The new seasons of Roseanne and The Conners brought the returns of a number of beloved characters from the original '90s series, with the continued adventures of the Illinois family also bringing back some of the more obscure figures from the sitcom's history. Earlier this week, The Conners brought back Danielle Harris' Molly Lipton, the neighbor of the Conners, who previously appeared in a handful of episodes in the sitcom's initial run. Given the important role Molly played in the original series when it came to Darlene confronting her own feelings for David, her time on the series may have been short-lived, but her impact is still felt all these years later.
In the two-part return event, Molly once again made an impact on Darlene (Sara Gilbert), but instead of serving as a foe, Molly brought out a lighter side of her sarcastic neighbor, forging a new friendship as Darlene found a new appreciation in pursuing the more joyful things in life. Sadly, the two-part event wasn't entirely joyful, as the second episode brought with it some tragic reveals.
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Harris to chat about her return, being able to watch the sitcom with her family, and other roles she'd like to return to in the future.
ComicBook.com: I've seen Roseanne before but I didn't immediately remember your character Molly in the original series. Since you've had dozens of roles and projects over the years, was starring in Roseanne a memorable and significant experience for you?
Danielle Harris: Roseanne was my first ever sitcom, live-audience show that I'd ever done, so it was a hardcore way to throw me into the fire back then. It was like the number one show on the air, and I had no comedic experience, except for film. So it always held a special place in my heart, and it's pop culture, like everyone knows Roseanne during that time in the '90s, so it's a trip. I just saw a little bit of some of the teasers that ABC's been putting out and I saw the last time I had an argument with Darlene at the door and it's so weird to see us looking older because it feels the same. It's this weird experience, I did seven episodes back in the '90s, so it's been a trip. It was definitely a trip coming back.
When the series' return was initially announced, was your reaction, "Oh, that's cool," or have you been hoping for years that Molly would get to come back?
As soon as I found out that Roseanne was coming back, period, whether it was called Roseanne or The Conners, I was like, "I hope one day they bring Molly back." Because it was just such a fun character to play and I know they were bringing people back here and there, so I've kept my eyes on it and I watched the show anyway. So I kept my eyes open and when I got the call that they wanted to put me on hold for some episodes, and I was like, "Wait, wait. For what? Wait, what? For Molly? For me? Me, Molly? Like they want me?" So it was pretty exciting. It was definitely the most exciting news I got in a very long time.
And I'm married, I've got kids and this is going to be the first time in like easily almost three decades that I can sit down in my house, in my living room, and watch myself on TV with my family. I've been doing genre stuff for so long and things that are a little bit old for my kids to watch and it's really nice, I'm so excited to be able to show this to my kids and be like, "Look, there's mommy," and I'm not covered in blood and I'm not screaming, so they don't have to be scared. So I'm really excited actually to get the family together and watch it.
You mentioned your reaction to first seeing that footage from your original appearances, when you walked back on set, was it just like being on set back in the '90s or was there a bit of a learning curve to get back into that mindset and to establish that chemistry with your co-stars?
Oh, a learning curve I'll say. First of all, my brain at 43 and as a mom of two is not as sharp as it was when I was 16. So dialogue definitely ... I was already in bed by the time I would get my notes at night, so I'd have to get up in the morning and I wanted to do such a good job that I would get to work an hour or so early in the morning, just to have some quiet time to try to memorize my lines. And I just saw the episode, but I had a lot of stuff, so I was very nervous and very grateful that everybody was patient with me and just trying to knock it out and I just wanted to do a good job. I felt back in the '90s like I didn't have a ton of funny stuff. I was great at setting up Darlene's one-liners, which she always was amazing at, so it was nice to have a lot of stuff this time that I thought was really funny and there was a nice ease to it, but not much had changed in 30 years. I mean, it still felt the same. The relationships are almost the same, but [the characters are] nice this time.
Was capturing that dynamic between your characters more difficult than you anticipated?
No, it went right back to the way that it was. It's hard because of COVID and no one's chatting in between and you've got your mask and all the stuff, there's always that distance there anyway. But I mean, Molly has this line where she's like, "Wow, this is a trip," the first thing when she sees Darlene and that's how it felt. Just me looking at Sara on that stage was like ... it just tripped me out. It's just crazy, it's just crazy. I don't know many people that get to go back to something after three decades and this is one of those experiences, it's kind of euphoric.
Since you have masks on in some of the scenes and have these hilarious scenes with Sara and with Laurie Metcalf, did the mask help hide any of your laughs to make that experience a little easier?
