An actress finally gets to play Mom for real
LIKE ANY PARENT, ACTRESS JOBETH Williams knows that kids have a special knack for picking the wrong time to act up. While appearing in last year's Hollywood Christmas Parade, Williams, star of the CBS series The Client, was forced to play ref when her two sons, Will, 8, and Nick, 5, got into a scuffle in their vintage convertible. "One of them was kicking the other, and I'm clenching my teeth, going, 'We're on-camera—stop!' " she recalls. "I had to smile at the crowd and hold them apart at the same time."
Not that she's complaining. Williams, 47, and her husband, director John Pasquin, 50, struggled with infertility for five years before adopting their two boys. The experience, says Williams, was an "emotional roller coaster"—one that informs her portrayal on The Client of Atlanta attorney and child advocate Reggie Love, a recovering alcoholic whose two children were taken from her by the courts because of her. drinking. The character, adapted from the 1993 John Grisham novel (and played in the 1994 movie by Susan Sarandon), "is driven by the loss of her children," Williams says. "I spent years trying to become a mother. I know what that drive is all about."
Williams learned the importance of a mother's role early on. Her father, Roger, was a wire and cable company manager and part-time tenor at the Houston Grand Opera who had problems with alcohol. "He never hit me," JoBeth has said, "but he'd come home fairly bombed and be loud and abusive and occasionally break furniture." He died when she was 16; throughout the tough times her mother, Frances, a dietitian, was "very stable and strong," JoBeth says. "That's why I think I admire southern women."
Williams met Pasquin—then a theater director—during an audition in New York City shortly after she graduated in 1970 with an English degree from Brown University. By the time they married in 1982, she had landed parts in Kramer vs. Kramer, Poltergeist and The Big Chill. She was nominated for an Emmy for playing murder victim Adam Walsh's mother in the 1983 TV movie Adam, and she was nominated again for her turn in 1988 as surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead in Baby M.
But while Williams was winning praise for her work, her efforts to become a mother went unrewarded. "Everyone kept telling me, 'If you just relax, it'll happen,' " she says. But by 1985, "we realized it was time to get serious." She had fibroids removed from her uterus, took fertility drugs and, at long last, got pregnant—only to miscarry at 13 weeks. For months afterward, she was depressed and distant from John (who has a daughter, Sarah, 28, from his first marriage). "Infertility breaks you apart or brings you together," says JoBeth. "It became our mutual battle."
Over the next two years, Williams miscarried three more times following in vitro fertilizations. The memory, says John, "is still pretty painful." Finally, says Williams, "we both said, 'This is insane.' We realized that being parents didn't only mean passing our genes on." In contact with a savvy adoption lawyer during 1987, they waited only a few months before they were able to adopt Will—something Williams credits to luck. In 1990, after growing close to Nick's birth mother through several interviews, they were let into the delivery room to cut Nick's umbilical cord.
Now, with the four of them living in a sprawling, Spanish-style house in the Hollywood Hills, Williams and Pasquin, whose big hit was 1994's The Santa Clause, manage busy schedules while making sure that one parent is around to shuttle the boys to soccer games. "As frustrating as my long hours are," says Williams, who's on the set 12 hours a day, "I want my children to know that I like what I do." Besides, visiting Mom at work has its perks. "The makeup guy puts tattoos on them, and fake blood and scars," says Williams. "They think that's really cool."
CAROLYN RAMSAY in Los Angeles
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