"I'm just old enough and heavy enough for people to accept me as a grandmother," Shelley Long says of her appearance now.
The one-time star of Cheers (1982-1987) will turn 63 on Thursday. Two days later the Hallmark Movie Channel will debut Strawberry Summer, with Long cast as Eileen, the mother of a grown daughter (Julie Mond).
"I liked Eileen in her drollness," Long says. "She's a loving mother. She's not at all mean-spirited, but she's sarcastic and sardonic."
Eileen is the co-chairwoman of her small town's annual Strawberry Festival, and her daughter, a teacher, has been named Strawberry Queen. When her daughter arranges for a well-known but unreliable music star (Trevor Donovan) to perform at the festival, romance ensues.
A Fort Wayne, Ind., native, Long went on to study drama at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., but left before graduation. She joined Chicago's famed Second City comedy troupe and, within a few years, was making movies such as Ron Howard's Night Shift (1982) and Losin' It (1983).
Long seemed to be doing everything right, and she hit a home run when she won the role of Diane Chambers opposite Ted Danson's Sam Malone on Cheers.
The comedy became one of television's most popular shows, and the will-they-won't-they relationship between Sam and Diane was at the heart of the series' appeal.
Five years later, however, at the height of the show's popularity, Long announced that she was leaving to resume her film career.
"There was no place for Diane to grow," she says. "They kept saying, 'Sam and Diane could never marry.' Once I announced my decision, they decided maybe they could marry. "It was too late," Long says. "I had worked really hard on my decision, and I wanted to spend more time with my family. I didn't realize it was a cliché."
Her daughter Juliana, now 27, was only 2 at the time. Long and her husband, Bruce Tyson, split in 2003.
Cheers carried on after Long's departure, with Kirstie Alley replacing her and emerging as a star in her own right. Long had difficulty finding other work, however.
It didn't help that Long had developed a reputation for being, as the Hollywood term has it, difficult.
"I was quite outspoken," she admits, "and there were people who resented that. I paid some prices for that. I might do it differently if I could do it again, although I wouldn't be any less enthusiastic about doing things right and fairly.
"On a creative level, when it comes to my character, I always have a clear sense of what she needs and wants," Long continues. "When someone tries to tell me what that is, that's very hard for me.
"Sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut," she says. "You have to figure out what your priorities are."
The past decade has brought some low points for Long, most notably a 2004 hospitalization after an accidental overdose of pain medication.
"It made me rethink things," she says. "Also my mother's fragility and mortality have made me consider my own. More than anything I've gone through, I see her fading away, and it's very scary. It makes me think of fond memories and great times in the past and also how short life is."
The result has been a touch of nostalgia.
"I called [ Cheers co-creator] Jim Burrows and asked if we could do a show to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Cheers going on the air," Long says. "He was not enthusiastic."
However, she recently got a Cheers fix when she worked with George Wendt, who played barfly Norm on the show, in an upcoming television movie called Merry In-Laws. They were cast as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.
Long has kept busy in recent months making two features, A Matter of Time and The Wedding Chapel, and another television movie, The Dog Who Saved the Holidays. She also co-produced the independent feature Zombie Hamlet, in which she plays a reporter.
"It's funky satire," she says. "It's also a send-up of zombie films and horror films and mysteries. Basically it's Hamlet during the Civil War.
"I can play such a range," she says. "I can go from [1950s star] Spring Byington, who was silly and flighty, to Bea Arthur, who was tough and sarcastic."
The kind of sarcasm she employs in Strawberry Summer does, of course, come easiest to her.
"When I complain to my doctor," Long says, "he'll ask, 'Any relationships?' I'll laugh and say, 'No,' and he'll say, 'Well, maybe if you cut back on the sarcasm ... '
"I'll say, 'No, I can't do that. That's who I am. I'm from Indiana, that's what we do.'"