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Roger Smith

Ann-Margret has more than sex appeal: an Emmy nomination

She was the sexy kitten with a whip. The iconic flame-haired beauty who launched thousands of adolescent fantasies in the '60s pop musical "Bye Bye Birdie" — a film that not only launched her career but one that AMC's "Mad Men" series paid homage to last season.

But there's more to Swedish-born Ann-Margret Olsson than on-screen sex appeal.

She's also the dramatic actress who easily held her own opposite Elvis Presley, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Wayne and The Who, and she earned Oscar nominations for roles in two films starring opposite Jack Nicholson ("Carnal Knowledge" and the rock opera "Tommy").

To talk to her, she's like the lovely girl next door. Sweet, polite and genuinely happy to meet you. Not someone with the nickname Slugger (probably because of her many accidents, including a near-fatal fall of 22 feet while preparing for a performance and another in a fall from a motorcycle that left her with numerous broken ribs).

She's the dazzling singer, dancer and entertainer with that one-of-a-kind sultry voice that could convince anyone of absolutely anything — even that she's a drug- and alcohol-addicted ex-girlfriend of a dead small-town celebrity in Wednesday's episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." It's a role that earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series this year.

"I'm thrilled about the nomination," said the 69-year-old actress in a recent teleconference. "First of all, 'Law & Order: SVU'
is one of my favorite programs and I know (Detectives) Benson and Stabler (stars Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni) as an admirer. And, of course, I don't know of any actress who wouldn't want the challenge of playing a drug addict, alcoholic hoarder."
Preparation
In the episode titled "Bedtime," the key to solving a murder lies in finding the killer of several women in a related cold case investigation, and she's a prime suspect. Also guest starring are '80s icons Susan Anton, Jaclyn Smith and Morgan Fairchild.

Preparing for the role required research and observation, said the Los Angeles resident whose family moved to the United States when she was 6.

"I'm an actress, so I did become that person, as sick as she was. I have to tell you that Mariska and Chris were so supportive of me. They were there for me, particularly in the interrogation scene where I thought I would lose my mind but I didn't. I would look at them and they were right there.

"It's hard to explain. They were really protective and helpful and generous as actors."

She said she has friends who are suffering from the same illnesses as her "SVU" character and that it's "painful to watch."

"I keep trying to help these friends of mine but they have to get to their bottom. They have to do it themselves. They have to get through that sense of denial. It's very hard for a lot of people to ask for help because they deny so much that they don't think they have a problem — where it's obvious to those around them."
Film work
Ann-Margret continues to take roles, adding to the 78 film and television productions in which she has appeared. She has one film in pre-production and has completed a second. She said she's not sure if she would consider a series, something she would have to talk over with her husband. She's married to former actor Roger Smith ("77 Sunset Strip"), who retired from performing after being diagnosed with myasthenia gravis. Since 1967, he has devoted himself to managing her career.

"We've been married 43 years," she said, proudly. "Isn't that incredible? He's feeling very good. He works out with me three times a week.

"You know what, I don't know because the most important thing to me is really my husband. We always talk about what somebody wants me to do and we discuss it. How much time? How much effort? Will we go on location? Is it ensemble work? I've been offered a couple things and I knew it would be too much work and would take me away too long. He's the one."

And, she says she appreciates the opportunities she is given to perform her craft.

"I feel so blessed," she said. "I really do. What I like to do is I like to sing, I like to dance a little bit, and I like to act. I love being an entertainer. I love performing for the troops, and I feel blessed that I am able to do that.

"They're in my prayers — all of our young guys and women who are out there. They're in my thoughts, my prayers, my heart and my mind."

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by Rita Sherrow, The Tulsa World

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