Christine Baranski has had an impressive career, first in theatre and then in television and movies, and she came to Dallas recently to talk about “Bonneville,” in which she co-stars with Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen. She plays Lange’s stepdaughter, a hard-bitten snob who forces her recently-widowed stepmother to return her father’s ashes from Utah to California for burial beside his first wife—which she decides to do via a car trip with her two best friends, played by Bates and Allen.

“I’m kind of the outsider, the dramatic heavy,” Baranski said, “so I didn’t get to mix it up with those actresses. I’m sure if you were to interview them, they’d say this was a great movie because they got to be on the road together, and to be in these beautiful locations, and to have so much fun on and off camera. But that wasn’t the case with me. They flew me to Salt Lake City, and I had my [opening] scene with Jessica, and then the big scene in the church [at the end]. And it was better for me, actually, not to hang out with them, because I had a very estranged relationship to Jessica’s character in the movie, and in fact was very wary of all of them—my character.

“There’s a lot of envy there, a lot of resentment from my character toward her for marrying my father, because they’re roughly the same age. And I think that actually is an issue a lot of women probably can relate to, who have stepmothers who are their age. I understand my character’s the heavy, but I empathize with what her issues were. I understand why a great deal of anger built up over the years.”

Baranski joined the cast of “Bonneville” in response to the opportunity to share the screen, even at some remove, with the three stars. “My manager just said, there’s this movie, and there are these actresses in it, and I said, ‘I’m in. I don’t need to read the script. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.’ I thought it was worth doing because they were in it, and they’re so fabulous. I also thought it would be cool for me to play a real dramatic heavyweight, because I usually don’t play these kinds of roles. I can play a meanie, but they’ve usually got some kind of comic edge to them. But this is a straight dramatic role. I don’t think I smile once in the movie.”

She quickly added, “But it’s really a very funny movie! In the middle, it’s this wonderful journey that the three women take—the adventures and the revelations and the emotional release. That’s the bulk of the movie. I like the fact that [the director] took his time letting the relationships and the whole story evolve, because it’s not punched up—it has a lot of unfolding to do, and a lot of filmmakers wouldn’t trust that you could take that kind of time.”

Baranski didn’t come to films in a big way until relatively late in her career, initially concentrating on the stage. “I went to Juilliard for acting,” she explained, “and then most of my career in my twenties was theatre, apart from an occasional small role in films. I didn’t actually start doing a big television series or any of the major movies that I did until I was forty.”

The television series, of course, was “Cybill,” which ran from 1995 to 1998 and won Baranski and Emmy. “I’m glad I did ‘Cybill’ when I did,” she said. “I liked the character, and it was sort of time. I was in my forties, and I’d done so much theatre by then.” Still, she admitted, “I was very reluctant—I went into it kicking and screaming. But in retrospect it really changed my career, because not only was that show successful for me, but it opened up movie roles.”

As in “Cruel Intentions,” “Bowfinger,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Guru,” “Chicago,” and now “Bonneville.” And to come: the film version of the ABBA stage musical “Mamma Mia,” alongside Meryl Steep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth!