NEW YORK (AP) — Actress Jessica Hecht, best known to the world for her supporting roles in “Friends” and “Breaking Bad,” was riding the subway in New York and someone was staring at her.
So she asked, “What am I doing that’s making you upset?” His reply: “Excuse me, you’re my hero on that show.”
Hecht says that’s been the common response — from men and women, old and young, black and white — to her performance as the loving, emotional mother of a gay son with cerebral palsy on Netflix’s “Special.”
Fans on social media have tweeted that the Tony-nominated Hecht is “a national treasure” and “a gift to this world” for this performance — though she wouldn’t know it because she doesn’t have a Twitter account.
On “Special,” Hecht, 53, plays Karen Hayes, the overbearing mother of a nearly 30-year-old disabled son trying to live his best life and find his voice. He’s portrayed by series creator and executive producer Ryan O’Connell.
“I have people you would never realize you touch talking to me in the street right now,” Hecht said. “I think it’s an incredible cross section because … it’s also like middle-aged women and men who are like, ‘Oh my god, that show is so great.’ I didn’t realize the scope of Netflix also. I’m a moron.”
“Special” debuted on Netflix last month and is based on O’Connell’s 2015 memoir, “I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.” Hecht joined the series after “The Big Bang Theory” actor and “Special” executive producer Jim Parsons, who became friends with Hecht while working on a play together, told her about the show. She was also contacted by director Anna Dokoza, who had worked with Hecht and Hecht’s husband, Emmy-winning director-producer Adam Bernstein.
Dokoza, also an executive producer on the show, praised Hecht’s stirring performance as a co-dependent single mother trying to learn how to put herself first.
“What I loved about this script is that this relationship is co-dependent because it has to be. She ties his shoelaces. This is not a maybe. This is the actual definition of a co-dependent relationship. So to see him want to break away from that, and to have a parent who’s been raising him for 28 years have no identity beyond that sort of stop and go — ‘Who am I when I am not tying his shoelaces?’ — is incredible. I just knew that Jessica could deliver that fine line,” Dokoza said.
“She’s an everyday person that’s trying to figure out how to live and how to assist her child and how to, for the first time in her life, put herself first. You can see all that on her face. In that final emotional scene when she’s actually, they just lay it all out, that’s heart-wrenching.”
That last scene actually had to be re-shot, though, since the footage was lost. Hecht remembers that her makeup was off, it was 2 in the morning, and she was soaking in the bathtub when she got the phone call with that bad news. “Is there any chance you can come back?” she heard on the other end of the phone. “Is there any chance you’re still awake? We’ve lost all your coverage of that scene.”
They re-shot it, but then a month later the original was recovered.
“They used like 30 seconds of the new one,” Hecht said. “Everything else was the original done that night.”
“Special” is a series you can binge-watch in less than two hours since each of the eight episodes are roughly 15 minutes. Hecht said shooting a short series “felt like doing an indie movie,” and said it all worked thanks to O’Connell’s sharp writing skills.
“When you read short stories, each one has something juicy in it. That’s the way the script, the whole series, read to me. He allows each character to truly be developed in certain episodes,” she said.
Hecht has had a steady career in the last three decades: On “Friends,” she was part of one of the first lesbian couples on television as Susan Bunch, the wife of Ross Geller’s ex-wife, Carol Willick. She played Gretchen Schwartz in “Breaking Bad,” and she has appeared often on Broadway, earning a 2010 Tony nomination for best featured actress in a play for Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” (she lost to co-star Scarlett Johansson).
“I’ve been blessed to work on things both in the theater and on TV where people have substantial stories about human life that they want to tell,” she said.
Her “Friends” role remains special to her because the lesbian character “had not been seen on TV before.
“That is the gift that keeps on giving. I love lesbians. I’m actually like, ‘Oh my god, you’re a lesbian? We are going to be so close,'” she said, laughing. “I’ve played a lot of lesbian characters. I think it’s that I just love women.”