Finding ‘Heaven’ in Hollywood
‘7th Heaven’ Actress’ Life ‘a Miracle’
BY Tim Drake
April 15-21, 2007 Issue | Posted 4/10/07 at 10:00 AM
Catherine Hicks has had every role an actress longs for — Broadway, television, and motion pictures. She currently stars as Annie Camden in the CW network’s popular television series “7th Heaven.” Described as a Donna Reed for a new millennium, one national magazine poll named her the best role model for women. In 2005, she donated a six-figure gift to Catholic Relief Services in support of the agency’s relief efforts in Darfur, Sudan. A lifelong Catholic, she says her faith for her is everything. She spoke recently with Register senior writer Tim Drake from Hollywood. Hicks is also featured in the current issue of the Register’s sister publication, Faith & Family magazine.
You grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., What did your parents do for a living?
My father was an electronics salesman and my mother was a homemaker. I was born in New York but they moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., for health reasons. My father had a kidney condition and couldn’t get a virus. The doctor told him he should move to a dry climate and recommended either Spain or Arizona. When my parents moved to Arizona there was nothing there but sheep, cowboys, and my parents. It was very pioneering, very lonely.
Do you have a favorite Church-related childhood memory?
My father was trained by the Jesuits and went to Fordham. I remember the sunsets in Arizona. They are magnificent. My father would take me out back to look at these splashes of vibrant color and he would say the Gloria. He told me to remember that this comes from God and said it was an opportunity to give glory to God.
I remember saying the Rosary together, especially on any long road trip. Christmas Eves were special. We would put the Baby Jesus into a humble little manger at midnight and go to Mass the next day.
I remember the great taste of bacon-and-egg sandwiches in the morning. A friend and I would ride our bikes and go to Mass at 8 a.m. We wouldn’t eat breakfast so that we could receive Communion. After Mass, at school, I would have my bacon-and-egg sandwich. It was a big thrill for me.
My parents were part of the Christian Family Movement, where we would have Masses said in our home and rotate with other families. I recall priests coming to our home and saying Mass in our living room. Catholicism was really woven through so much.
What initially led you into acting?
I went all through college as an English major and theology minor at St. Mary’s at Notre Dame. I liked being in front of people and desperately wanted to be on the field at Notre Dame as a cheerleader. I remember looking at the stadium and thinking, “I don’t want to be one of those colored dots in life.”
I didn’t get to be a cheerleader. During my sophomore year I got mono, was in the infirmary and spent a lot of time in bed. During that time I read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. While I lay in bed, I would watch the theater people unloading scenery for shows on the docking entrance. I also noticed that the drama majors were the happiest people on campus.
At the time, I was lost. I would attend parties at night. One night, on my way to another beer bash, I stopped into the theater. There, on the stage, they were doing “Oliver” and singing. It was such a contrast to what I was doing. I realized that these kids had the answer. They were doing something real with their Saturday night. Yet, I wasn’t a theater person. I dared not be one of them.
During my junior year, I timidly took an acting class. On the last day of college, my theater professor asked me what I was going to do. I said I would probably pursue English. The professor told me I should consider going into acting. That was all I needed to hear. The clouds opened up and I went after it full force.
I was so behind everyone that I was full of excitement and determination, and that propelled me into a professional career. I got a scholarship to Cornell and that’s where I became an actor. I got on a bus with my suitcase in hand. It was definitely a calling.
When I would go by the theater arts building I had a king of sadness or longing. When I went into the theater it was like a temple. It was profound to me — like a holy place. I had no reason to go that way, but God tapped me on the shoulder and told me, “Go this way.”
Are there ways that your parents influenced your work?
The fact that they loved me so much gave me the confidence to think I was worth looking at. They influenced me by loving and supporting me and not getting divorced.
Divorce single-handedly breaks a child’s heart. We’re so concerned with health, but divorce is unhealthy for children no matter what the circumstances. It devastates them. I didn’t have to go through that.
My parents also taught me to pray. I’m thankful I had my faith all those lonely nights. It was a great comfort, but also a defense. I knew that if I prayed and asked God for help, I would get it. I knew I would be a success because I prayed for it.
Was there ever a time that you fell away from the practice of your faith? If so, what brought you back?
At Cornell, my acting teacher said you cannot be religious and be an artist. I sort of got it, because faith is a comfort and art comes from a lot of places, in a lot of people, from the dark chasm. In acting, you’re doing a lot of wonderful emotional work — shedding everything … existentially finding yourself and who you are without your parents, without society, without how you were raised.
It was good, but I wouldn’t want to stay there. I sort of lost myself, but not in a dangerous way. I allowed myself to get scared and fell — like a trapeze artist without a safety net. I sort of stopped going to Mass and forgot about it.
After Cornell, when I got to New York, I couldn’t resist the allure of finding a Church and going back on Sundays.
Is there a particular devotion or practice of the faith that you especially enjoy?
I love Padre Pio. I love St. Théresè of Lisieux and St. Catherine Laboure. Since last summer when I was in Paris, I’ve been praying to St. Joan of Arc and St. Genevieve. I use particular saints to pray for particular needs for my daughter and me. We have a special devotion to St. Catherine Laboure. She helped save my mother’s life. Both I and my daughter are named after her.
My mother had had a Caesarean when she gave birth to me. She choked on some ice that went down her throat and the stitches broke. She was losing blood pressure and bleeding to death. The nuns at St. Vincent’s put a Miraculous Medal on my mom. It just so happened that there were two Army doctors in the hospital that weekend. They told the nurses that they had learned on the battlefield that the blood couldn’t be dripped in, but had to be pumped back in to get the blood pressure up. They did that and were able to bring her back. Everyone proclaimed it a miracle.
How has the Church’s influence in your life shaped your art?
I don’t think the two go together. I’m a happy member of the Church. I’m proud of it and defend it. It makes me bold and gives me confidence. I feel I know the answer to life — what it’s all about. If you’re not searching for the answer to life, you have more time to make art. It’s a rock for me upon which I can tap dance.
The sacraments convey heavenly realities through ordinary means. Do you think you would be an artist at all, or the same kind of artist, without that sacramental reality?
If we can believe that ... miracles occur daily and that there is a hotline to heaven, we believe we can make anything we want to. Anything is possible with God, as Gabriel said to Mary.
I wouldn’t be the same actress I am today without my faith. I think an artist can get bogged down in depression. It may make for some good pieces, but a self-destruction can occur. That’s what can occur when one is very sensitive.
Faith can keep the artist from self-destruction.
What has the Church contributed to your soul that helps you to be an actress?
I think the other side of life — the whole invisible side. The Church provides an active calendar on the other side of visibility. It gives my soul joy, a conscience, and intuitions, whisperings, the Holy Spirit. I feel I can be warned and guided if I listen.
Is it difficult to be a practicing Catholic in Hollywood?
No, not at all. It’s a very liberal business, but the cliché about casting couches and Sodom and Gomorrah isn’t true at all. Because of the women’s movement in the 1970s, they couldn’t get away with hanky-panky. There’s nothing dangerous other than the loneliness.
It’s a lonely town. When I first came here I was very lonely. I’d fly home on weekends. As an only child, I embrace loneliness. Hollywood loneliness helped to understand Marilyn Monroe in a real way. I was able to portray her very well.
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
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