When Dana Delany began acting, she tended to be a perfectionist. Now she says, "There's no such thing as perfection. I've connected with a lot of young girls through Twitter and my message is: 'Have faith in your imperfections.' "
She's spent most of her career faithful to her imperfections, making her a rarity among actresses. She can take the lumps without bruising.
Still tough on herself, she says, "I think everybody is too hard on themselves. So I think my practice these days is to catch that thought before it happens."
She was determined to be perfect when she auditioned for her very first Broadway role and had to assume an Irish accent. "I was 24 and I'd never even heard an Irish accent before," she recalls.
"This is back when there were records, and I went to an Irish bookstore and got a recording of Siobhan McKenna reading Molly Bloom's speech from 'Ulysses.' And I just kept putting the needle up and down on it over and over again and listened to her until I got the rhythm," she says.
"Then I remember I had to stay in the voice all the way to the theater. And I'm on this huge Broadway stage and I did my reading in this made-up Irish accent, by myself, and remember the director saying to me — he was English — 'Where did you get your accent from?' I completely lied and said, 'Oh, my grandfather's from Ireland and he's been living with us for years.' And I got the job," she laughs.
That kind of moxie has stayed with Delany through memorable performances in shows like "China Beach," "Desperate Housewives" and ABC's "Body of Proof."
"Once I got that job, I was terrified. I had no idea what I was doing. Now you have to do it! I still get scared and I like to get scared. Otherwise I wouldn't do it. I like being scared. When I'm scared, I just translate it into excitement; they're the same thing."
Often intimidated by the task, she says, "I definitely felt that with 'China Beach.' I'd drive to work every day and think, 'I don't know if I can do this.' Then I'd drive home at night, and say, 'Wow, OK, I did it. I got through today and now there's tomorrow."
She was hesitant about "Body of Proof," in which she plays Dr. Megan Hunt, a medical examiner, because it is a procedural — a show that concentrates on the process of crime-solving.
"I'd never done that before, and there's a certain structure to a procedural that doesn't allow for a lot of human emotions. So I was wary of that. But I think I brought my little spin to the procedural," she says.
Even when she has her doubts, Delany faces them head-on. "I like a challenge and try to look at the bigger picture and know that this is a moment in time that will pass. And just try it. You've nothing to lose. Even as a kid — I wasn't always successful at it — but I knew there was a bigger picture," she says.
"I try not to take anything too seriously, just keep it in perspective. I think it was something I was born with. And I remember people accusing me of not caring enough. It wasn't that I didn't care enough, I just knew it didn't matter."
What really matters, she says, is "true connection with people, real, sincere, innocent connection — that's all I want now."
Though she's been involved in several romantic relationships, she never married. "I'm not in a relationship now," she says. "I'd rather be by myself than not have that true connection."
Her parents' divorce when she was 16 had a profound effect on her. "It definitely changed me, it changed my perspective on things. It made me feel like marriage wasn't that important. It took the pressure off."
She loves to travel and her next goal is to indulge that passion. "I'd like to take a year off and just be a vagabond and go from place to place without any set itinerary — just kind of go where I feel," she says.
"Once 'Body of Proof' ends, that's my plan. I've been working steadily for six years so I could use a break. I like to get out of my comfort zone and break the routine. Because I think routine is death, and we all fall into it, so travel sort of changes your perspective."
The veteran of nine prime-time TV series says she's not worried about the longevity of "Body of Proof."
"I'm so OK either way. I love the character, and I love the people I work with, but if it doesn't happen, that's fine, too."
Pausing, she adds, "I think the hardest things are the internal things, that internal switch of knowing you're fine no matter where you are."