You probably recognize her enduring performances from Misery, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Blind Side or one of the highest-grossing films of all time—Titanic. In television, her unparalleled career includes American Horror Story, Six Feet Under, Two and a Half Men, The Stand, The Office and many more. Kathy Bates’ incredible career in theater, film and television spans decades, recently earning her a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—and fulfilling a childhood dream. The Academy Award, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actress, director and activist is currently starring as the lead character of Netflix’s Disjointed, a sitcom set inside a dispensary.
Only now has Bates opened up about her own odyssey with medical cannabis to CULTURE—a journey that would lead her to portray Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, a seasoned cannabis activist who runs the fictional dispensary Ruth’s Alternative Caring. It was truly an honor for CULTURE to discuss cannabis, film and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Bates.
Disjointed, Photo by: Robert Voets
What made you want to work on Disjointed?
You know, it’s amazing how when our next 10 episodes dropped on Jan. 12, the timing couldn’t have been more prescient. We knew that things were coming, that [Prop. 64] had passed, and we were all really excited about it. Our show was just starting to begin shooting. We were thrilled. But now considering the fact that we’re getting pushed back, from the Attorney General specifically, it’s going to be a really fascinating journey between state and federal [laws]. What’s going on is the growers who have been there doing it for 60 years don’t want to suddenly be legislated. That’s what I’ve heard. You know, I think we’ll be okay, but I just don’t know if the government is going to start really playing dirty tricks, like muscling in on landlords. So it concerns me—and if there’s a fight, I’ll be right there on the frontline, because the more I’ve experimented, the more I learn about it, even through the show, it has been a blast.
I just really got interested in it as a two-time cancer survivor. I’ve used it to help with nausea and pain, so for me, it’s a real relief. I look at it like Prohibition from the ’20s, which didn’t work. I’m hoping that people will leave it alone. The other thing that bothers me is that they want to reinstate these draconian sentences for people in possession of a small amount of marijuana and send them away. It’s the close-mindedness, the lack of intelligence about marijuana. [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions was quoted as saying that they were, “OK, until I found out they smoked pot,”—but he was talking about the Ku Klux Klan for God’s sake! And that was the only reason he turned away from the Ku Klux Klan is because he learned they were smoking dope! I don’t fuckin’ get it. The bottom line? As you can see, I’ve grown a lot more passionate about the issue.
“. . . If there’s a fight, I’ll be right there on the frontline, because the more I’ve experimented, the more I learn about it, even through the show—it has been a blast. I just really got interested in it as a two-time cancer survivor. I’ve used it to help with nausea and pain, so for me, it’s a real relief.”
In episode 3 of Disjointed, it’s revealed how the dispensary security guard, Carter, suffers from PTSD. The episode resonated with fans, especially those in the cannabis industry. Why do you think PTSD is such a hot issue?
I think with the increased awareness of abuse in the last decade, which is now culminated with the pushback against sexual harassment—that those of us who were emotionally abused or were violated in any way—suffer from PTSD. And I think people have not been aware of it until the last few years. Or it hasn’t been out in the open. And I also think it has to do with what we learned about the soldiers coming back from Vietnam and now coming back from the Middle East. I would imagine the immigrants who are trying to find a new place to land and build a home are suffering from PTSD. It’s all over the world. One of the things that makes our show unique is that it’s not just all about laughter and jokes; it’s that storyline. It took a departure, and yet came from the scene of that dispensary and ultimately helped him with viewing with his PTSD, at least on a level to where he could function better during the day. And I think that it’s great to have something that makes you can laugh and cry at the same time.
“I think with the increased awareness of abuse in the last decade, which is now culminated with the pushback against sexual harassment—that those of us who were emotionally abused or were violated in any way—suffer from PTSD.”
Almost anyone can relate with Ruth, because we all know someone like her who dresses like her and who decorates her living space with drapery, crystals and dream catchers. How did you prepare for the role of a dispensary owner?
[Laughing] Well, I guess I went through a period of life like [that]. I’m sure back then I had a couple of dream catchers lying around. You could say it’s just been a natural preparation, for me, coming from a very straight-laced Southern lady wearing hose and gloves in the early ’60s and late ’50s to going into the Summer of Love and going to college and trying things for the first time. I mean, Jesus. I went from being very conservative—the whole nine yards, what we’d consider yuppie—and I became a full-fledged hippie. We were all screwing around all the time with different costumes we wanted to wear in public. And it was great fun. I miss those days.
