SOD Interview | A Liz In Wonderland

Part of “Old Info And News”

January 17, 1995

A Liz In Wonderland
Loving Welcomes Elizabeth Mitchell To (Dinah Lee) Mayberry


Elizabeth Mitchell’s new job is keeping her up at night. “Yesterday I went and got my scripts for all of next week, and I was so excited I couldn’t sleep,” laughs the Texas-raised actress who assumed the role of Loving’s Dinah Lee Mayberry last August after Jessica Collins quit to pursue other interests. “I kept thinking, “Well I could do this here, or I could do this, or I could try this.’ It was 2 o’clock in the morning and I was still looking through my scripts.” She feel, she says like “Alice in Wonderland.”

The Secret of her Success:

Loving fans know that Mitchell is no Jessica Collins clone: indeed her fast success is partly due to that fact, states Loving casting director Julie Madison. “Rather than trying to replace Jessica, we wanted to go a different way,” Madison explains. “Sometimes in a recast, the hardest thing is when fans are mad that the actress is gone. So if a recast tries to be the original actress, the fans will never accept her.”

And what did Madison love about Mitchell? “She’s a very smart and strong actress. And she’s lovable, which was important, because we wanted the fans to fall in love with her immediately.”

It makes sense that Mitchell is so enthusiastic; after all, she’s been training for this job her whole life. Shortly after she was born in Los Angeles in 1970, her parents moved to Dallas, and a pre-teen Mitchell started acting at the Dallas Theater Center. That led to four years at a high school for the performing artists, a theater degree from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and a stint at the British American Drama Academy in London. Two years ago, Mitchell returned from Europe after a lengthy run as Rosalind in As You Like It; she planned to hit the audition circuit in New York.

In person, Mitchell, like Dinah Lee, seems less like a TV star than she does the proverbial girl next door. She’s happiest in plaid shirts, adores The Brady Bunch (“I always loved the way all the kids came downstairs together.”), and was so blown away the first time she got fan mail that she locked herself in her dressing room and answered every single letter immediately. Upon her return from England, though, Mitchell was uncharacteristically listless. Eating clotted cream and fish and chips for months on end had taken a toll, and the svelte actress was – hard to believe – 25 pounds overweight. “I didn’t want to get off of the couch, I didn’t want to go on auditions,” she says quietly.
“And I realized that something wasn’t right.” Exercise and a macrobiotic diet helped Mitchell shed the unwanted weight and improve her mental outlook. “As I started working out and got healthier I started to feel really strong. And then I booked eight commercials in a row.”

Early sucess came after she was cast as a high-priced hooker in an episode of the syndicated series Dangerous Curves; however, Mitchell almost had to let that opportunity slide. “They shoot an American version,where everyone has there clothes on, and a version for Europe, with everyone naked,” she explains. “And you had to sign on to do both. My agent called and said, ‘The casting directors really want to see you.’ And I said,’Well, they’re not gonna see that much of me.’”

After lengthy negotiations, a compromise was reached: Mitchell played the part, but wore a long gown and gloves that went all the way up my arms. looking back now, she’s glad she stuck to her principles. “I don’t have any trouble {doing nude scenes] if it makes sense and is part of the plot,” she states firmly. “But I absolutely won’t do nude scenes that are just gratuitous, where you’re running around in a negligee and your boobs are popping out. I won’t do it.”

Lucky for her, Loving isn’t interested in exploiting her – neither is soon-to-depart co-star Robert Tyler (Trucker), who has not renewed his contract and is set to leave the show at the end of January. “He is just the sweetest guy,” she enthuses. “My first day, Robert and I had all these kissing scenes and he kept saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.’ He made it very easy.”

“Soap work did take some getting used to, though. “On the set, there’s no applause, there’s not that feeling you get from a live audience.” says the theater-trained actress. “I was used to having that. [Without it], you really don’t know how you did. There was a scene I thought I’d bombed on, and the director spliced in things that made it work. I watched it later and thought, ‘Thank you.’”

Also watching, in all likelihood was Mitchell’s family. Mom and Dad are real estate and tax attorneys with their own firm about five blocks from their house in Dallas; sisters Kristie, 17 and Kate, 13 are still in school. But it isn’t likely that anyone’s going to let success go to Mitchell’s head: Kristie actually gets a big kick out of mimicking the actress’s first day, when Dinah Lee was in the hospital and couldn’t speak properly. “She and her friends say, ‘Hey Liz! Look at our imitation of you in your first scene. Then they go ‘I…I…I…’ A whole group of 17-year-old girls doing that. So.” she laughs, “I’m not sacred by any means.”

Off-camera, Mitchell and boyfriend David Lee Smith (ex-Brent, OLTL) live quietly on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “I’m pretty much a nerd,” she insists – even if, through her theater cionnections, she once partied with rocker Pete Townshend and the cast of the hit Broadway musical Tommy. “I rent movies constantly and also read a lot.”

And of course, she’s still busy studying her scripts in the middle of the night. “I know it’s so ‘in’ to be blase, but that’s not going to get you anywhere,” says the happy insomniac. “People feel good about doing things with you if you’re enthusiastic. You’ve gotta go for it, and go for it with gusto.”

Just the Facts

Birthday: March 27
Recent Commercial:“I did Hertz Rent-A-Car but they pulled it because of the O.J. thing.”
Soap Opera Buddy: Reiko Aylesworth (ex-Rebecca OLTL). “She’s so sweet. Sometimes she sleep over at my apartment, and in the morning she folds all of her blankets.”
How she cares for her ivory girl skin:“I drink two bottles of water a day. I also get facials.”

Soap Opera Digest