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How Katey Sagal got fired by Bob Dylan, won fame as housewife Peg Bundy and turned into a 'Rebel’

·7 min read

Katey Sagal has been working so hard at ABC that one of her characters got sick.

The star of first-season drama "Rebel" (Thursdays, 10 EDT/PDT), in which she plays an activist dynamo inspired by Erin Brockovich, had to take a break from "The Conners" (Wednesdays, 8 EDT/PDT) due to filming conflicts. The solution: Louise, the girlfriend of widower Dan Conner (John Goodman), contracted coronavirus and went into quarantine, a plotline appropriate for a comedy that embraces contemporary issues.

"Louise had COVID because she had to go be a rebel. That was kind of how we worked around that," Sagal says, explaining the maneuver that gave her time to focus on Annie 'Rebel' Flynn Ray Bello, a thrice-married mother of three and unstoppable crusader for the downtrodden.

Don't worry, Louise recovers and will return on Wednesday. Sagal loves her recurring role on "The Conners" and says she is contractually allowed to continue on the "Roseanne" spinoff if "Rebel" is renewed for a second season.

In a business where employment is always tenuous – especially as actors age – Sagal, 67, known for memorable roles in "Sons of Anarchy," "Married... with Children" and "Futurama," remains in heavy demand. "Rebel" is a big play for ABC, with Krista Vernoff ("Grey's Anatomy," "Station 19") as creator, Brockovich as an executive producer and Andy Garcia and John Corbett as her co-stars.

Despite her busy schedule, Sagal, a mother of three who's married to "Anarchy" creator Kurt Sutter, also is a singer-songwriter who hopes to start scheduling performances again with her band, The Forest Rangers, when the pandemic recedes enough for group gatherings.

During a break in "Rebel" filming, Sagal spoke to USA TODAY about her career and life. (Edited and condensed for clarity)

Question: How much are you modeling Rebel on legendary environmental activist Brockovich, who was played by Julia Roberts in a movie?

Katey Sagal: Rebel is a consumer advocate, she's a fighter for social justice, but I'm not playing Erin Brockovich. There are broad strokes that are similar. Like (Rebel is) on her third marriage. (Erin) has also had three marriages. She gives voice to the voiceless, and that is very similar to Erin.

Q: Do you see any of yourself in Rebel?

Sagal: Not as much as I thought because I tend to be a little more chill. It's been great to channel somebody that gets in your face and doesn't let go and says what she really feels and thinks, even if it's somewhat inappropriate. It's been kind of liberating to play somebody like that. We'll see if my family starts telling me that I'm not letting them get a word in edgewise.

Q: Your daughter, Sarah Grace White, appeared in a recent episode as a young woman who needs Rebel's help with a negligent landlord. What was it like working with her?

Sagal: We've never acted together, so it was really exciting. We had so much fun. She's worked on series before, so it was like just another pro actor with me, not so much about mom and daughter, which is very nice.

Q: Did they try to make the two of you look different on the show?

Sagal: Yes. They wanted no resemblance. So, she's got the glasses, she's got her hair up and I think she looks not like my daughter. I think she looks like this freaked-out Millennial that's dealing with poisoned water.

Q: You seem as busy as ever acting these days, with other recent roles in "Shameless," "Dead to Me," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "Superior Donuts." How do you feel about this part of your career?

Sagal; I feel blessed and grateful that I keep working. I'm really glad (they) decided to use an age-appropriate actress to play Rebel, which I think is something that should be addressed more. I'm proud to sort of symbolize somebody in her 60s leading the charge and having that position on a show. I'm very lucky.

Q: Do you feel more actors are getting roles as they get older?

Sagal: I see more and more older women in bigger roles. Part of the issue (is) there are fewer parts for women of a certain age that are being written. So that would be a place that we could see more representation. It's so funny how in Europe they treat getting older as a fantastic thing, and in this country, we're kind of youth-oriented, which is sort of boring.

Q: Who would win in a fight, Gemma from "Anarchy" or Rebel?

Sagal: Probably Gemma because she would use a gun. (Laughs) Gemma was an outlaw. Rebel pushes the boundaries of the law, but she stays within it. Even though she (has) a gun she wouldn't shoot you. Gemma would shoot you.

Q: How would a couple of your other memorable characters, Leela from "Futurama" or Peg Bundy from "Married," do against them?

Sagal: Leela's a tough one. She might karate chop somebody. That's her whole thing. Peg would be much more passive. Peg was the lightest of all those women. She didn't care. I think she would walk away from a fight.

Ed O'Neill, left, and Katey Sagal starred in the long-running hit sitcom "Married... with Children."
Ed O'Neill, left, and Katey Sagal starred in the long-running hit sitcom "Married... with Children."

Q: Which one of your characters do fans talk about most often?

Sagal: A lot of people were very scared of Gemma, so I’ll get a lot of like, 'Hi' (feigning fear). I still have an enormous fan base for Peg. People really like ("Married"). It makes them laugh. Leela has a very strong following. My voice is usually what people will recognize right away (from "Futurama"). So, it's kind of a tossup. And Rebel's getting some chitchat now, too.

Katey Sagal performs onstage during The Paley Center for Media's 2013 benefit gala.
Katey Sagal performs onstage during The Paley Center for Media's 2013 benefit gala.

Q: Before your acting career took off, your early professional focus was singing, with stints as a backing vocalist for Bob Dylan, Etta James, Tanya Tucker and Bette Midler. What was it like working with those big stars?

Sagal: My story with Bob Dylan is interesting because he fired me and I never actually made it on the road with him. I made it through a six-week rehearsal process, which was mind-blowing because I was 18. There I was with Bob Dylan and he's singing "Just Like a Woman" and all those songs. And one week before the tour, he fired all the singers and half the band. He just wanted something different. But I was starstruck. It was really amazing to go to rehearsal with him every day. I'm sure I was singing terribly because I was so enamored. Singing with Etta was really amazing. I went in a bus all across country with Etta and the band and she'd let me open her shows sometimes. And Tanya Tucker, I remember there was a time when she was with Glen Campbell, so he’d be on the road with us. And then with Bette Midler, I went all over the world. That was a fantastic experience as well.

Q: With two TV shows and hopes for a return to band performances, do you have time for anything else?

Sagal: I'm also a mom and I have three kids and a husband and that's as important as anything in my life. My youngest is now 14, so I feel like I can work these kinds of hours and that she's duly taken care of. The other two are in their 20s and they're on their own, so I feel like this is a time of my life when I want to work a lot. I love what I do. Playing this role has been so rewarding and fun.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Rebel': Katey Segal talks new ABC drama, Bob Dylan and more

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