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NUNN ON ONE: TV Phyllis Somerville shines on 'The Big C'
Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Jerry Nunn

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The Big C on Showtime may be one of the best character driven shows to debut in a long time. With actors such as Laura Linney, Oliver Platt, out actress Cynthia Nixon and Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe heading the cast the show drew the largest audience for the channel in eight years with its premiere. Phyllis Somerville plays the smart whippersnapper neighbor named Marlene.

Windy City Times: Hello, Phyllis. I tracked you down because I love The Big C.

Phyllis Somerville: Well, that's really good. That makes an easy start, but anyway… [ Both laugh. ]

WCT: The show is a surprise for many, I bet. How did you become involved with the project?

Phyllis Somerville: The old-fashioned way: I auditioned for it. I read the script and really liked it. Good writing always attracts actors. I think it has really good writing. I like comedies that are a little bit dark. I like things that can be both, to laugh in the middle of some tears. That is a taste thing for me. I like that kind of theatre, movies and TV like that. When I was called to audition, Laura Linney was there to read with people.

WCT: That is rare.

Phyllis Somerville: It meant that the audition was a lot easier. To not only be reading with someone that is not only so good bur is so wonderful as well.

WCT: She is top-notch.

Phyllis Somerville: Oh, she absolutely is.

WCT: The whole cast gets such great opportunities.

Phyllis Somerville: Well, that is good too. Laura is out there all the time, bless her heart, but there is a really nice passing around of the characters. Everyone gets to step up.

WCT: Your character is not one-dimensional at all. It could have been that way.

Phyllis Somerville: Yeah, we have all seen that but they didn't write it that way. They wrote it multidimensional so it made it easier to play it that way.

WCT: Your dog is adorable.

Phyllis Somerville: Ohhh, Thomas. His name is Thomas on the show. He's a dear dog.

WCT: I grew up with basset hounds so I know how they are.

Phyllis Somerville: You did? I have never really been around them before. I grew up in Iowa so I was around dogs we called shepherds. They were just a mix of boarder collie and all that stuff.

WCT: Did you always want to do theatre?

Phyllis Somerville: I always wanted to do theatre but I went to school as an English major. I studied at the University of Northern Iowa. Then I went to Wayne State in Detroit and basically acted there. They had a company that we had five shows in the last month of the year, being all classics so that was good training.

WCT: You have landed some really nice movie roles such as Little Children [ starring Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson ] , which was a powerful movie.

Phyllis Somerville: Oh, yeah; that was amazing to do. That was one of those times that I thought boy am I lucky. That was good from start to finish.

WCT: I would like to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but have not had a chance.

Phyllis Somerville: It is probably out there. Let's hope so! [ Both laugh. ]

WCT: Next year you have more features coming out.

Phyllis Somerville: Let's just say that I have done them. Most of them are done by very young directors and I am very impressed with them. They really know what they are doing and a joy to work with.

WCT: You have The Loop, Forgetting the Girl, Weakness and One Fall.

Phyllis Somerville: I played Bobby Cannavale's mom in Weakness. In Forgetting the Girl, I laughed a lot. I had so many lines in one day, though. I said now if I get through them then I am going to turn to the young director and say, "Never do this to an old lady again!"

WCT: Talk about Forgetting the Girl! [ Both laugh hysterically. ]

Phyllis Somerville: Yes, so I made it through and turned to this lovely young man and said, "Don't do that again"—very sweetly, I hope.

WCT: Anything else you want to say about The Big C? I want people to watch it.

Phyllis Somerville: Boy, that's hard because I like it so much. I am doing a looping session for it today for episode 10. What can I say? Good writing, good acting and I am continually surprised by it. I picked up the script and I would think things were going in a certain way and then I would be surprised by the direction it would take and that is the sign of really good writing.

WCT: Well, and the whole thing with the dog smelling the cancer. I didn't know they could do that.

Phyllis Somerville: It is true.

Right after we started working on it and John Hickey, who plays Sean, is a dumpster diver; there was an article in the New York Times about dumpster divers. For people that is a choice and what they do. There is so much food thrown away.

WCT: Is there going to be a second season yet?

Phyllis Somerville: I don't know.

WCT: I smell an Emmy for Laura Linney.

Phyllis Somerville: Oh, I would like to think so.

WCT: Congrats on the success of the show.

Phyllis Somerville: Thank you.

The Big C is new every Monday. Visit for listings and details.

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