Brothers and Sisters: an interview with Calista Flockhart

by Lisa McGarry


The successful career of Calista Flockhart has seen the accomplished actress appear in a string of hit movies and Broadway plays. However, it was her small screen portrayal of the neurotic lawyer Ally McBeal that skyrocketed Flockhart to the big time.

The recently-engaged fiancée of Hollywood actor Harrison Ford successfully returned to television in 2006 when she signed on to appear as Kitty Walker in the award-winning drama Brothers & Sisters. Here, the fan favorite gives us an insight into her work on the popular show…

How does your experience on Brothers & Sisters compare with your time on Ally McBeal?

“Brothers & Sisters is a very different experience to Ally McBeal. I’m much more low-key now. It was a crazy time when Ally McBeal exploded, but this is not like that at all.”

In what way is it different?

“One example is the way I used to have a lot of paparazzi following me everywhere I went when I was on Ally McBeal. I never left the house without paparazzi following me, but now that doesn’t happen. Well, it happens occasionally, but it’s not like it used to be.”

Do you miss all of the attention?

“Not at all. Attention is nice if it’s positive attention, but I wasn’t after all of the attention back then. I didn’t want it. It was negative. ”

Is that why you decided to take a break from acting when Ally McBeal finished?

“I took five years off, but I wasn’t taking a break from work. The time off was purely to raise my son. I wanted to be home with him. I felt really fortunate that I could do that. I didn’t have to work, so I took full advantage of everything.”

Have your priorities changed now?

“Definitely. I was single when I started work on Ally McBeal and I didn’t have a child. Now I have a child and I’m not single. I have a very different life.”

Are you more comfortable with this new level of fame?

“I think so. It’s so much more manageable now. Back then, it was pretty crazy. There would be six paparazzi cars following me everywhere and that can be frightening. It’s much better now.”

Do you find it easier to balance your home life with work now?

“It’s still challenging, but I make it work the best I can. I work a little bit and then I try to spend time with the family. It’s all about making the right choices for yourself.”

Do you still have to compromise?

“Yes, I do. Finding the right balance is about compromise and making the right choices. For me, it’s very important to spend time with my family and to be home for my son, so I have to make compromises. I chose to be on a television show that was an ensemble that kept me in LA so that I can do what I love to do and still be a mom. I think I’ve been very lucky.”

Does work on an ensemble show make it easier to have a family?

“It’s a lot easier to spend time with your family if you’re part of an ensemble because you don’t have to work all day, every day. Sometimes there’s a heavier episode, which makes it a bit more challenging – but usually my workload is pretty balanced. There are a lot of characters in Brothers & Sisters, so I’m not carrying the show on my own. You have more leeway and you have more time off because of that.”

Is it more convenient to do the show rather than another movie?

“Movies very rarely shoot in LA and it’s very hard to travel when you have a second grader in school. It’s just not really an option for me right now. I’m very happy to be doing what I love to do. Plus, I still manage to get home for dinner.”

Is your son aware that he has an extremely famous mother?

” No, I don’t think he knows. He doesn’t really know what ‘famous’ is. He’s aware that his parents are actors. He knows that we do movies and we’re on television, but we never use the word ‘famous.’ He understands that people know who I am if they watch the show and he knows that it’s pretend, but he doesn’t watch the show. In fact, he’s never seen it.”

He’s not seen any of it?

“No. Never. It’s on too late. I don’t think it’s really appropriate at for an 8-year-old.”

Having adopted a newborn in your personal life, how much did you bring to the story when your character decided to adopt a child on Brothers & Sisters?

“Well, the logistics of it were completely different, but I obviously knew what it meant to adopt emotionally and I know how high the stakes are. Once you become a mother, it informs your acting in a richer and a deeper way. It certainly did that for me. However, I left the writing to the writers.”

Do you think the adoption will have a huge effect on your character’s life?

“I think so. I think her priorities have changed. She’s really about family and about being home. Babies do that to you. They get under your skin like that.”

Have you enjoyed working with the babies on the show?

“It’s been a lot of fun. They are so cute and adorable. Holding them really takes me back to when my son was little. It’s lovely.”

What do you think of Kitty and Robert’s relationship?

“I think our relationship is very complicated at the end of the season. It’s kind of sad, too. Kitty was on the verge of leaving Robert, but then he had a heart attack and that’s what keeps them together. I thought it was really interesting because you can be out of the door but then something like that happens and there is no choice. You find that love that you had for them in a very deep visceral way and you go back to each other. However, it doesn’t make your problems go away.”

Does this mean you think their problems will creep back?

“I think it becomes much more complicated. It’s a very sad relationship. We are watching this relationship disintegrate apart, but nobody is right and nobody is wrong.”

Do you think there’s a chance that Kitty will become a single mom?

“I don’t know. I doubt it. At the end of the day, I think Kitty and Robert are crazy about each other. I’m not going to tell you if they separate or if other people become involved because you’ll see that if you watch the show. The one thing I will say is, at the end of the day, I think they are destined to be together on some level.”