It probably shouldn't have surprised us to see Katherine Helmond turn up on HBO's True Blood last week.
After all, the grande dame of the small screen has done everything on TV but host Meet the Press.
She's guest-starred on shows from Mannix to The Glades. She's had recurring roles on series including Coach and Everybody Loves Raymond. In TV biopics, she's played everyone from Emily Dickinson to Hedda Hopper.
Helmond also has had long and memorable runs on hits such as Soap and Who's the Boss? and has been nominated for an Emmy seven times. Funny thing, though; even in ensemble comedies like those, it's inevitably her character who lingers most vividly in your head.
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Even after all that experience, True Blood and its swampy Louisiana setting proved to be a special treat for Helmond.
"I was so pleased when they sent me the script," she says on the phone from her home in Los Angeles. "It's a subject I love to read about because I come from that Gulf Coast area.
"I grew up hearing about the walking undead. I had a fascination with it as a child."
Helmond, 83, is a native of Galveston, Texas. "Sometimes it would rain 15 days in a row," she says. "We'd have to move all the furniture up to the second floor in case of flooding."
The conditions on the True Blood set in Hollywood, Fla., where she shot her first episode as Portia and Andy's grandmother Caroline Bellefleur, also brought back childhood memories.
"The humidity is beyond belief. You just cannot go outside," she says. "All the actresses are given parasols so when you went into the sun, it wouldn't affect the makeup. I think they want all the actresses to be very pale anyway."
Helmond will appear in her second and final episode of True Blood on Aug. 7.
Vampires aren't the only ones who have to worry about sun exposure. Southern belles are delicate creatures, too.
A successful stage actress — she was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 — Helmond was thrown by her first TV experience in 1962, an episode of Car 54, Where Are You?, the classic sitcom starring Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne.
"They shot the last scene of the piece the first day I got to the set," she says. "It was all out of sequence. I thought, 'Good heavens, no wonder it's a mess.'
"I still feel that way. When I go to work and then see the piece on TV, I think, 'By gosh, they got it all put together!' It's still magic to me."
Of all her roles, Helmond says she is most associated with the loony matriarch Jessica Tate on the 1970s parody Soap. The part was a departure for her.
"When I first came out here" to Los Angeles, she says, "I played weeping ladies and much put-upon women. A director recommended me for the role on Soap. They said, 'She plays heavy roles, murderesses and the like.' He said, 'Onstage, she could be very, very funny.'"
With Soap, her career took a Leslie Nielsen-like turn into the absurd.
"What happens in Hollywood," she says, "is that if you get a heavy part, you're stuck in that kind of role. If someone takes a chance and lets you play funny, then they say, 'But can she be serious?' It's like the last part you did is the only thing you can do."
Obviously, with a résumé as varied and deep as Helmond's, there's nothing she can't do.