Watching Ann-Margret shimmy so energetically next to Elvis in kitschy movies such as Viva Las Vegas or stab people and set fire to things as an angry delinquent in 1964's campy Kitten with a Whip so long ago, it's hard to imagine her a senior citizen. Nevertheless the actress turned 60 earlier this year. Instead of languishing in her Los Angeles mansion, enjoying the benefits of AARP membership and collecting social security, she's been working all along, making TV movies, several miniseries, and the occasional feature film. Still open to trying new things, in 2001 she did what she had never done before: hit the road with a full-scale musical, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Written by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, the show is about a long-time brothel that finally gets shut down. Of course decked out in shimmery costumes by Bob Mackie and crooning a tune written specially for her by Carol Hall, Ann-Margret plays the lead, Mona Stangley, madam extraordinaire. Former TV actor Gary Sandy (WKRP in Cincinnati) costars as the sheriff who loves her but is forced to bust her. New Times caught up with the busy actress during a break between matinee and evening performances. With her Maltese named Missy hanging around, she spoke on the phone from Clearwater, Florida.
New Times: What were you thinking, going on the road?
Ann-Margret: Through the years I had offers to do Broadway and I would always just say no. I couldn't take that commitment. I couldn't leave my family, my friends, our home, our kitties!
Had you ever seen the show before?
No! None of the principals had either. So it's fun; we're looking at it through fresh new eyes.
Why take such a grueling job with eight performances a week at this point in your life?
I've never thought of it as work. I could not do this if I didn't love it. I'm passionate about it. I've always wanted to be an entertainer, a performer. I look forward to going to the theater every night. When I saw this particular script, I thought this is really good. It has slapstick, it's very poignant, very dramatic.
What's the best thing about doing what you do for a living?
Being able to contribute. Being able to make people feel.