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A Conversation with Blythe Danner

A Conversation with Blythe Danner
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By Alison Bailes

You may not know the name, but you certainly know the ageless face and that bouncy mane of soft, wavy hair. Despite success on Broadway and television (one Tony and two Emmys), on screen she is still better known for the company she keeps: Robert DeNiro in “Meet the Parents”, Nick Nolte in “The Prince of Tides” and Robert Duvall in “The Great Santini”.  And of course, her most notorious role may just be that of real life mother to mega-super-star Gwyneth Paltrow.  Now Blythe Danner is getting what she has deserved from the cinema: a leading role.  As Carol, a widow in her 70s, Danner is front and central in “I’ll see you in my Dreams”, a deft romantic comedy from writer/director Brett Haley.  At the Sarasota Film Festival in April, I talked to the remarkably candid Danner about everything from acting to aging and of course her effortlessly handsome co-star Sam Elliott.

AB: I do feel there are more films willing to take a risk on an older generation. However, we have to go back to 2003 “Something’s Gotta Give” to find a sexy, romantic film with an older character. Do you feel things are changing as far as roles for you.

BD: It’s gotten much, much better since I first began. I remember having dinner with Leslie Caron way long ago and she said “I have to leave California because they are not interested in anyone who is over 35”. Well I think that has changed a lot and I’m amazed that Brett who was only 28 or 29 when he wrote this piece has such an understanding and empathy for older people. So there are more and more roles…certainly room for a lot more but it’s a good upward trend. I’ve never done a film where I’ve been in every scene of a film…I’ve done a lot of roles on stage that are sizeable but for this to come to me at 70 something (coughs, laughs)… I’m tremendously grateful and it’s more of a surprise than anything.

AB: We all need to own our ages. You look fabulous…how?

BD: I have good genes and a little help from our friends, you know, a little filler here and there etc. but who doesn’t these days?  And I often play roles younger than myself or I have and I have to keep it up!  I wish I could go to the gym more often…running after my grandchildren, that’s my main exercise.

AB: Carol is a widow, retired, comfortably off in her seventies, she still sets an alarm clock, hasn’t got a cell phone. Could you relate to these little details about her life?

BD: Oh very much so. I went kicking and screaming into this century. I didn’t want to give up my answering machine, I’m sure I was the last person to get a cell phone. My children would say “mom you have to catch up!” I don’t twitter or tweet or whatever it’s called and Instagram, oh it’s just such a waste of time! I’m glad that I’ve escaped most of that, that’s one of the nice things about getting old.

AB: When you first read the script did you think I have to do this and why?

BD: I thought Brett had made a mistake!  Surely he doesn’t intend this for me? I was actually a little intimidated because I saw that the character Carol was in every scene and I thought, this was an independent film with a low budget. We shot it in 18 days!  I thought I don’t think I have the stamina for this! And then I looked at it again and I said I would be an absolute fool not to do this.

AB: Sam Elliott…he still has it!  It doesn’t matter how old he is. When the director mentioned him, did you just think “yeah!”?

BD: I wondered whether he was going to keep that big bushy mustache…

AB: He wouldn’t be Sam Elliott without the mustache!

BD: I know, it’s true, but I knew I had to kiss him so…but it was just wonderful to see on the set just how many of the young girls were swooning. Sam would sit there and I’d look over getting ready for a scene and he had about 6 girls on both sides hanging on to his every word. And he was in heaven.

AB: And how was the hairy kiss?

BD: He was very considerate, he was very nice.

AB: Who is your main female role model?

BD: Well my daughter for one, certainly my mother. And I had some great teachers along the way. But it’s taken me a long time to start to feel like a stronger woman. I was raised in an era where you were a good girl and you didn’t make waves and it wasn’t until I married my wonderful husband (Bruce Paltrow) who was irreverent and outspoken and was just a great caring man helping people that I became more so.

Blythe Danner’s husband died from oral cancer in 2002 and Blythe works hard to raise awareness for the disease. For more information, go to www.Oralcancerfoundation.org.

“I’ll see you in my Dreams” opens May 15th.

 

 

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