TV Taylors. She and ex-husband Ray Becker, who divorced in 1995 after 13 years of marriage, have joint custody of Henry, 12, and twins Roxanne and Joseph, 6.
"I have the children Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and my ex has them Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I see them when he has them and he sees them when I have them. His house and my house are within walking distance of each other and school.
"We get along as co-parents because we have an amicable divorce. It does exist! It's easier to say that two years after the fact, of course. Maybe we were lucky that we broke up before it got so ugly that we couldn't co-parent.
"I see a lot of divorces where (the couple) can't speak to each other. They have to meet separately with their kids' teachers. To my ex-husband's credit, he's done a great job of focusing on the kids being the priority."
Becker has remarried "to a wonderful woman," Richardson says. "I, however, am not remarried to a wonderful man. I am not remarried. I'm not even dating.
"I've been 16 years with someone, so it's very hard to get back in the habit of looking for someone. The fact is that I don't need anyone. I live here on this sound stage and at home. I don't go anywhere else. I don't go to openings. I'm never in situations where I'd meet someone. One of these days I'll figure out a way to do that, maybe. When I'm ready."
Anyone willing to take the 45-ish Richardson onboard would have to love that tongue of hers. She admits, "It used to get me in trouble." She was a Navy brat who grew up traveling, from her birth state of Maryland to high school and college in Texas. "As a kid I was . . . provocative. It took me awhile to learn not to just blurt out things that might be upsetting. I'm still awkward.
"But it's difficult to be a woman in Hollywood. My first couple of years here, I was very aware of how much more sexist it is than the Broadway theater . Here, it's more male-run, so it's all about women's bedability. When I hear stories about an actress who's `difficult,' I don't accept them at face value because I know that what we're given to do often isn't worth doing."
Richardson's views, her family obligations and her success on "Home Improvement" combine to keep her away from the career in features she's clearly capable of. In June she appears with Peter Fonda in Victor Nunez's "Ulee's Gold," an independent film "about the resilience of the American family," she says. "Unlike so many family stories, there isn't a cliche in it."
Pre-"Ulee," her filmography consists of "Lost Angels" and "In Country," plus such recent TV movies as "Sophie and the Moonhanger" on Lifetime and the CBS mini-series "Undue Influence."
"I'm realistic," she says. "I'm a sitcom actress. Maybe people just don't like my work, but nothing has come along lately that I like enough to want to leave my house. I'm at the tail end of a long line of extraordinary actresses who are way ahead of me.
"But I'm not worried because I don't need the money. I will do no commercials or cheesy TV movies. Unlike other aging actresses who still need their quote, I can work for love the rest of my career. And that's what I intend to do."
PHOTO: Patricia Richardson has earned two Emmy nominations for her role as Tim Allen's wife on "Home Improvement."
Keywords: TELEVISION CELEBRITY BIOGRAPHY
Document ID: S714112b
Date: Wednesday, May 21, 1997
Source: By Bart Mills. Special to the Tribune.
Copyright Chicago Tribune