Minneapolis native Julia Duffy has had plenty of good fortune in her long career, most notably the role of snooty Stephanie Vanderkellen on “Newhart.” But in her brisk new paperback, “Bad Auditions,” the actress focuses on her missteps, from not adjusting quickly enough to a casting director’s requests to misprinting dialogue the night before a reading.
“I’ve had a good career, but showing the terrible things that can happen and facing those fears can be empowering,” Duffy said. “I wanted to show young actors that you can make mistakes, learn from them and get more confident.”
She avoids crowing about her success in the book, but she indulged us by phone before a Twin Cities event next Sunday.
“Cheers” (1982): Duffy was one of three finalists for the role of Diane Chambers, which went to Shelley Long. “The network wanted to see choices, so they had three pairs alternate over a weeklong process. I was with Ted Danson, and then I worked with Fred Dryer [who later starred in ‘Hunter’]. The network really wanted to see extreme versions of the characters. My Diane was much more neurotic. They ended up making the right choice. That’s a hard thing to swallow, but usually the right person gets the job. Not getting it left me free to do ‘Newhart,’ and I wouldn’t have missed that experience for the world.”
“Newhart” (1982-90): Duffy made a guest appearance in the first season and became a full-fledged cast member after producers overhauled the series, receiving seven Emmy nominations. “I was very familiar with Bob’s humor and knew the best thing to do was to give him a lot to react to. He’s hysterical when he’s uncomfortable. We could have had a ninth season, but Bob is a stand-up comic. He knew when it was time to get off the stage.”
“Baby Talk” (1991): She bolted after only 12 episodes of this TV version of “Look Who’s Talking,” but Duffy lasted more than twice as long as one of her co-stars. “George Clooney was a delight. His hair was down to his shoulders, and he always sang Frank Sinatra tunes between scenes. But that show was run in a dysfunctional way. Not a single actor was happy, and one day George blew up. He was not in a position to do that career-wise at the time, but when he saw someone not being treated right on set, he wasn’t going to stand by.”
“Designing Women” (1992): Duffy soon found herself back on a set in turmoil. She and Jan Hooks were brought in for Season 6 to replace Delta Burke and Jean Smart. “I think it was difficult for the writers to adjust. They still heard the other characters’ voices in their heads. That was a very highly rated season, but I don’t think it lived up to the show’s original concept.”
“The Cool Kids” (2018): Duffy makes a guest appearance on an upcoming episode of this Fox series, set in a retirement center with a veteran cast that includes Martin Mull and Vicki Lawrence. And, yes, she had to audition. “It’s a new sitcom, so there are always lots of rewrites. Even the plot changed over the course of the week. But we handled it just fine. There’s a shorthand when you’re working with people who have all done this before. I knew half the crew. The director of photography is the son of the DP on ‘Newhart.’ It just felt incredibly familiar.”