Six Things You Never Knew About Film, TV and Broadway Legend Betty Buckley

By Jeryl Brunner
June 21, 2017

This past September Betty Buckley debuted her show Story Songs at Joe’s Pub in The Public Theater. The New York Times said her performance was “arguably the strongest of her career” and that her stellar voice “gave everything she sang the shape and depth of a personal confession.”

For decades the Tony-winning actress and performer has thrived in theater, film and television. She has worked with great directors Brian DePalma (Carrie), Roman Polanski (Frantic), Woody Allen (Another Woman), Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies) and M. Night Shyamalan (Split, The Happening). She has recorded 17 CDs and appeared in hit TV shows like Eight Is Enough, Chicago Med, Pretty Little Liars and Oz.

For Buckley, her many years of performing have only strengthened her chops. “In our culture we’re very unkind to ourselves about our aging process,” she shares. “But being older is a good thing. There is every potential for a beautiful and passionate work throughout our lives.”

To that end, Buckley continues to make albums perform throughout the world. Her newest is the two-CD set “Story Songs” from Palmetto Records. She sings an eclectic assortment of songs from Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Emmylou Harris, Joe Iconis, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim and other greats. She collaborated with her longtime musical director/arranger, multi-Grammy nominated jazz pianist Christian Jacob singing everything from “Both Sides Now” to “Don’t Give Up” to “I’m Still Here.”

So there’s no chance of Buckley slowing down, especially now. She was recently nominated for a Saturn Award for starring opposite James McAvoy in Shyamalan’s Split. In the top-grossing psychological thriller, Buckley plays a brilliant therapist to McAvoy’s character Kevin.

Buckley feels a special connection to Shyamalan who wrote the part for her. “He’s like a kid on the set. He’s so enthusiastic, he just kind of glows,” she says. “He has a beautiful group of people who have done the majority of his films with him in Philadelphia. He only shoots there. It’s like a family on set. There’s a lot of fun. He’s very mischievous and so am I and so is James McAvoy, so that made it extra fun to be with a group of jokers.”

Also, Buckley was just honored with the Julie Harris Award for Artistic Achievement. She joins the ranks of prior winners Lauren Bacall, Florence Henderson, James Earl Jones, Liza Minnelli, Carol Channing and Rita Moreno. “To feel that we must retire at a certain point or that we’re no longer valuable contributors to our communities is false information,” says Buckley. “Some of our finest potential to communicate and share what we have learned about life comes in your later years. I hope that my life continues to be evidence of that.”

Buckley shared six cool things about herself.

1. Buckley is a cowgirl. “I live on a ranch in Texas and have cutting horses. From the time I was twelve, it was a dream of mine to ride them. After 9/11, I realized that I forgot to do that. So I went on a quest to find my cutting horse. I connected with one of the top trainers, and he took me on as a student. Purple Badger was my first horse and I started traveling on the cutting horse show circuit. After commuting for a year to learn to ride I realized I needed to live where my horse lived. So I sold my apartment and moved to this beautiful little ranch in Texas. It has been the best thing I have ever done for myself.”

2. She loves Radiohead. “Martha Plimpton invited me to sing at her gala concert for her women’s rights organization, A is For at Feinstein’s/54 Below. She and her music director asked me to sing “High and Dry” by Radiohead. At first I was somewhat resistant. I thought that’s not going to work for me. But they kept saying, ‘It’s a great song. You’ve got to try it.’ So I ended up singing it. The audience loved it. As a professional singer, you grow and change. Certain things that you were really very passionate about singing in your 30s, 40s and 40s kind of fall away. There is a quest to find songs that fit what I can address now with authenticity. Songs really mean something to me as a mature human being.”

3. She rescues animals. “My assistant is a young woman named Cathy Brighenti, who has worked with me for 17 years. She moved to Texas and lives in my guest house at the ranch. Between us, we have rescued about 20 animals. It’s a big job. Most of the time we have found them on the sides of the highway. We have a donkey named Rosie O’Donkey. She’s a real sweetheart. I’ve had dogs, cats, guinea pigs and horses my whole life. I always wanted to be successful in show business just to live with horses. Then I was always busy working so I never did that until I bought my ranch in 2002.”

4. In addition to performing, she has been a teacher for over 45 years. “I will be giving a song interpretation/monologue workshop in Denver. This will be our sixth annual master class there. I also teach at the T. Schreiber Studio in New York and will be there this fall. I love teaching and assisting people to experience their full potential. Everything good that I do is because I have been taught by great teachers. I feel that it is my responsibility to pass the tools along.”

5. Angela Lansbury is her idol. “I’m going to get a bracelet that says, ‘What would Angela Lansbury do?’ because she is my role model. I hope I can be doing this with as much dignity, grace and beauty that her career has been. I love her. Show business can be very tough. Sometimes I’m kind of gobsmacked as to what my response should be in certain situations. So I always think, what would Angela Lansbury do?”

6. She is still a student herself and continues to study. “A lot of young performers think that once they go to theater school or graduate from college, they’re done. I don’t believe that. It’s a lifelong process to become a really good actor and singer. You have got to keep working. Also, a professional singer/actor needs teachers, an outside eye. It’s like a like a professional athlete needs a coach.”