Actress Lili Taylor has made a career of confronting challenges.
Once considered the queen of independent movies like “Short Cuts,” “Household Saints” and “The Haunting,” she began to change that when she accepted the role of the whole-Earth mother who mysteriously disappears in HBO’s “Six Feet Under.” That part was supposed to be only four episodes, but ballooned to more than 20.
Now she’s done the unthinkable for Lili Taylor — she’s starring in a TV series. In “State of Mind,” premiering tonight on Lifetime, Taylor plays a conscientious therapist whose own life is cartwheeling out of control.
“I’ve just widened my definition of independent,” says the soft-spoken Taylor, 40. “I feel autonomy on this project, and to me that’s independence.”
She’s been in analysis herself, and says it works for her. “There have been moments in my life where I do feel there’s been a crossing a threshold or a stepping-up to right now and letting go of whatever the old thing I’ve been holding on to,” she says.
One of six children, Taylor grew up 30 miles north of Chicago and knew early on that she wanted to be an actress. Her dad, who was a poet at heart, owned a hardware store. And exposure to that somehow rubbed off on Taylor.
“I actually love fixing things, I think that’s one of my favorite things … not intense construction or anything like that. Things are broken, I like fixing them. I bring little tools with me and have things ready to go. … Mothers who are overwhelmed and their door keeps falling off its hinges, I just love getting in there and fixing it so it’s one less stress thing for them. ”
Though she seems to have a transcendent calm about her, she wasn’t always so serene. She was kicked out of college because she needed to miss a day of class for a performance and one teacher objected.
She landed her first job because she showed up at the wrong time at the wrong place on the wrong date. “If a movie would come to Chicago they would pull students to come in for a cattle call. I misunderstood the dates and went to the wrong place, which turned out to be the right place because it’s where the director was meeting people with appointments — not a cattle call. And I came in, and I think the director saw me waiting and said, ‘Why don’t we see her also?’ And I got close. They put me out on something else, and they signed me. I was still a senior.”
But when she quarreled with Actors’ Equity about the roles she was taking, she decided things would be more flexible in New York.
Taylor’s sweetheart is writer-poet Nick Flynn, with whom she shares a home in New York. She’d like to marry and have a family someday, she says. “I’m more unconventional than he is but I’m open to it. I’m the only one who’s not married in my family. I’m also not waiting for him to ask me because I would ask him. We’ve done well with a lot of breathing room, that’s been very good for us so you know what? We’ll get to things when we’re ready.”
The series premiere of “State of Mind” airs 9 p.m. today on Lifetime.