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Home LATEST NEWS Annette O'Toole savors 'Virgin River' role as real and liberating

Annette O’Toole savors ‘Virgin River’ role as real and liberating

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Annette O’Toole is reveling in her role on “Virgin River” as the unpredictable mayor of a small town whose peaceful, wooded surroundings belie the roller coaster life of its residents.

His character is older but not always wiser, even in love. That goes against the Hollywood trend of seeing middle age beyond the sell-by date of nuanced storytelling, and O’Toole considers herself lucky to play Hope McCrea.

Make him doubly lucky. When the actress decided to stay with her 97-year-old mother during the worst of the pandemic, that meant hope for her was largely absent last season. the fourth and the current season is a comeback for both, thanks to series creator Sue Tenney.

“She called me and said, ‘You’re in the hospital. You were in a terrible car accident,” Tenney said of Hope’s limbo status. When O’Toole asked if Hope was alive, Tenney left it up to the actor to decide: Did he want to return to the series, which stars Alexandra Breckenridge and is based on the Robyn Carr novels?

“Are you kidding?” O’Toole replied. Such eagerness is characteristic, as evidenced by his résumé, which includes few gaps and some 100 film and television credits (“Superman III,” “Nash Bridges” and “Smallville” among them). She earned an Emmy nomination for playing Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy in the 1990 miniseries “The Kennedys of Massachusetts,” a role she took on shortly after the birth of her second daughter.

She has also emphasized theater work and, along with her husband Michael McKean, is a songwriter: several of her songs were featured in “A Mighty Wind,” the film by McKean’s longtime friend and collaborator Christopher Guest, including the nominated ballad to the Oscar “A Kiss at the End of the rainbow”. She then gets bragging rights from her Spinal Tap backup singer, most notably at a London benefit concert that features actor/writer McKean, Guest and others in the fake band from the fame of satirical cinema.

O’Toole, 70, was nonchalantly affable in a phone interview with The Associated Press while filming the fifth season in Vancouver, which stood in for Northern California in “Virgin River.” There is more “emotionally at stake” than ever and the city is “really going to be unified,” he said of the upcoming season.

No spoilers were released, but O’Toole spoke candidly about how her character is portrayed, Hope’s relationship with Doc Mullins, played by Tim Matheson, and her luck finding the right match in McKean, her second husband. Comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.


AP: ‘Virgin River’ isn’t science fiction or fantasy, it’s just human drama. What is that attraction?

O’TOOLE: Exactly that. It is about people and their problems and in a beautiful community. And Sue Tenney was very generous because this character doesn’t appear much in the books, so we kind of had a blank slate to bring this person together. You don’t do it (a project) because you want it to be a huge success. The chances of that happening are very slim. You do it because you want to, and you like people. And at this point in my career he’s doing something he hasn’t done before. That’s why this character was appealing, because it could help make her into something a little more real than a lot of the stuff I read about characters my age, grandmothers, and the sweet kind of homebody. That’s boring, I’ve done it.

AP: What did you want to see in Hope instead?

O’TOOLE: I just wanted her to be complicated, a woman who even at her age doesn’t have the answers. She does not have, at first, a relationship that is stable. It is very rocky. That’s interesting to me, someone who has been through most of her life and hasn’t figured it out yet. She is impulsive and headstrong, and also very generous and can be very kind and loving. She is just one person. She just wanted a whole person.

AP: It’s a rarity on screen to show older characters who aren’t in a long and loving marriage or widowed. Hope and Doc’s story is not the show’s central relationship, but it is a focus.

O’TOOLE: How interesting that he was unfaithful to her early in their marriage and she can’t let him go. She never divorced him. She never said, well, that’s it. Tim is fantastic and we have come up with a full life that they have had together. It has not been a normal marriage at all. The way we look at marriage, I love that marriage can be whatever you want it to be or not.

AP: Hope is an attractive woman who doesn’t bother to hide her age behind hair dye or heavy makeup. Given the demands of women to be eternally young, what is it like to play a character who says, ‘Here I am, world, an older woman?’

O’TOOLE: It’s wonderful. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had because when I started, I was really young and I was kind of witty, and then I was the lead in some stuff, and then you start to get older. Now I find it so liberating. I don’t worry about that, and that is also in life. So Hope and I feel the same way about it. It’s like, who are we trying to kid? Especially an actress, they can look you up (online) and see how old you are, see all the things you’ve done, see all your photos.

AP: You and Michael have been married for more than two decades, an impressive thing for any couple and especially considered in the entertainment industry.

O’TOOLE: We’re very good friends. He has just left, he has been in London doing another series for Netflix, ‘The Diplomat’. COVID was so terrible, but we were very lucky because it was the most consecutive days we have been together in our marriage. I realize that we are always saying goodbye. It was very hard because we had been together so much and we talked about the first time we said goodbye, and we talked about luck. We were both very lucky to meet. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without him, and he says the same about me.


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