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WITCHBLADE: Yancy Butler, Part 1
The action-adventure actress looks back on the roles that led to her latest gig.
By Steve Fritz
August 21, 2000
When people think of Yancy Butler, or 'YB' as her fans call her, one can't help but think of her in action-adventure roles, such as her star turn as the titular character in TNT's Witchblade
, which debuts this weekend. Study Butler's life, however, and you see that she probably could have wound up doing just about anything in the entertainment industry.
First things first: Yancy Butler was pre-destined to be in entertainment. It runs in her blood.
Her mother, Leslie (Kim) Butler, has been the manager of the Broadway Bound theatrical company for nearly two decades. The company has developed a sterling reputation for being the testing ground for many future White Way productions. Her father, Joe, was a member of the Lovin' Spoonful, who were enshrined in the Rock'n Roll Hall of Fame last year. You can still hear such songs as 'Summer In The City,' 'Rain On The Roof,' and 'Do You Believe In Magic' on commercials and oldies radio to this day.
To top it she was born in Greenwich Village, New York City, then the heart of the Big Apple creative community. In the 1970s and 1980s, which is when Yancy grew up, it was a haven for both out-of-work and hardworking actors alike. Even though such Gotham neighborhoods as Tribeca and SoHo have also become notorious as havens for New York's creative talents, there are still plenty of creative types clinging to the Village.
As such the long, lanky actor grew up part backstage brat. But she also grew up part tomboy. 'I would definitely say that,' Butler concurs inside Turner Broadcasting's New York City offices. 'I grew up here in the West Village. As my mother used to say, the quicker I could steer myself away from the crazies, the better. So I grew up a little quick, but the guys I hung with were great.'
While having a rock-n-roll star for a dad probably had its side perks, being associated with her mother definitely had its payoff in the way of connections. One way is that it isn't uncommon for Butler to work with actors who once worked for her mother.
'Kenneth Welch [who plays Captain Joe Siri in Witchblade
] did a production for my mother, A Little Thing
by Tom Stoppard,' Butler recalls. 'I hadn't seen Kenneth since I was 12 years old. So I saw him again on the first day of filming, it was wonderfully perfect. He had a great time trying to embarrass me the first few days of shooting. He just about did it, too. I can see a great relationship between Sara and Joe because there's already one between Kenneth and me. Besides, it's the only one that's not laden with sexual tension.'
No doubt the entertainment pedigree helped her in other ways. From the Village, Butler went on to study drama at the prestigious St. Lawrence University, a school where Yalies such as former president George Bush go for 'finishing.' It apparently worked well for the aspiring actor. In 1990-1, when she was 20, she landed her first television role, a part in the then-new series Law & Order
. 'God! I can't believe you mentioned that,' the extraverted actor laughs. 'I played the secretary to a victim on the show.'
Even if it was a bit part, it was enough to draw attention to Butler. The next thing she knew she was hired to play the robotic lead in the sci-fi television series Mann & Machine
(1992). The side effect, however, was Butler ending up type-cast as an action-adventure star. Her next job was for another crime TV drama, SOUTH BEACH, this time playing an ex-con hired by the Miami police to crack particularly tough cases.
'Mann & Machine
was like nine years ago,' says Butler. 'I can understand the confusion because they run it all the time. Also, my mug hasn't changed muchthat's a good thingthat was like the first sci-fi thing I ever did. It keeps following me around. I'm not quite sure why. I never followed this vein. I don't know why the cop roles keep coming my way, but I got to admit for me it's been very lucrative. People just kind of associate me with kicking some ass. I mean I also just did a thing for Disney called The Continuing Adventures of Spin and Marty
[1998, recently re-aired on ABC on August 13], which was very Cruella De Ville-ish.'
Still, when asked if Butler got a chance to work in either a straight-ahead comedy or something more dramatic with the likes of Glenn Close, Meryl Streep or Kenneth Brannagh, she admits she'd be there in a heartbeat. 'Really I just prefer to do good parts. Yes, there's been roles that I took on to keep working and I won't talk about. Otherwise, I prefer to keep open ended that way.'
Truth be told, Butler would prefer to call herself a working pro. 'Paying my bills is another one I use,' she quips.
Still, the action-adventure stereotyping hasn't exactly hurt Butler's career. It landed her a lead role in John Woo's first American film, Hard Target
(1993). From there she immediately went to work with Wesley Snipes in another shoot-em-up called Drop Zone
(1994). It doesn't also hurt that she likes the work.
'I like doing my own stunts, within reason,' says Butler. 'It's like never leaving the playground. It is hard, but it's also great fun. You know you get paid to play cops and robbers. Unfortunately, it's also you play that for 16-17 hours a day, seven days a week. It's like playing a football game for that long.'
In 1995, Butler did get to act in a movie that was different from the action roles, called Let It Be Me
. Co-starring the likes of Patrick Stewart and Leslie Caron, it was a romance about a guy about to be married. He decides to take dance lessons so as not to make a fool of himself during the first dance of the wedding. Enter dance instructor Jennifer Beal, and the sap ends up falling for her. Butler played the jilted bride-to-be who then had to fight to get her man back.
'Working with a legend like Caron was certainly something I'll never forget!' Butler exclaimed. 'Also, Patrick Stewart was so suave and charming. He took me to the grand opening of Robert Altman's Pret-a-Porter
, and the newspapers took a picture of me in his arms. The next day, all these people were calling me up and asking me if Patrick and I were a steady thing! All I can say is I just wish.'
But by 1997 Butler was again back in blues, playing an officer in the short-lived Stephen Boccho series Brooklyn South
. Although she would do a more comedic role for Disney when they tried to resuscitate the Spin & Marty
series, she hasn't gone far from the cop/crime dramas since. Even Witchblade
, at least the way it's being presented on TNT, could easily fit into that mode.
As for the future, Butler will soon appear in a made-for-television movie produced by Joe Montegna called Thin Air
. There's also a remake of Spencer for Hire
, in which she's making an appearance.
Otherwise, she's waiting to hear the word on Witchblade
. From the looks of it, Butler will probably still be carrying a badgeas well as a mystical swordfor some time to come.