Meg Foster, semifamous actress, is in a suite in the Sheraton-Carlton. Through a door leading to the elegant bedroom, you can see her clothes. They are in the middle of the floor, half in and half out of three canvas duffel bags. "Isn't is a riot?" she asks, studying the wreckage.
In boarding school, a place called Rogers Hall in Massachusetts she used to hold the heels of her Weejuns together with something akin to gaffer's tape - and get demerits for it right and left. They didn't like her skirts much better. "I didn't create havoc there," she says with the briefest pout.
You can believe Meg Foster - who portrays Hester Prynne in tonight's debut of "The Scarlet Letter" on Channel 26 at 9. - when she says she never planned anything in her life, including an acting career. "I wasn't someone who sat in movie theaters every Saturday and said - now in a Tallulah voice, waving at a screen - "'I want to do that.'"
Then years ago she quit New York's Neighborhood Playhouse and moved to California. Know why?" "Oh, God, it was sooo hot." (She is now in a large swoon.) "I said, 'But I can't spend another summer on 94th Street.'" So she left for the Coast. She didn't quite arrive with one straw suitcase in a freckled paw, but almost.
"I had one trunk. And an iron. I'd never been to California-I'm a native New Englander - and I said 'My God, what are those?" They were freeways. I was looking for winding roads."
Meg Foster has a lot of energy. She just popped out of an armchair, knelt on the floor over a coffee table, got back into the chair, spaghettied her legs beneath her. A hand rakes across her mouth, forklifts through her hair, burrows in her bag for a smoke. She looks up: all grins.
It hasn't exactly been a meteoric career she says. Her first movie, in '70, was called "Thumbe-Tripping." "It was about hitchhiking. That whole late-'60s trip." Two years ago, she made her second film - "A Different Story." This was about a lesbian and a male homosexual who move in together and end up falling in love and getting married. It didn't go over big among gays, she says.
"In New York, the gay activitists put on a 'Media Alert.'" (The voice is now basso profundo; her eyes have gone slightly bugg.) "I think they used the word 'fascist'. And here I thought we were going against the stereotype."
Meg Foster, who is 30, has a little hurricane laugh; it starts far back in her throat; by the time it gets up front, you're laughing, too. She has ice-blue eyes. "The eyes of '79," Mademoiselle magazines called them. She is trying to live this down.
She has a vast repertory of faces, voices, surprise moves. She would have been terrific on "Laugh-In." Ask what her outfit - which is really in two bulky, droopy parts and of several colors - is made of (it's made of knitted Irish wool), and before you can say "Mary Poppins," she rips the first part of it over her head crooks up her eyes, fingers the label and says, sounding exactly like an English chairwoman:
"30 percent silk. 30 percent rayon. 25 percent cotton. DRY CLEAN ONLY!"
She has a story about the first place she rented when she moved to California. The room was in a stucco house in the Hollywood Hills, the place had a poltergeist. She swears this, eyes growing big as coffee saucers. She goes along the walls, tap-tapping. She rattles the door handle. "Just little noises," she whispers.
She is married to an actor, Steve McHattie. He does stage, though he has a job coming up with Norman Lear. She also has a 7-year-old son. The three of them live in Topango Canyon, outside L.A. Mostly they just hang out. "I like to sleep a lot," she says. I love to dream." She doesn't crack a smile.
She just finished a filming job in Utah - "The Legend of Sleepy hollow." Before that, she hadn't worked since the summer, when she was doing "The Scarlet Letter." That's okay, though. Acting is just one job in a universe of jobs. "If I had the money I'd go to medical school," she says. A moment later she says, "I want to buy a van, carm it with books, and take my son to Europe."
She's had tons of small series work, she says, not overawed at the memory: "Every QM you can think of." ("QM" stands for Quinn Martin, producer of "Streets of San Francisco", "Barnaby Jones," "Cannon.") In 1975, after six straight years of junk jobs on "Mod Squad" and too many others, she said to herself: "Hey, I'm going to change all this. Hey, I want a better life." So she put her stuff in storage and moved back East, to Connecticut, where she came from, to cool out.
So what happened?
"I did't work. Nothing. So we moved back to California. And I still didn't work. Then all of a sudden I got 'Washington Behind Closed Doors.' ((TV miniseries.) Then I got 'A Different Story.' And then I got 'Letter.'"
On the face of it, one would no immediately think to link up Meg Foster, Hollywood's kid, with Nathaniel Hawthorne's scorned woman. But, actually, says Meg Foster, she and Hester probably would have made great friends.
"What I like best about her is she accepted her guilt and therefore she could accept herself. She could pass through that. Because she wore the 'A', she had an access, a point of view, that nobody else had. Hester's also a survivor. She really had nobody to talk to. In a way, I think she's a very modern lady."
Filming Hawthorne's classic, said to be one of the most ambitious projects yet undertaken by American public television, was full of hassles she says.The location for the film was Newport, R.I. She didn't really know anyone on the project; she was surrounded by men.
"I think I started imagining I really was Hester. And it was so lonely. I felt incredibly protective about the children who were working on the film. I don't know, it was like I was having my own 'Scarlet Letter.' The whole experience is just starting to sift down."
She is asked if she would like to be famous. "Um. I would . . . just 'cause you'd have different choices."
She is asked if she has a sense of her own emergence. 'Um. It's hard to say since I so seldom work."
Hey. This is getting heavy. She jumps out of the chair. Sure, she'd love to go get a Yummy Yogurt. Three pr% ladies are in the other room. She gets permission.
Then minutes later, Meg Foster, semofamous actress, is spooning in yogurt, looking innocent and content. She is also accosting strangers: "Hey, you know any spring songs? . . ."