A heads-up from GITS development assistant Wendy Cohen:
For you L.A. folks — the KCET Cinema Series continues its fall season tonight at 7pm with the highly-anticipated Matthew McConaughey-starrer DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, which will feature a Q&A with actress Jennifer Garner following the screening.
The quarterly series is hosted by nationally recognized film expert and Deadline Hollywood columnist Pete Hammond. Passes for the Fall 2013 KCET Cinema Series are now on sale. For reservations call 747.201.5800, download and mail the registration form, or buy your season passes online.
Last week, as part of the series, a special Q&A took place at the Television Academy’s Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre following an advance screening of the upcoming comedy LAST VEGAS, which features 5 (that’s right, five) Oscar-winners in the cast: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline — and actress Mary Steenburgen, which Deadline Hollywood film critic Pete Hammond sat down with to talk about her experience working with the Hollywood legends, how she got her big break, ageism, her unexpected talent, and how casting and the film industry at large have changed over the years.
Below are some of the highlights from their conversation.
On the process of obtaining her role in the film
Steenburgen recounts that Michael Douglas “to her surprise” had suggested her for the role, however scheduling issues had almost forced her to drop out. Fortunately, her reps kept their eyes on the part and when an opportunity to join the production again presented itself, Steenburgen was more than ready to commit.
On ageism in Hollywood
Steenburgen laments that substantial older female roles in any film these days are rare. “Most of the industry is only interested in depicting young love onscreen. Older people aren’t depicted in film very often, especially as love interests.” Thus, it’s no surprise that she praises the film’s writer and director for portraying its older relationships in a “genuine” light.
On winning an Oscar at a young age (for Jonathan Demme’s MELVIN AND HOWARD)
At the time Steenburgen had just become a new mom, and had reservations about raising her family in Los Angeles, moving shortly after to Ojai, CA, where she has resided (with husband Ted Danson) for the past three decades. Though the award was certainly a blessing, Steenburgen never saw her early recognition as a hindrance to her career. As Steenburgen explains, “there were times when my career supported my interests, and times when my interests supported my career.”
On working with the all-star cast
Steenburgen hadn’t worked with any of her fellow co-stars before, except for Kevin Kline in the drama “Life as a House,” which was released shortly after 9/11. “I had never worked with any of the others and they had never worked with each other. I don’t know how that happened, but they never had. They were legends to me but on our very first day of the read through, about one minute into the read through they became my peers, my buddies and my fellow actors. The guys included me and it felt like The Rat Pack. They treated me with this very sweet respect, but also like one of the guys, which is exactly how I love to be treated by men. We had so much fun together and we would sit kind of huddled together. If there was an overview of us we looked like this little island and on all four sides of us were people taking pictures and waving. It was this crazy circus in Vegas and we were this little island of actors in the middle of it. At our age, having a job that feels good, and that you have a good feeling about the script, the director, and each other is amazing. At this age you’re not thinking about your next job, you’re not thinking about what’s going on somewhere else, or is this person getting more scenes, or a better costume, or whatever the hell people worry about when they’re young. We were just drinking in the moment. I think that’s one of the not so nice things about being this age, which is that you know when you’re lucky. You know when to count your blessings and I think everyone of us did.”
On discovering her unexpected talent
After undergoing a minor surgery on her arm in 2007, Steenburgen immediately faced unanticipated side effects — “I felt like there was a radio in my brain. Everything was kind of musical. Someone would say a sentence, and the sentence would get put into this whirlwind of music. It was very confusing and eventually when it hadn’t gone away after a number of days, it became upsetting, terrifying. I couldn’t sleep at night. After a few weeks I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘Look, you’re a mother, you’re a wife, you’re a daughter, you’re a sister, there’s a lot of people who count on you, and you cannot go crazy. You better figure out how to make this work for you.’ So I started studying music and composition and great songwriters. I went back and revisited songs that I loved that I never paid attention to, to study how they were written. Then eventually I started to take the fragments of what I was hearing and the songs out of them, and then I picked out a musician I respected and I said, ‘I don’t have the greatest voice but if I sing this note for note for you, can we make music together?’ We did it, and I sent 12 of the songs under my mom’s name to a very wonderful music lawyer, who said, ‘Let me see that kid.’ And the manager said, ‘Yeah, kid doesn’t quite describe her.’ And now I write for Universal Music.”
On being “discovered” by Jack Nicholson
The tale of Steenburgen’s “big break” is the kind of story actors dream about — while working at a New York restaurant she found out that they were casting a female role in Nicholson’s latest film, the 1978 Western “Goin’ South.” Although she didn’t even have a script to read for the part, Steenburgen waited in the reception room of Paramount’s New York office and was handed her lines by Nicholson himself. He was enchanted by Steenburgen and devoted the next two hours to reading scenes with the 24-year-old Arkansas native. Flown to Hollywood and auditioned on the Paramount lot (she had never set foot on a soundstage), Steenburgen enchanted everyone else she met, too. How did she find out that she had gotten the part? When she needed some money during auditions, Nicholson assured her that it wasn’t an issue. “Don’t worry about it kid,” he apparently told Steenburgen. “You’re on the payroll.” He then cast her as the lead in the film, which he directed, and the rest is history.
On improvisation vs. sticking to the script
Steenburgen admits there wasn’t much ad-libbing on the set, especially from [Bob] De Niro, who’s known for sticking to the script, but noted that Kevin Kline, who’s recently done more comedies, including Natalie Portman’s “No Strings Attached” and the TV show “Bob’s Burgers,” did occasionally indulge in some improv. Referring to her experience on a previous Will Ferrell movie, “it definitely wasn’t ‘Step Brothers,’” she laughed.
Here is a trailer for the film:
Last Vegas opens nationwide on November 1st. You can buy tickets to the movie here.
One of the advantages of living in L.A. is the ability to attend film and TV events like this one. Fortunately for those who live outside Southern California, we have Wendy who is tireless in seeking out these type of presentations and covering them for us. Look for more of them in the future. As always thanks, Wendy!