Oh, God, no. I mean, I was laughing genuinely because things were funny. Our relationship is just cute, the opening stuff with Laurie and I, but when I was younger, I didn't spend much time with everybody because I was in school. So I would come on set, I do my stuff and I'd go back to school. So everybody else was like, Sara was 18, I was 16. So it was different this time, but everybody again is still in their rooms learning their lines. So when things move so quickly, there was not much ... I was hiding my chuckling, that's for sure.
It's funny, I talk about masks and you're no stranger to working with people in masks, but normally they're trying to kill you in the Halloween movies.
Yes, exactly. Much different, no white masks on the set.
Since audiences are outside the industry and still dealing with social distancing protocols, what was the experience like of shooting the series with COVID restrictions? I know you worked on film sets last year, which is a different experience, so how did shooting a sitcom compare to those films?
It's a tight ship. It definitely is. It was funny because the first thing Sara said to me when I came back, when I got on set, was, "Thank you so much for coming back and willing to risk your life." That was funny. Of course, I wouldn't risk my life for anything else, but it's top-notch. You're dealing with a network and they have not been shut down. So they've got it right. Movies, it's a little bit harder, I think. When you're filming on location, it's different, because you're all stuck in the same hotel and that's great. But TV, everybody's got families and they're coming and going, so kudos to them for the crew and the cast and everybody being really, really diligent about keeping it safe. Testing twice a day, even with masks, and it really was awesome.
I definitely didn't feel any weirdness. I definitely felt more like, "Uh-oh," when I was on the productions that I was doing before, we were just trying to figure it out, but they've been at it for a minute. So it was different just working with the mask and I need to wear glasses and you've got all this stuff and you can't really see, and you're trying to read your lines and it was a little bit different than doing film, but they've got that under control, thank God.
WARNING: Spoilers below for The Conners
The Conners often blends heavy drama with its comedy, which includes the reveal that Molly died of brain cancer following her reunion with Darlene. What about Molly's return really resonated with you emotionally?
Even when I'm not doing horror movies, I'm dying on a show, right? I was like, "Really? I have to die, too?" I didn't know that that was why Molly was back in town until I think like the third day of rehearsal and Sara randomly said to me, "You know your backstory, right?" And I was like, "My backstory? No?" She was like, "Oh, you have cancer. That's why you're back." I was like, "Oh, it all makes sense. Now, it all makes sense." Because I thought Molly just came back to sort of ... she's visiting her family and she wants to let loose and she's up to her old tricks a little bit and encouraging Darlene to be free because she had these messed up relationships and it definitely brought a completely different level of depth to everything that I was saying.
When Molly has dialogue about, "This may be our last chance to go to Hawaii. This is our last chance, we wasted our 20s and our 30s." There's more heaviness and more realness to it. So it's bittersweet. It's sad, but I'm glad that I was able to come back and stir things up for a little bit. But Roseanne and The Conners have always tackled real life, that's why the show's been so great. It deals with real stuff and heavy stuff, even though there's a comedic undertone to it, it's a very realistic show. So I think it's fantastic, I can't wait until everybody realizes that I die. I'm glad they're playing back-to-back episodes, so that's really cool.
And to immediately go from one episode where you're having fun and making plans, it feels like real life how there weren't these ominous clues that something was off.
So sad. I know a lot of people, it's a matter of, from when they're fine, they go to the hospital with a stomachache and the next thing you know, two weeks later you're like, "Whoa. If they never found out, would they have died so quickly?" It's just crazy how fast things can happen sometimes. So I'm glad Molly has come back to Lanford and has patched up that relationship and had those moments back. It's a nice farewell.
I know you've talked before about being interested in returning to the Halloween franchise, and now you've returned as Molly, are there other roles or franchises you'd like to return to? I know there's a new Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead on the way.
Oh, I would go back to any of the roles that I've played. They've all been amazing, fun, super fun. I mean, God, to be able to come back and do like The Last Boy Scout 2, I mean, if there was just one, that would blow my mind. That's another character that I just loved, but I mean, listen, I got to come back in Halloween and I got to come back now on Roseanne. I think they're doing a remake of Don't Tell Mom. I've heard rumors, not that I've not been asked anything, but that would be interesting. There's not one role that I wouldn't like to reprise, at least the '90s stuff. The older stuff, maybe not so much, but the '90s stuff for sure.
I know they're also doing a new Urban Legend and your role in that is so funny, where you're searching goth chatrooms for hookups.
So relevant to the time.
It's so funny in retrospect, even if your character gets killed. That's tragic.
Of course. They're always tragic, all my roles end in tragedy, unfortunately.
The Conners airs Wednesday nights on ABC.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.