The legendary movie bombshell goes subtly campy as -- well, a legendary movie bombshell in the comedy "Welcome to the Captain," which CBS debuts Monday, Feb. 4. Set in and around the fabled Hollywood apartment building El Capitan -- or "The Captain" to many of its tenants -- the half-hour series follows the lives of various characters looking to make or re-establish their marks in Tinseltown.
Though her "Captain" role mirrors her own enduring image, Welch sought advice from series creator-producer John Hamburg, who wrote the "Meet the Parents" movies. She recalls, "I asked him, 'How "exaggerated" are you thinking?' because I didn't want to make a caricature of her. He said, 'Don't do anything. Just be you.' Of course, I'm really not like Charlene, I can assure you."
Welch may be stressing the point, since Charlene lures Josh to her apartment his first night at The Captain, and he doesn't leave until morning.
"A couple of times, people have wanted me to really lay it on thick," Welch says of earlier offers to satirize herself, "but I already would have been doing the whole 'vampy' thing with the costume and hair and makeup. I just pray I have the same restraint as I go forward with this. I want to keep Charlene within bounds, but fun and likable as a human being. You can see she's possibly deluded a little bit."
Indeed, Charlene is an amalgam of Norma Desmond -- the faded star played by Gloria Swanson in the 1950 classic "Sunset Boulevard" -- and former movie actresses who became television-serial doyennes. In the premiere episode, Charlene is said to have been on a show "like 'Knots Landing.'"
"It was for those cliches that I had to think twice about taking the meeting on this," Welch admits, "but comedy really is Hamburg's forte, and I was kind of excited that he wanted to work with me."
Reports suggested last year that Welch was being sought for a role on ABC's "Desperate Housewives." She confirms "there was talk, but nothing ever materialized. I've often thought I might like to play a relative of Eva Longoria, but it's fine. I'm just thrilled that I'm working in this medium. We're all in this thing together, and I'm really enjoying it."
The revealing poster for "One Million Years B.C.," not to mention the film itself, made Welch one of the movie icons of the 1960s. With such other attractions as "Fantastic Voyage," "Myra Breckinridge" and "The Three Musketeers" (which earned her a Golden Globe Award) among her credits, she regards her long career with satisfaction. Still, she likes looking forward.
"It's great to be working with a lot of actors who are not from my generation, because it's fresh," she says. "I'm taking their lead in the way they approach things. I still have my old-pro background, and this image that I'm still carting around, but I like their style. It's always wonderful to work with other good people, regardless of their age."