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Betty White, recipient of this year’s SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, has given memorable performances in some of the most loved television series of all time — from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to “The Carol Burnett Show” to “The Golden Girls.” Her film career includes such credits as “Lake Placid” and “The Proposal.” Add to this her lifelong charitable efforts and that makes for quite a career. The Hollywood Reporter’s Chris Koseluk spoke with White about her career and the SAG honor.
The Hollywood Reporter: The Internet Movie Database lists your first on-camera credit as the feature film “Time to Kill.” What do you remember most about your debut?
Betty White: I don’t know where they got that from — the first thing I did was television. I was doing five-and-a-half hours, six days a week, in Los Angeles — live! Then I did my first television series, “Life With Elizabeth.” I had a staff of one: writer George Tibbles. He wrote and I produced; I was one of the first women producers in Hollywood. George would drive me to the studio and we’d talk about what we were going to do, ad lib some things. This was when I was still doing the other five-and-a-half hours. He’d write the script and we’d film it. When he drove me home, we’d talk about next week’s show.
THR: What’s your criteria for choosing a project?
White: I’ve learned that actors are just a part of the process; it’s all about the writing. If it’s not on the page, it’s not going to work. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was easy. I didn’t join the show until the fourth year, so I knew exactly what I was going into. “Golden Girls” was pure gold: Once I read that script and saw the casting, I knew I had to be involved. I guess the hardest one for me to decide on was David E. Kelley’s film “Lake Placid.” But it turns out that’s the one I get the most feedback from. David was wonderful to work with and it’s become kind of a cult classic. Everyone loves to tell me how much they enjoyed me as a naughty old woman.
THR: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
White: Professionalism. It’s not about you, it’s about everyone. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Come to the set prepared and don’t act like you know more than anyone else or you’re more important than anyone else in the production.
THR: The SAG award also notes your extensive philanthropic endeavors.
White: Well, you know, I have to keep acting so that I can afford to keep doing my charity work! I’ve been involved with both the Morris Animal Foundation and the L.A. Zoo for 42 years. I’m actually the luckiest old broad alive. Half my life is working in a profession I love and the other half is working with animals. I couldn’t ask for more.
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