Marsha Mason in 'The Middle': Goodbye girl's a grandma

When some actors aren't in front of the camera, they're agonizing about the next part.

Marsha Mason, who works steadily, left Los Angeles and New York for New Mexico, where she grows organic herbs on a 250-acre ranch.

After terrific turns in other shows -- notably playing Martin's girlfriend on "Frasier" -- Mason returns to TV guest starring as Patricia Heaton's mom in ABC's "The Middle" Wednesday, May 5.

Immediately after shooting the sitcom, Mason, 68, was in New York rehearsing an off-Broadway play, "I Never Sang for My Father." Despite having appeared in five Broadway plays, many more off-Broadway, and dozens of movies and TV appearances while racking up four Oscar nominations and winning two Golden Globes, Mason still gets stage fright.

"Oh, God, yes," she says. "I think one gets more terrified as one gets older."

Still, she keeps going. "Truthfully, I have a lot of energy," Mason says. "If I don't focus it, I could get into trouble. That day on 'The Middle,' we shot like 10 pages. To memorize and remember and work that hard is very good for the brain and the body and keeps me mentally alert and gives me a sense of confidence as I get older."

She's packed the years with fun and fearless choices. When the St. Louis native left to become an actress in New York, Mason initially worked in a department store, then as a file clerk for a railroad. Then she got braver.

"I was a go-go dancer," she says. "I wore fishnet stockings and a leotard. Mostly I was there in the afternoon swinging on a swing over a bar."

On a whim, Mason started Resting in the River Organic Farm & Natural Products, which she runs today.

"I had hit a particular phase of my life in '90 or '91, and the business was changing a lot," Mason says. "I wasn't working as much and now divorced and on my own, and I tried to make a life for myself in California but I found that it just wasn't working for me. On a whim I moved to New Mexico, and I bought this raw land. The next thing I knew I was starting to become a steward of the land, so I educated myself."