LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mackenzie Phillips, who’s upending expectations with her portrayal of a brutal inmate on “Orange is the New Black,” deserves another look off-screen as well.
Phillips has battled addiction and made disturbing sexual abuse allegations well before such revelations were common, and she’s forthright when asked to look back at those dark chapters.
But it’s the work that’s keeping her busy and fulfilled now — whether acting or helping people address addiction at a Southern California treatment facility — that she’d rather concentrate on.
Her personal life also is “fantastic,” she said, including her relationships with her half-siblings (actress Bijou Phillips and singer Chynna Phillips are among them).
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There was conflicting family reaction when Phillips alleged sexual abuse by her father, the late John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas musical fame, in her 2009 memoir “High on Arrival.”
Phillips, 58, who gained fame in the 1970s on the sitcom “One Day at a Time” but lost the role as fallout from her drug and alcohol use, appears on the Netflix reboot as leader of a veterans support group. On Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” Phillips is nearly unrecognizable as Barbara, whose face shows her cruelty and self-destructiveness.
Drugs also are part of the character’s life, a real-life parallel that Phillips addressed during an interview with The Associated Press. Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: You mentioned viewers have been taken aback by how you look playing Barbara. Any hesitation to take the part because of ego?
Phillips: No, because it’s a character. And I’m a woman of a certain age who hasn’t had any plastic surgery and plans to keep it that way. Consider this: Had I been Botox’d and nipped and tucked and lifted, they never would have hired me. I’m very proud of my age because I never thought I would live this long.
AP: Did you feel removed enough from your own drug use to play an addicted character?
Phillips: People said, ‘Weren’t you triggered by snorting fake drugs?’ I was like, ‘No, I was absolutely filled with the deepest gratitude that I don’t live that way.’ It’s very bleak, and there’s nothing to look forward to but the next hit for Barb. So when she she’s not getting high, she starts focusing all that beautiful energy that you could focus on wellness or helping people on revenge and resentment. It’s pretty textbook that energy needs to be focused somewhere purposeful or you’re going to get high again.
AP: How long have you been sober?
Phillips: Well, this is where it gets interesting. I have come to the conclusion, throughout many years of sobriety, that time does not treat nor does it barely heal this thing. Otherwise I wouldn’t have relapsed and gotten arrested almost 10 years ago to the day. Demi Lovato, bless her heart, I’m so supportive of her, wouldn’t have relapsed after six years if it mattered how long a person was sober.
AP: So how do you measure where you stand?
Phillips: What you’re doing in the day that you’ve been given that’s taking you away from a drink or a drug, and what are you doing that’s taking you back toward one. Are you helping other people? Because in this whole world of recovery you cannot keep it unless you give it away. You can’t like hold your recovery to yourself.
AP: Do you think your allegations about your father, which got sharp pushback, would have been perceived differently in the MeToo era?
Phillips: I think that if ‘High on Arrival’ came out now, people would not have been speculating on whether I was a liar or not. I remember watching one of those evening magazine shows and they actually had a body language expert who was looking at clips of me talking on ‘Oprah’ and seeing whether or not from my body language if I was lying. I don’t think that would be considered appropriate today. So I think it would have been a very different experience. But I’m not sure.
AP: What else are you up to now?
Phillips: My life is fantastic. I’ve been in the same house for 18 years. I have a 31-year-old son named Shane, who is a spectacular human being. I have a bunch of dogs. I’m in relationships with my sisters. I mean, it’s an incredible thing.
Lynn Elber can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.