When Holland Taylor earned her first Emmy nomination (which she also won) for The Practice, the actress was 56 years old -- well into her acting career, having starred on Bosom Buddies and The Naked Truth and appeared in a number of hit romantic comedies. On the legal procedural created by David E. Kelley, she played Judge Roberta Kittleson, an established, accomplished, sexual woman entangled in a relationship with a younger lawyer. “Twenty years ago, it was a very big deal.” Taylor tells ET. “Therefore, it reflected on my career as an actress. It made me viable, in an attractive sense, and gave me a wider range to play.”
In the years since, Taylor has gone on to earn six more Emmy nominations, including another for The Practice as well as four for playing Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men. She had recurring roles on shows like The L Word and Monk, and earned a Tony nomination for her 2013 return to Broadway.
Last year, she reunited with Kelley on Mr. Mercedes, his adaptation of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy for DirecTV, which has been renewed for a second season. During a recent break from filming season two, which wrapped production in May, Taylor saw Kelley at a press event. It was there she was able to thank him again for writing her that role 20 years prior. “I said, ‘David, that really enhanced my career. That expanded it,’” she says. “I mean, I was never going to not be working. I'm very lucky, I work all the time and I'll probably work until I drop. That's just the way I think it is for me. But he expanded the range of my career tremendously.”
On Mr. Mercedes, Kelley is pushing Taylor, now 75, into new territory again -- this time the horror genre, which she hasn’t particularly indulged in during her nearly 50 years onscreen. Aside from the Fox Family Channel remake of The Spiral Staircase, she’s largely stayed away from anything too suspenseful or horrifying. “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 previously told me during a visit to the Charleston, South Carolina, set while the first season was filming.
However, as Ida Silver, a character specifically created by Kelley for the series, Taylor brought a lightness to the twisted, dark story of demented serial killer Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) taunting washed-up detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) out of retirement. A little nosy, somewhat flirty and certainly outspoken, Silver embodies what Taylor does best onscreen. “She’s a strong person with a strong personality, so I think it’s actually a very good role indeed,” Taylor confirms, adding that in her career, these types of roles are rare. “She’s not an object of a character. She is free-standing.”
Yet, Taylor did initially have concerns about playing a character that didn’t originally exist in a universe that fans know. “I somewhat felt, Why am I really here?” she says. It took her a while to realize that the character offers the audience some relief from the relentless darkness the characters experience. “The audience knows that Bill has somebody watching out for him, however remotely.”
When it comes to season two, Taylor hints that Ida might be pulled into Bill’s deadly web -- or reeling from what comes out of the bloody season one finale. “You’ll find this rather sinister danger emerging. It’s pretty eerie and insidious,” she teases. “Ida will, in a sense, be in danger.” Taylor does admit that she still doesn’t have any scenes with Treadaway, despite how complimentary she is about his work. “There’s one actor that I would absolutely love to work with, which is Harry. But given that he’s the villain, I have a feeling that would be my demise.”
While neither Taylor nor Sarah Paulson, her girlfriend of three years, are strangers to the Emmys -- Paulson has also been nominated multiple times, and won once -- they have yet to share in the moment together as a couple. If one or both are nominated this year -- Paulson is a contender for American Crime Story: Cult -- that could finally change.
“It’ll just be nice to go to the Emmys together, because we’ve often been divided,” Taylor says. For the first two years of their relationship, theater commitments -- 2016’s The Front Page on Broadway and 2015’s Off-Broadway production of Ripcord -- prevented the actress from joining Paulson, who was nominated both years and won in 2016. (After five years of consecutive nominations, Paulson was not nominated in 2017.)
“When she won, I was in New York and it was heartbreaking to not be with her -- really, really heartbreaking,” Taylor recalls of the 68th annual ceremony, where Paulson won for her portrayal of Marcia Clark on The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The actress closed out her acceptance speech by saying, “Holland Taylor, I love you,” which Taylor says was beautiful and incredible.
“It was an experience,” she says, “but it would be much more fun to be together. Infinitely more fun. She’s going to do nothing but win awards for the rest of her life. It would be very joyful to be with her when she receives them. I hope that works out.”