Q People seem to either love or hate "Saving Grace," but even negative critics find things to like. Other than the relentless promos, what made the show catch on so strongly?

A Grace is a woman who lives in extremity and who feels extraordinarily alive in very dark places and in very light places. I think people want fiction, even though they aren't getting a lot of it on TV these days. They want to watch someone living a fantastical life from the inside out.

Q Where does Grace rank in terms of the difficulty of roles you've played?

A I feel endlessly challenged by her. It's a tightrope walk that requires agility and acuity. It's very demanding day to day. The nature of her physical expressiveness is one of the reasons I wanted to play her. I'm 50, and I was accustomed to reading more sedate characters, people who are settled down, with more of an acceptance of their place and their lives. Grace has a wildness in her, a force of life normally associated with youth. But certainly people who are 50 years old are also capable of this.

Q There is a lot of physical derring-do to this character, and I don't mean just the sex scenes. Have you gotten banged up at all during shoots?

A I get a massage once a week to recover. Every time, I have to explain some bruise or other to my masseuse. I don't think she believes me.

Q Some viewers find the angel Earl thing too shticky -- like a little of him goes a long way. Is he going to play as big a role in season two as he did in season one?

A Earl is part of the genesis. We wanted to have a conversation about organized religion in our culture and even more about faith, what it means now to be a spiritual person living in the world. Not a certain set of Presbyterian or other Christian, but world faith. And faith specifically geared toward Grace.

Q One unusual aspect of the show is the tight, longtime friendship between Grace and Rhetta, played by Laura San Giacomo.

A I think it's of primary importance. To Grace. It's a fundamental exploration of who she is. The longevity of that relationship brings such depth to both women. It's the fantasy of every human, to have a friend who knows them intimately as well as they know themselves. That brings a feeling of profound safety and acceptance.

Q The season premiere doesn't exactly help the new viewer get caught up; so much was happening at such a breakneck pace. How are you going to up the adrenaline through the rest of the season?

A That's not the goal. Every episode has a different heartbeat and I love that about the show. It's not formulaic. It lives on many different levels and many different rhythms.

Q What's with the single long braid Grace sometimes wears down one side of her face? Your idea?

A It was. Braiding hair is such a female activity, the jurisdiction of women, and I had this image of Grace sitting and braiding her hair. It wasn't that I wanted to wear a braid. I wanted her to be caught in the act of braiding in front of the mirror, which is so much more female than brushing teeth or putting on mascara. There's an older sense of tradition.