I think that for Ruth, as an adolescent, to start hearing this call to her about this plant and its healing properties, I think that’s why she pushed herself to go to law school. But she never lost any of that, because her whole approach to marijuana is as a healing [aid]. She refers to her clients as patients. I’ve heard that Dr. Dina, who is our consultant, refers to her clients as patients. We’re used to going into a hotel room and putting drapes up and putting our things out. I remember working with an actress by the name of Elizabeth Ashley, early on in my career. She said, “Take everything with you, your pillows, your dogs, your pots and pans, to make it like home, because the road is really rough.”
Recently, you’ve been very open about your battle with breast cancer, and it was not your first time facing cancer. Did you use medical cannabis to treat cancer and cancer medication side effects specifically?
I used it for pain and nausea, instead of taking a painkiller like oxycodone or an opioid to ease the pain—I really couldn’t tolerate those things well. The thing that I like about marijuana is that you can regulate how stoned you want to get. You’re in control of that. And I think one of the things is, we’re not only going to have the feds fighting. “Big Pharma” is going to be pouring millions of dollars through the lobbyists, because it’s a direct threat to the opioid market.
Do you feel Disjointed is contributing to the perception of cannabis consumers and the cannabis industry?
Well, you know, I hope we will. Right now, our audience is building, and I’m really excited about the next 10 episodes that [just came out]. I thought that it took us a few episodes to find our footing in the first season. I’m hoping that the people who are now rushing out to buy marijuana and try it, will get wind of our show, no pun intended. We’re living in dark times. So we could get heavy talking about the political side of it ad nauseam, but we need a break. I need a half an hour or five hours. I find myself binging on shows, just so that I can escape to another place.
Have you ever felt like you were being judged for consuming cannabis?
No, because until now, and doing press for our show, I really haven’t talked about it. So it will be interesting to see if anybody gives a shit whether I smoke or not. We’ll see what happens. You’ll visit me in jail, right?
What is your favorite way to consume cannabis?
I have two favorite ways. There’s an inhaler where you can buy cartridges. It’s PAX Pro. It’s real easy to use—you just slip in a cartridge and carry it with you and you can control the heat, you can control it from the phone app. And then I use a different vape. It’s Puffco. You put the wax in this little oven, you can control the heat. And you can put in shatter or whatever, but mainly wax. I find it’s really easy. The main thing I like about the vape delivery is that you can control it, because I don’t want to be blasted. I want to be able to just ease the pain. I suffer from hip pain and lower back pain. It really helps me. Of course, you know, I never get in my car having had dope. I think that’s incredibly irresponsible. I hope I don’t see people doing that, if they already aren’t.
How do we put the amotivational theory to rest?
Well, I think they ought to talk to some of the players in the NFL who are fighting the early onset of Alzheimer’s, CTE and other types of injuries and chronic pain. A lot of them now are switching to marijuana and getting off the opioids. It’s like anything else—it’s about awareness. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who think it’s from the devil and who have closed minds about it. I say live and let live.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce finally awarded you with a well-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2016. How did that feel?
Well, it was especially cool because I had a picture of myself with my Aunt Lee that was taken there around 1960. In was in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. We had gone on a little tour out here. She and my grandmother lived out here, so we drove out here and spent some time with them. It’s a black and white photo of my Aunt Lee and me standing in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre back then. I put it on the cards to invite people to the event because my star is about 30 feet to the right of where we were standing. It was a bittersweet moment. I’m a breast cancer survivor. She died of breast cancer. It was long before they could really help her. I wish that she could have been there with me. It was a very special day for all of us. I was so grateful that Shirley [Maclaine] flew all the way down here from Canada to be with me. I just worked with Billy Bob [Thornton]. He’s so sweet. And all of my family and friends.
As a young pre-fame actress, did you always know deep down that one day you would become a star and that everyone would know your name?
No. I was always very dramatic as a child. And then when I got seriously involved in training it was all about theater. I worked in regional theater companies. In the ’70s, we all were very snobby about doing television. I was very focused on the craft. I didn’t think about being a movie star. I just wanted to keep working and doing the best work I could do. So, it was a big surprise to get an Oscar. I didn’t plan to win an Oscar, even though it crosses every kid’s mind.
What new projects are you currently working on?
As a result of my breast cancer, I developed lymphedema. It’s swelling of glands that’s caused when you remove lymph glands that can move liquid through your body to be expelled. So as a result, the lymphs swelled. My doctor introduced me to someone who runs the Lymphatic Education & Research Network. For the last three years, I’ve been trying to raise awareness. Ten million people suffer from some sort of lymphatic disease. You can get it from an injury or it’s congenital.
I just finished a film called On the Basis of Sex. It’s directed by Mimi Leder and stars Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer. It’s about the early days of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I’m very excited.