Fans of the hit series China Beach (1988-91) have waited a long time for Dana Delany to find a role with the no-nonsense nobility of her Emmy-winning nurse McMurphy. If you can't wait till next fall — when Delany joins Prime Suspect's Helen Mirren as a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent in a Patricia Cornwell drama for ABC — you're in luck. This week ABC will air For Hope, a TV movie that showcases Delany's return to noble form, in character and out. "I had to do it because of Sharon," the actress says.
In 1991, at a benefit for the Scleroderma Research Foundation, Delany met Sharon Monsky, who founded the organization and also suffers from the disease (which lays waste to the skin and internal organs). Doctors had initially given Monsky two years to live. That was 14 years ago. Delany took to Monsky and her cause, appearing in a fund-raising video and testifying before a Senate subcommittee. Along the way, she met fellow crusader Bob Saget, host of America's Funniest Home Videos, whose sister Gay had died of scleroderma. When Saget decided to make a TV movie about Gay's struggle, he naturally turned to Delany.
Saget admits that Delany might well have hesitated before signing on. "You'd really have to be a friend of mine," he jokes, "because a really good actor doesn't wake up in the morning and say, 'My dream is to have the video-show guy direct me in a serious movie!' " Delany not only agreed but also brought along her boyfriend, actor Henry Czerny (Mission: Impossible), who plays a sitcom writer modeled on Saget. "I'm really glad I did For Hope," she says, "even though sometimes when you do things for the right reasons, it can come back to haunt you."
Such as, say, that limp paean to sadomasochism, Exit to Eden? "I don't regret that," says Delany of the 1994 movie. "I actually like my work in it. I'm proud that I took a chance." Even though she has a small role in the feature film Fly Away Home and will appear next year in Wide Awake (with Rosie O'Donnell), she claims that traditional movie roles no longer challenge her. "I'm trying to concentrate on projects where I get to be a whole person, not just 'the girl,' " she explains. To that end, she took a part in the upcoming historical miniseries True Women for "a chance to be John Wayne." She's also giving voice to Lois Lane in a new animated Superman series.
And if her penchant for taking chances should lead to another Eden? "The best thing about turning 40," Delany says, "is that you get closer to that state of grace where you really don't care what anybody else thinks." McMurphy would no doubt agree.