Katey Sagal Talks New Movie, Being Fired By Bob Dylan, And Villain Roles - Exclusive Interview

Katey Sagal is terrifying — but don't worry, it's just an act. When we sit down for our Zoom call on a sunny weekday afternoon, the Golden Globe-winning actress exudes the kind of warmth and whip-smart sarcasm that helped her become one of the America's most beloved sitcom moms. It's a stark contrast from Harper Dutch, the pathologically twisted country star she embodies in the Blumhouse thriller, "Torn Hearts."  


Sagal's sprawling career has transcended genre, whether she's playing a cartoon humanoid (see: "Futurama") or a deranged therapist (see: "Shameless"). She rarely takes on the same role twice, and it's part of what led her to a Golden Globe. Above all, the actress has a soft heart for playing characters with an edge, even if she can't always relate. It's the one thing, she explains, that gives her an outlet for the grittiest human emotions — and after a decades-spanning career in Hollywood, she's probably felt a lot of them.

In this exclusive interview with The List, Sagal opens up about Hollywood's notorious boy's club, the pain of losing a castmate, and the infamous time she was fired by Bob Dylan. As it turns out, her secret to success is to just keep on going.


Katey Sagal's advice for women hoping to make it in Hollywood

You have been in almost every section of the entertainment industry — from music, to acting, to voice acting. You've ignored casting directors who told you were never going to make it, and you've become so successful in what's notoriously a boys' club. I want to know if there's any advice you would give to young women hoping to achieve the same type of success?


I could give my own personal experience, which is don't give up — don't! It takes a certain amount of self appreciation to stick with this. I started as a musician, and that was definitely a boys' club, but I was determined to make a living and make my way. Plus, I had no other skill sets, so it was like, "This better work or I'm screwed."

I started as a musician, and then acting came as a second thing. But then, I struggled through both of them. It's like what I tell my kids — my older kids are both in the arts. You have to be part crazy to do this. ... And then you have to have that [attitude] — you can't give up. You have to really know, and you have to be able to handle rejection. You have to do a lot of self-work, so that you realize that you're not what you do. That you are still viable, even though somebody's not recognizing you or giving you a job.


The whole boys' world thing is, I don't know, it's opening up a lot. And it's something we have to deal with, but it's getting easier and easier. I hope for younger women, it's going to be not an issue. That's what I hope.

"Torn Hearts" touched on that a lot — that kind of culture within the music industry of women being in an almost cannibalistic environment. I wanted to know if there's anything you brought from your career as a musician into your role?

It was a lot about how far you'll go to get famous. How much of your moral compass will you leave behind? And some of that dog-eat-dog style of getting what you want is sort of set up by a boys' club. So, it's kind of the misfortune that women have to struggle even a little bit harder.

[In the movie], what you see is, first of all, my character, who has been through the fame machine and now has a dark secret. [She] has lost [fame], and doesn't know how to function without it. She's [struggling] because she's not famous anymore, and she's hiding. And then you see the two girls coming in and what they'll rationalize to themselves is okay in the name of possible fame. It's a big lesson in what we'll do when we're afraid.

What being a 'nepotism baby' is really like

Do you think fame takes its toll on people?

I do. It's got to. I grew up in Hollywood. I was born here. My parents were in show business. So I had a very realistic view of what this was and how hard this work is. That it's not all the glitz and glamor [we think] it is.


A lot of people come here thinking it's going to be. ... I mean, you see it a lot in child stars that were famous, and then they grow up, and [fame is] not really happening. 

I wanted to ask you about your background. Right now on TikTok, there's a huge conversation about the idea of "nepotism babies." It's not all bad. A lot of people are saying, "Wow, look at this talent in this family. The kids are even more talented than the parents." And obviously some people use it to say, "Well, that's the only reason that person is famous." I wanted to know, what was it really like growing up with famous parents?

I wanted to be a musician, I didn't want to be an actor, so there was no way they could help me. My father [Boris Sagal] was a director. My mother [Sara Zwilling] was a writer. But, what my dad did do — this is the nepotism on his side — was put me in something so I would get a union card, so that I would have health benefits. So, that was a really great thing [he did].


And yes, it is very difficult to get your leg up and get a union card as an actor. That's the first thing that's really hard. So that paid off great. And yes, that was a helpful nepotism. What I know about it is — because I also have children that are artists — it doesn't matter. Once you get in the door, which is definitely hard to get in, then you're on your own. It doesn't matter what your name is. It doesn't matter who your parents are. It doesn't matter. Your talent has to stand on its own or it's not going to happen.

