Kathy Bates used to easily get her feelings hurt early in her career

Kathy Bates may be known for playing characters who hold their own, but as a young actress, she was far more thin-skinned.

“When I was younger, I guess I would get my feelings really hurt,” Bates said while appearing on a Matlock panel at the summer TCA Press Tour. “Sometimes I’d get on a plane and fly home.”

Bates explained that she was often unable to withstand people, especially journalists, underestimating her.  “I had a wonderful producer, God rest, him, Saul Zaentz,” she continued. “And I remember we were in London, and it was just a nightmare. British press…But I remember I got very upset, and I said, ‘I’m going home, that’s it. I’m not going to put myself through this anymore.’ And I remember Saul coming up to me and saying, ‘You gotta get tougher.'”

In addition to Zaentz, others regularly offered Bates similar advice, encouraging her to develop thicker skin. “Someone else had said to me around that same time, ‘You gotta have a head like a bullet and a heart like a baby,'” she added. “So that’s what I’ve tried to do. But sometimes I take it too far and I can be like a bull in a China shop.”

Kathy Bates.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Still, anyone who encounters Bates should not expect her to be like the unhinged Annie Wilkes of Misery, the domineering characters she’s played across seasons of American Horror Story, or even the astute titular criminal lawyer on the forthcoming Matlock. ” I’m not like my characters,” she concluded. “I wish I was.”

Matlock, which comes to CBS this fall, stars Bates as a septuagenarian lawyer who returns to the workforce on the strength of her brilliant reputation and uses her unassuming demeanor and wily tactics to win cases and expose corruption from within. The series is inspired by the original television classic of the same name, which starred Andy Griffith and ran for 9 seasons from 1986 to 1995.

Though Bates knew Griffith as an actor, she didn’t pay much attention to the original series. ” I was starting out in New York in theatre, and I wasn’t watching television at night,” she explained. “All of it is a blur. But I did watch it a little bit. And of course, I’ve been a huge fan, just as an actor, of Andy Griffith.”

Bates began her screen career predominantly in film, but frequently pivoted to television in the last 15 years, starring in shows such as Harry’s Law, and multiple iterations of American Horror Story. In some ways, she feels Matlock is a culmination. “I just feel really lucky,” she said of Matlock. “I get to play all of those levels with everything I’ve learned in the last 50 years… I love playing all those facets of this character, and I just feel so lucky to be able to do all of that in one person and in the same episode. I love being able to play all those different notes.”

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She concluded: “Playing each scene is like creating a little bead on a necklace, you know? You just have to have faith. Because of course, when you’re making television or film, you’re breaking everything up, so we really have to be careful about where we are in the show and what’s happened and where we are in this character development and that one. And it all shifts and changes and that’s part of what makes it exciting because you never — you know, Matty is never sure what’s happening in front of her own eyes, and she has to shift with all of it. So, each scene is its one little pearl, so to speak, and so I just have to focus on moment to moment.”

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