It’s been three decades since Marg Helgenberger landed her first TV gig, on the soap opera Ryan’s Hope, and she’s worked steadily ever since, on series such as China Beach, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and the CBS drama Intelligence. Like all long acting careers, it’s had ups and downs. But the 55-year- old actress says age has definitely brought perspective.
“I remember losing out on roles that were written for women in their 30s to women in their 20s—which is out of my control, but it used to bother me,” she says. “Now I wouldn’t really care. I know something better will come along.”
The native Nebraskan reveals other advantages of having a few more years behind her, how losing her father to multiple sclerosis (MS) gave her a mission and the ways Hollywood has changed since her soap opera days.
There seem to be more great TV roles for women nowadays. Is that a change since your career began in the ’80s?
My experience in television has always been positive—I’ve played a variety of strong and unique roles. What’s changed more is the film business, which makes fewer female-driven films. I think that’s why more traditional film actresses are coming to television. It’s rare for women to find a good film role after age 40.
At 55, do you still feel pressure to look a certain way in order to get work?
In some ways, I feel less pressure than I used to. I felt it in my 30s because that’s a crucial decade for women in the film business. But I’m much more comfortable with myself now. It’s about accepting who you are. I don’t think that means giving up. Acceptance means acknowledging what is, and what goals you have, and taking the necessary steps to achieve those goals.
What’s your key to maintaining good health?
Being disciplined, which most successful actors are, because we have to be in front of a camera. I don’t eat dairy or a lot of processed foods or much dessert. But French fries are my weakness. I do think a buddy system is very helpful for people who are just starting to maintain some sort of a diet or exercise program. A great fitness class and instructor can be really inspirational.
How did you get involved with advocating for multiple sclerosis research?
My dad died of complications from MS when he was quite young—age 50. He had progressive MS, which is tricky, and there were very few medications he could take back then. Mostly, they would just shoot him up with cortisone and hope for the best. Now, there are a lot more medications. People’s lives are extended and dramatically improved—the funding and research pays off. So I’ve recently gotten involved with Race to Erase MS, a Los Angeles-based foundation. It’s been very successful in getting doctors from all over the country to share their research and ideas.
And your mother is a longtime breast cancer survivor.
Yes, it was one right after the other: My mother got breast cancer, then my father got MS when she was still in recovery. I was in college. It was devastating. But they’ve made so many advances in breast cancer research, too. Every year, I do something for that cause, like the Revlon or Susan G. Komen walks. Any advice for caregivers? I think it is important that it becomes a family affair. Hopefully, if there is more than one child in the family, everyone can get involved. If not, reach out to volunteers in the community. It’s very challenging to do it alone.