With four decades of professional acting behind her, Colleen Dewhurst should know talent when she sees it -- and she says she's impressed by the work of Farrah Fawcett. Fawcett, formerly one of "Charlie's Angels," and Dewhurst, grounded in Shakespeare and the stage, co-star in "Between Two Women" Monday at 9 on ABC.

Said Dewhurst: "I had such respect for her because I knew that she had come to New York and done "Extremities" after Susan Sarandon -- and you know New York -- and the audiences ended up by cheering her . . . I watched "Burning Bed" and I said, 'Wait a minute here: This lady has made a decision to change her career.'

But Dewhurst wasn't impressed only with Fawcett. She also waxed enthusiastic about producer/director Jon Avnet, "who we're going to hear a lot from. He's a dynamo . . . tremendous energy. He made sure everything that surrounds you is good -- the whole crew, the makeup, the hair, the best you can get. He treated it like a $50 million film." Avnet, who also co-wrote the screenplay for "Between Two Women," was the producer of both the series "Call to Glory" and "The Burning Bed," the drama that proved Fawcett could act.

"I think that Jon felt that Farrah and I would light off each other," said Dewhurst, "that after a week or 10 days something would grow up between us, and it did. There were certain scenes that became improvisations."

Calling the work "a joy" but "tiring," Dewhurst tackled her role of the strong-willed, meddling mother-in-law who begins to make the lives of her son and his bride miserable when she appears at their honeymoon cabin. "This lady could be a very irritating lady. She has her own ideas. It would appear that she has no antenna. It's a role for me that's wonderful because it's a woman I've never played, and I love that."

Formerly married to actor George C. Scott and mother of two sons, Dewhurst herself has been both a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law. Initially, she said, she thought that doing "Between Two Women" might be "very dangerous because it's a story about relationships. When I first read it, I thought, 'They can't do this on a two-hour movie.'"

Dewhurst's doubt was dispelled. "What I love is that they don't lose character, they don't become different . . . As in life, certain characteristics begin to appear (but) the basic character does not change. It's as if the characters continue the way they are, but those characteristics now become helpful. There's a lot of texture in each one of these people and why they show up as they do."

As the story progresses, Dewhurst's character suffers a stroke that forces her to depend on her son and his wife both physically and emotionally. Like Joanne Woodward, whose portrayal of a woman with Alzheimer's disease in last year's "Do You Remember Love" was based partly on her mother, Dewhurst admitted that her own mother had suffered a stroke.

But after freely chatting about "Between Two Women" for nearly half an hour, Dewhurst would not elaborate, except to say that when Avnet suggested she visit a nursing home, "I said I wouldn't go." Although known in the industry as a perfectionist, Avnet took no for an answer this time.