An alchemical thing

An alchemical thing

Wendie Malick, one of America’s top comic actresses, shows her serious side Saturday with Rachael Worby and MUSE/IQUE

By Carl Kozlowski 07/24/2013

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With three smash hit sitcoms over the past three decades, Wendie Malick has proven to be one of America’s most beloved comic actresses. But on Saturday night, she’ll instead be teaming up with acclaimed conductor Rachael Worby and her MUSE/IQUE Orchestra for an evening of fun music at Caltech.

The occasion is the show “Moving Pictures,” which features Malick and fellow guest performer cellist Matt Haimowitz, with the ensemble focusing on music from the movies “Russia House,” “Summer and Smoke” and “Deception.” Malick will be performing Benjamin Britten’s “A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” which was featured prominently in the 2012 movie “Moonrise Kingdom” — another in a long line of examples of the way Worby brings eclectic ideas together.

“I think [“Guide”] is glorious stuff and can certainly be done in different ways, introducing young people to the orchestra, but this time the piece will be geared more to adults,” says Malick. “This one is written by two poets who did a rap version of this two years ago, I’ll take what they did in rap and read it as poetry. It works that way too, it’s quite a strong piece and very beautiful.”
 
Malick met Worby “years ago” at an awards luncheon in Los Angeles and recalls that they experienced “like at first sight” after laughing their way through the event. While she notes that “her world is very different than mine,” Malick enjoys Worby’s annual invitations to recite special works while accompanied by MUSE/IQUE musicians — especially on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, when she recited the lyrics to the Beatles’ classic song “Blackbird” while accompanied by a cellist from the orchestra in front of a crowd of hundreds in front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
 
“Rachael brought that to me and said she had an idea that would be perfect for our 9/11 evening,” recalls Malick. “As a prose piece, it took on new meaning and it’s very cathartic. I’ve learned to trust her completely because she’s a brilliant musician and communicator. She’s found different ways to reach different people, and she somehow fuses these different styles and makes something new out of something you take for granted.”

A native of Buffalo, NY who dreamed of being both a veterinarian and an actress as a child until she realized she was better at acting than she was at science, Malick currently lives in the Santa Monica Mountains with her husband, overseeing a menagerie that includes two miniature donkeys, two dogs and five horses. Her devotion to animals has led to her ongoing support of the Humane Society, for which she appeared in a public service announcement that has been running for years on late-night TV.

But that is as serious as Malick has been on TV since 1990, when she landed a role as a psychologist on the groundbreaking HBO sitcom “Dream On.” Because she is tall and brunette, she had long been cast as a villain, judge, divorcee or murderer on countless TV dramas, but “Dream” changed everything.

“The writers figured out I was funny and they let my character, who was supposed to be the ‘straight man’ for the star, have a nervous breakdown and after that I was able to just fly,” she recalls “I am deeply indebted to those writers who let me find my voice and run with it.”

Indeed, Malick quickly developed not only a talent for dishing dialogue with comical verve, but also for her surprising willingness to play the fool as a physical comedian. She attributes that ability to her body being “very rubbery” and cites Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore as heroes for their ability “to wrap being funny, stunning, smart and stylish into one package.”

Malick’s next big hit was the NBC sitcom “Just Shoot Me,” in which she, veteran movie star George Segal and former “SNL” cast member David Spade formed an unlikely trio that set off comic fireworks for seven seasons. Malick earned two Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe for her role as Nina Van Horn.

“It worked because there were people on that show that everyone could relate to, there were different generations and that’s what life is like,” says Malick. “I have no interest in just listening to a bunch of forty-somethings. That’s not a world that I recognize. It’s that alchemical thing whenever you cast anything, wait to see if it works and we all worked together like magic right away. We just got together with the writers and put a plaque on our old stage at Radford Studios, to forever be there to note the wonderful seven years.”

These days, Malick is just as hot as ever, playing Victoria Chase on the hit TV Land sitcom “Hot in Cleveland” alongside Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Betty White. The show has proven to be a four-season sensation so far, with Malick finding encouragement from the fact White is going stronger than ever at age 90.

“I think it helps women come in from the wilderness,” says Malick, who is 62. “I’m all about owning your age and think it’s important not to hide under a rock when you’re 40 or 50 or 60. It’s kind of celebrating our experiences and showing women they can still be vital and sexy and meaningful. Betty has given us all an example of life’s third act that doesn’t even start until you’re 60. It made me realize I have a whole other act in me. It’s great.” n

Wendie Malick will perform with MUSE/IQUE as part of its show “Moving Pictures” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Beckman Mall Lawn at Caltech, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. TIckets are $35 to $96. Call (626) 539-7085 or visit muse-ique.com.

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