EXCLUSIVE: Holland Taylor on the Horror Genre and Possibility of Working With Sarah Paulson

Getty Images

At 74, Holland Taylor is breaking a steadfast rule of her career: She’s acting in a horror project.

After two years away from TV following the end of Two and a Half Men, the Emmy-winning actress is returning to TV on David E. Kelley’s limited series adaptation of the Stephen King novel Mr. Mercedes.

“I’m really frightened by this kind of thing. I find this genre so disturbing, but some people have a real appetite for it,” Taylor says while seated in a parlor chair in a Charleston, South Carolina, hair salon, where she’s taking a break from filming the Audience network series, which tells the story of a demented serial killer taunting a washed-up detective out of retirement. Their dangerous game of cat and mouse threatens to end more lives unless Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) can put a stop to his tormentor, Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway). 

A new character not seen in the book, Taylor plays Hodges’ outspoken neighbor and admirer Ida Silver. “She seems kind of nosy, but she’s actually concerned about Bill because he’s gone terribly downhill since retirement,” Taylor says of the role conceived by Kelley, who later recommended her for the part. Her role is probably the lightest of all the characters, adding some comic relief to the dark TV universe of Mr. Mercedes.

Having worked together on The Practice, Kelley helped Taylor earn her first Emmy nomination (and win) for the role of Judge Roberta Kittleson, at age 56. She has since earned six more nominations, four for playing Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men.

MORE: Stephen King Talks 'Dark Tower' & 'Mr. Mercedes' Adaptations, Quality Control and His Legacy

“[That part] tremendously enhanced my career,” Taylor says, reflecting on her reunion with the longtime TV writer. Despite her age, Judge Kittleson was a viably sexually active character who not only was having an affair with a considerably younger intern but would spit out provocative lines in court. “It would mean very little now, but 18 years ago, it was really exciting to play that character on television,” she adds, perhaps referring to roles played by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Judith Light on Grace & Frankie and Transparent, respectively.

“David has supplied me with many a wonderful script when I played that character,” Taylor continues. “He’s a great writer, so to work for him is a privilege.” 

While the actress says she always had fun working for Kelley, starring in a Stephen King show is something she never imagined herself doing. “At first, I did not want to read the other parts of the script that did not involve me,” Taylor says of her initial aversion to being frightened. “Some people like to scare themselves to death; I do not want to scare myself to death.” But she eventually came around to it because she found the story so compelling. “It’s so dark, these are really twisted characters and they’re so well-crafted that you can’t help it. So I’ve been reading them.”

In fact, Taylor read one script late at night, which “was a big mistake,” she says. “It really did not send me to bed happy.” Even though King’s goth, horror and supernatural world is not for her, Taylor says that fans of the author will have an absolute feast with Mr. Mercedes “because there’s one devastating revelation after another.”

MORE: On Set of David E. Kelley's Anticipated Adaptation of Stephen King's 'Mr. Mercedes'

Interestingly enough, the genre Taylor tries to stay away from is the very one that has made girlfriend Sarah Paulson a star. The character actress has become something of a muse for American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy, who has cast her in all seven seasons of his flagship series, including the upcoming Cult, and helped her earn her first Emmy with her portrayal of Marcia Clark on The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.

When asked if she would ever want to join Paulson onscreen in one of Murphy’s creations, Taylor says that it’s not up to her, but to the creator. “It’s probably not a dream of Ryan Murphy’s to have us do something together,” she says, explaining that it wouldn’t be good for the story to bring real-world associations onto the show. She does, however, praise American Horror Story in particular for earning Paulson so much recognition and accolades. “It is one of the great things you could ever be in.”

For now, fans will have to make due with Taylor’s horror debut in Mr. Mercedes, premiering Wednesday, Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Audience network available exclusively on DirecTV.