You have definitely seen Nancy Linehan Charles perform, maybe even in your favorite television show or movie. Her credits are too numerous to list, from iconic television like “Seinfeld,” “The West Wing” or “Criminal Minds,” to Hollywood blockbusters like “Minority Report” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Her roles are small, but her work is constant — no small feat for an actor. At 75, this 1961 Hillcrest graduate is not slowing down anytime soon. She launched a Shakespearean flash mob, which breaks out the Bard’s work in elevators and, once, the Los Angeles County Jail after the troupe got arrested during a protest. “We were in there for 12 hours or so with nothing to do. So we did Shakespeare in jail, thank you very much. I got a standing ovation. The people in there were so bored I think they’d have given us a standing ovation for reading the yellow pages.”
What are your most prominent memories of growing up in Preston Hollow?
I remember Saturday movies at the Inwood and malted milks at the country club pharmacy. We used to go to the movies every single Saturday. It was a good childhood. We also went to Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, and I liked it for the social aspect more than the religion. It was a really wonderful community with a lot of young people.
Did you start your acting career at Hillcrest?
I remember the day that I actually got into this lifelong love affair with acting and with Shakespeare. I was at Dallas Theater Center, and they were in company with “Hamlet.” I didn’t know Shakespeare at all, but I fell in love with the language right there. I can tell you what I was wearing, every detail. That was it; I decided I wanted to be an actor. And then I started doing theater at Hillcrest.
What drew you to the craft?
I think I craved attention. Once I got into it, I just loved the process of becoming somebody else. Even to this day, when I’m doing a role, I will walk around the house and do all the work I have to do, like wash the dishes, as the character.
Did you have a breakout role that helped propel your career?
Not really. I did a lot of voiceover work at first. I did some commercials in New York, but nothing too major. It wasn’t until I moved to LA that things took off, and I realized I was going to do this for the next 25 years.
You have done a little bit of everything, from film to television to theater. Do you have a first love in acting? A medium you prefer most?
If I could make as good a living at theater as I do in film and television, I would probably do it full time. But I don’t know anyone who makes a full-time living on theater, which is sad. I am thankful for television. It’s how I pay the rent.
What is it like working with America’s most famous directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg?
It’s special. Spielberg is a real actor’s director. He sets a good tone for the set. But unless you’re playing a major role, Spielberg doesn’t give you a full script. So you have to fill in some blanks. In “Minority Report,” I played the bad guy’s wife. I knew she was rich. I knew she really loved her husband. You just hope they don’t cut everything.
Do you ever get starstruck?
You know, I don’t. I so admire the work of Tom Hanks, particularly, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I just thought he was one of the most incredible actors. But I’ve never been one to get autographs or pictures.
What type of roles do you love playing most?
I love strong women. Ironically, I just played a homeless woman on “Better Things,” the Louis CK production. But I love strong women, and I’m pretty good at it. I’ve played a lot of lawyers and judges.
Consistently working for 30-plus years as an actor is rare. What’s your secret?
I will tell you. The secret is that you learn not to take auditions personally. I don’t believe I ever do a bad audition anymore. I’m just a red dress, and they’re looking for a blue dress. Mostly, as a person, I think wherever my feet are, that’s where I am supposed to be.
What are the best and worst things about being a professional actor?
The best thing, this is really sad to say, is when people see you on television. People say, “Oh, I saw you on blah blah,” and that feels good. The downside of that is it’s very hard to plan stuff. You have to be available for auditions if you want to make a living.
What do you have coming up that people can see you in?
I’m on “Life in Pieces” on Jan. 18. I’m pinned for a role in “Young Sheldon,” but I don’t know when it airs.
Do you ever come back to Preston Hollow? If so, has it changed drastically from what you remember?
I don’t get back to Dallas too much, and I have some great friends there. I don’t see them enough. You know what’s different about Dallas? I cannot believe those huge houses. I went to one. I swear you could fit the country of Yemen in this one house.
Interview edited for clarity and brevity
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