It's such a hard industry to break into, that if you have a connection, use it. And also, as a parent of kids that both do this, I would be the first one to say to them, "Don't do this. You're not good enough. It's too hard. Go find something else."

In my case, my two older kids are very talented. So, I don't feel like my son, who is an actor, is leaning on [nepotism]. He doesn't even tell people that I'm his mom, and they both have a different last name. They barely tell people that I'm involved with them, and they get jobs on their own.

I would tell my kids the same thing.

Right? It's really hard.

Sometimes your boss fires you (and that boss is Bob Dylan)

You've told this story a million times, and I just really want to hear it from you. Tell me about how you were fired by Bob Dylan.

Oh, that was a great story. Well, I was all of 18-years-old. I got the job by a fluke because of my friend who I was a singer with. We made a record together, actually. My friend, she lived on the beach near Bob Dylan, and she became a friend of his.


He was putting together a band after [The Rolling Thunder Revue Tour]. [My friend] brought me and another girl and said, "Here we are. We're going to be your singers." And he hired us. We started the rehearsal process, and about two months into the rehearsal process, he fired all of us and half the band.

So I never actually made it to the road with him. I never made a record with him. But to me, it was so iconic to stand there and sing "Just Like A Woman" with Bob Dylan in the room. I always tell people that I worked with Bob Dylan because it was amazing. We would all sit around after the rehearsal, and he'd play back the rehearsal tape. And if you made a mistake, he'd look at you. It was like, "Whoa, I'm terrified right now." But it was a great job. It was great.


That's so intense, and who cares if you get fired after you've already been in the room? You did it.

Yeah, 100%. I did. 

This role is closest to the real Katey Sagal

You have played a complete range of wildly different characters. Your character in "Torn Hearts" is legitimately terrifying, but Cate Hennessy from "8 Simple Rules" is completely the opposite. She's everybody's TV mother. So, which role do you think is closest to who you are and why?


Probably more Cate Hennessy. To play these badass women is so much fun, and clearly I have an inner badass in me. I don't believe that I'm vicious, and I don't believe that I'm vindictive, but it's great. We all have those emotions, so it's great to be able to dispel them and utilize them. So those are fun, but in my personal life, I'm definitely more Cate Hennessy in terms of raising my kids. They'd probably call me a badass, but I'm a big mom. I love being their mom. So, that's me personally.

Do you prefer playing a villain or playing the good guy?

Well, I've played more villains than good guys. Oh, in [ABC's "Rebel"] I was a good guy. I like playing a good guy with an edge.

I felt like that was your character in "Shameless."


Oh, absolutely. That was so fun. She was a mess too. She was a messy lady.

Behind-the-scenes of the tragedy that rocked '8 Simple Rules'

I want to talk about "8 Simple Rules." It was absolutely tragic when John Ritter passed away. That was one of the few times I cried while watching a sitcom. I know that the writers worked it into the plot, but what was it like behind the scenes? 


It was absolutely heartbreaking. It still is. I just saw [John Ritter's son] Jason Ritter the other day, and I still talk to Kaley [Cuoco] and Amy [Davidson]. We feel like we all went through a life-changing experience.

It was a real tough call for everybody to decide to continue the show or to not continue. And then when they made the decision to play it in real time, that dad really died. And that was a brave choice ... suddenly it was a single mom. But it was really weird. It was heartbreaking. He was the whole show and such a big love vibe. He was so great.

With all the range of projects you do, how do you decide? A lot of actors do only comedy, or you can tell what they're going to do. How do you decide what's the right project for you?


Well, first they have to offer me the job. And then, [I like] if it's something that I had never done before — why I did "Torn Hearts." I don't want to keep repeating, and if I'm offered something where it's like, "Oh my goodness, I [already] did this," then I'm not so drawn to it. Sometimes I am, because a gig is a gig.

Everybody has this illusion that we just get offered tons of things, and we get to pick and choose all the time. It's not that way. At every turn, sometimes you're weighing options, but unless you're, I don't know, Tom Cruise, or usually a dude, it's hard to. Choices are not that available.

You can catch Katey Sagal as Harper Dutch in Blumhouse TV's "Torn Hearts," premiering digitally on May 20th.

This interview has been edited for clarity.