Marcia believed she could be on the verge of winning a role in which she might have an “Oscar moment.”
In the roles she was best known for, Marcia Hammond had played difficult women.
She had trained at Juilliard and she knew how to craft a facial reaction, taking it from what they called “zero” to “fifty” in under five seconds (a remarkable time), but because doing so correlated negatively to her physical beauty, Marcia had committed herself to the singularity of character acting.
She was not yet leading lady material, her agent told her one day that shortly followed her fortieth birthday. That is to say, she was not pretty enough to play the principle love interest, but if the right part came along, well, who knew?
A real-life role in which Marcia slayed was the late-night talk show circuit, primarily due to the good will generated by a character named Vicky, whom Marcia played on an widely popular TV show about a man’s midlife crisis. Marcia Hammond played a bitchy older sister to the main character’s dimpled, twinkle-eyed scoundrel. As testament to Marcia’s sensitive acting of this part, a small but devoted fan base had developed on Twitter in support of Vicky, using the hashtag #SisterBitch.
On this particular night, Marcia was discussing her new film, “Orlandia,” on “The Late Night Show with Danny Kramer.” The film was a thin romantic comedy about training German Shepherds to become K-9 service dogs. Marcia Hammond’s character was the wife-half of one of five different couples—she and her husband trained the dogs. In the film, the puppies are born too soon. Marcia’s character develops a maternal attachment to the puppies which threatens to derail the dogs’ training, and even her marriage.
“They say that these puppies develop these incredibly strong bonds with whomever their trainer is, because the training starts when they’re so young. You can see throughout the first few months of their ‘training,’ the puppies wake up every day happy. Every day, they’re hoping, you know, that they’ll see their mother. As they get to be maybe three months old, they start figuring out that they won’t be seeing their mother and the desperation, the loneliness, the sense of frailty and neglect, is all visible to the trainer in these first few seconds of being awakened every morning,” she told Danny. Marcia snapped her fingers for emphasis.
“Which is referred to as a ‘liminal space.’ The town of Orlandia is that space.” Marcia said this and spread her hands out, empty, before the crowd, like a magician who had finished a trick.
Six Million Dollar Woman
If you ever asked her, Marcia would tell you that she had deliberately structured her career to get to that appearance on Danny Kramer; Marcia believed she could be on the verge of winning a role in which she might have an “Oscar moment.”
Marcia Hammond was one of Hollywood’s six million dollar women: Since her late twenties, she had been agented from bit parts in a few, but not too many, nimrod blockbuster slops to horribly written supporting roles in saccharine romantic comedies like “Orlandia” to powerful cameos on “Law & Order: SVU” and “The Good Wife” to, now, the supporting role of a partially developed character on a TV show about a man’s midlife crisis. She lived in a nice house close to the ocean in Pacific Palisades and was frequently recognized when she went shopping around town. She was lucky.
Since she was a girl, she had practiced crying in the pink mirror above the desk in her bedroom. By the time she was Marcia Hammond-the #SisterBitch, she was also known for her knack for the horrified, admonishing whisper. But how to get her own six-million dollar Oscar moment? There would be tears along the rims of her eyes in the moment, but not the tears of a simple sorrow: this was a warm desolation that suggested the woman on the screen might be salvageable. And when she is ruined—was there ever a chance that she wouldn’t be?—the audience can easily depart from the dark theater with one of her limbs or with a lock of her hair.
The audience hadn’t paid $15 for a happy ending, no. They had swiped their cards and dutifully shuffled into the story’s chamber to witness a movie about a woman they knew like a second skin; she was their mother and she belonged to everyone.
Marcia had the opportunity to play a survivor of sexual assault later in her career in a before her #SisterBitch role.
In order to play the survivor role, she deprived herself of sleep for a week. Marcia carefully watched herself in her house’s many mirrors. (Her friends privately thought the mirrors vain, but acknowledged that the vanity was to be expected of an actor of her calibre. It was Marcia’s job, they said, to pull gazes into her body.)
When Marcia left her house to go for a walk, the buildings downtown seemed to flicker with a brashness she had never noticed when sleeping regularly. She thought of the opening credits of “The Shadow”—an inanimate object glides forward and, through the trick of an eye, grabs the villain by the collar.
On the sixth day of her sleep deprivation, Marcia went into the studio to film the grand denouement of the episode. In this scene, the detective played by Kelly McKinley would finally extract a confession from Marcia’s character about what exactly had happened on the night of August 3.
Marcia’s hands shook of their own accord. She closed her eyes and she pulled forth her lines.
The words were a long, colorful magician’s scarf that Marcia excavated from her throat. Kelly’s eyes grew larger and larger as the silk fell onto the table and was then stuffed into a police file.
Marcia Hammond would win her first Emmy for her portrayal of this survivor. The episode itself would earn the highest ratings in the show’s history.
A Difficult Woman
The members of the audience applauded and whistled and stamped their feet. Backstage, Marcia was being offered a role by an agent friend of Danny Kramer’s. “When you were making that face out there, ha, what a riot,” the agent said, referring to a face Marcia had made upon a request of Danny’s. The #SisterBitch face. “I think you’d be perfect for this role.”
The role the agent offered her was for a light-hearted drama in which a difficult woman married to a man who was going through a midlife crisis. A niche, the agent told Marcia, she was going to knock out of the ballpark.
She thought about it for half a second.
“What fun,” Marcia Hammond offered him.