How is it possible a woman the magnitude of Sally Kirkland is lovelorn? The Golden Globe-winning actor, currently in two recurring television roles and starring on stage, is also an ordained minister, lecturer and activist.
Still, what she wouldn’t give to be with her life’s true love, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. And that’s not just fantasy.
Kirkland is probably best known for the film “Anna,” which earned her a 1987 Oscar nomination for Best Actress and her Golden Globe. She currently appears on WBTV’s “Felicity,” playing Professor Sherman, and as Barbara Parker on ABC’s “Wasteland.” Her current play, “The Powder Room Suite,” closes this weekend at West Hollywood’s Court Theatre.
Her resume reflects a long and massive body of work. She has appeared with nearly everyone in the business.
It’s also hard to believe this prodigiously energetic person relaxes, but she says she loves staring at the ocean from her Malibu home. Scorpios, she says, love to regenerate. But this day, she is in her “office,” a booth at a West Hollywood restaurant that she occupies hours a day, many days a week.
She wraps herself in a warm scarf, settles into the booth and orders mounds of comfort food that she doesn’t eat. Let’s begin with her connection to Malibu, she suggests. She first followed Dylan to Morningview Drive, invited to watch his recording sessions. He offered her a role in a film, but she had just signed elsewhere.
She flew with him as his date to a performance at the Astrodome, on an airplane with Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Graham Nash. “He thought I could sing,” she recalls. “I told him no, but I’d dance. It was the most sensational chapter in my life. So much of it took place in Malibu, where I was cheer leading.”
She wrote “20 million” poems to Dylan — “I’m exaggerating,” she interjects — and then listened for answers in his songs.
There were other relationships. She married, but it broke up, and she moved into the seminary of the Church of The Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, in which she now ministers. Then she lived at the beach with a man 20 years her junior. “We talked for a split second about marriage. Then something went terribly wrong with the relationship.”
Kirkland came from old-line Philadelphia, where Kirkland Street is named for her family. Her grandfather disowned his Harvard-graduate son for marrying a working woman, a Vassar graduate. In her family, “There are generations of feminists as well as generations of blue bloods.”
They must have been thrilled when she acted, naked, on Broadway. “You can’t carry a gun on the naked body,” she professes. She was once jailed for a role with La Mama. “Where’s the activism in theater there was in the ’60s?” she wonders. “I want people to get angry and argue.”
Her mother, whom Kirkland describes as “scary” and “mannish” except at home, was the first woman editor of Life magazine. Kirkland says her home was filled with beautiful people. Always self-conscious, Kirkland underwent breast implant surgery. “In the name of wishful thinking, I had to look like Marilyn Monroe,” she says. The implants caused her numerous health ailments, and she now lectures about their dangers.
She appears onstage in Powder Room without makeup. “I wanted women to say, ‘Please, can we be proud of ourselves just the way we were born?’
“If I were to speak out as much as I want to, I couldn’t work in this town,” she adds.
She agreed to perform in The Powder Room Suite if she could add some of her own lines — giving “feminist” rhetoric to her characters. Of playwright Frank Strausser, she says, “He is a spirited enough man to allow Sally to say some things Sally wanted to say publicly.” Still, she is pleased with her dual roles, noting only one in 50 characters are written for women older than 40.
At age 5, she announced she wanted to be a saint. She was deemed a blasphemer. “So I said I would be a movie star.”
As a young girl, she danced with Anna Sokolow and Daniel Nagrin, breaking her ankle four times “trying to be Gwen Verdon.”
Kirkland decided on acting after she saw Ingrid Bergman in “Saint Joan.” “If you know that about me, the rest you can figure out,” she says.
She trained as an actor with Shelley Winters, living with the legend in New York and Los Angeles and learning about a concept called “dramedy.” “The audience never knows what you’ll do next, and you’ll surprise yourself.” David O. Selznick befriended her and warned her she would have no career until she was old enough to be a character actress. He told her, “Wrap up 300 credits. Just about that time, they’ll make you a star.” She sees herself taking the places of Geraldine Page and Jessica Tandy.
A lifetime member of The Actor’s Studio and a former faculty member of the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, Kirkland now enjoys giving acting and casting advice to young women. “Every actor should — I hate the word ‘should,’ but it would be nice if every actor learned yoga. Every actor should learn to breathe.” She also learned to fence, sing and play musical instruments.
Born a High Episcopalian, she tried Catholicism and Hinduism before joining her current church. “It includes Eastern and Western philosophy,” she says. “No soul is lost. If we take care of ourselves, we can take care of others.”
She teaches workshops on gratitude and forgiveness. “I do it selfishly. I want to remember to forgive those who hurt me. And gratitude. Not everyone has made it. Madeline Kahn just died.”
At this point in her life, she thought she would have a house with the picket fence, a husband and children, and more money. “And yet, I don’t have that because I always identified with Saint Joan. My work won’t stop until everyone gets a fair shake.”
As for Dylan, she says she wishes it would finally happen for them. She plays his music before her performances. “He’s my muse.” They last dated a year ago. “It hasn’t worked out, yet. I’ve been in love with him since my 20s. Maybe when we’re in our 90s.”
Sally Kirkland stars in “The Powder Room Suite,” closing this weekend at West Hollywood’s Court Theatre. Tel. 310.289.2999.