LOS ANGELES: Mackenzie Phillips is upending expectations with her portrayal of a brutal inmate on “Orange is the New Black.” The actor has battled addiction and made disturbing sexual abuse allegations well before such revelations were common, and she’s forthright when asked to look back at those dark chapters.
She’d rather concentrate on the work – whether acting or helping people address addiction at a Southern California treatment facility – though she said her personal life also is “fantastic.”
There was conflicting family reaction when, in her 2009 memoir “High on Arrival,” Phillips alleged sexual abuse by her father, the late John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas group.
Phillips, who gained fame in the 1970s on the sitcom “One Day at a Time” but lost the role in fallout from her drug and alcohol use, appears on the Netflix reboot as leader of a veterans support group.
On Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” Phillips is nearly unrecognizable as Barbara, whose face shows her cruelty and self-destructiveness. Drugs also are part of the character’s life, a real-life parallel that Phillips addressed during this interview.
Q: Did you have any hesitation taking the part of Barbara because of ego?
A: No, because it’s a character. I’m a woman of a certain age who hasn’t had any plastic surgery and plans to keep it that way. Consider this: Had I been Botoxed and nipped and tucked and lifted, they never would have hired me. I’m very proud of my age because I never thought I would live this long.
Q: Did you feel removed enough from your own drug use to play an addicted character?
A: People said, ‘Weren’t you triggered by snorting fake drugs?’ I was like, ‘No, I was absolutely filled with the deepest gratitude that I don’t live that way.’ It’s very bleak, and there’s nothing to look forward to but the next hit for Barb.
So when she’s not getting high, she starts focusing all that beautiful energy that you could focus on wellness or helping people on revenge and resentment.
Q: How long have you been sober?
A: I have come to the conclusion, throughout many years of sobriety, that time does not treat nor does it barely heal this thing.
Otherwise I wouldn’t have relapsed and gotten arrested almost 10 years ago to the day.
Q: So how do you measure where you stand?
A: What you’re doing in the day that you’ve been given that’s taking you away from a drink or a drug, and what are you doing that’s taking you back toward one.
Are you helping other people? Because in this whole world of recovery you cannot keep it unless you give it away.
Q: Your allegations about your father got sharp pushback. Do you think you would have been perceived differently in the MeToo era?
A: I think that if ‘High on Arrival’ came out now, people would not have been speculating on whether I was a liar or not. I remember watching one of those evening magazine shows and they actually had a body language expert who was looking at clips of me talking on ‘Oprah’ and seeing whether or not from my body language if I was lying. I don’t think that would be considered appropriate today.