It would be easy to call her a legend. After all, this is a woman who danced for Fosse, was directed by Hitchcock, ran with the Rat Pack, and has worked in films for half a century. But how many legends do you know who are still working this much? And having this much fun doing it?
Ive been making movies for fifty years this year and Im not at all surprised that Im still hereit never occurred to me that I wouldnt just keep working. But thats not from the point of view of Oh, Im so good!, its that its just meant to be: Its destiny. If I live into my nineties Ill be working til then.
Im interested in the experience of being other people for a little whileI consider it almost a retreat. Also, I enjoy going into those parts of myself that I havent been yet, because I think every part you play is part of yourself. And I enjoy the familial environment on the setthe sense of respect and appreciation that everybody working on a picture has for somebody whos being asked to get up every morning at five A.M. and go be somebody else. Especially after having fought the traffic.
Im also enjoying the experience of aging: Theres something to do with getting older that gives you the right to express any feeling you have. When youre younger, youre not really sure of what your feelings are so, therefore, you can be, lets say, pixie-ish, the way I wasI was constantly surprised and full of wonder and that showed in my acting. But when you get older you not only have the right to express yourself completely, but the duty to do so.
In fact, I wanted to play Ouiser in [1989s] Steel Magnolias because I wanted to feel how free it would be to be like her when I got older. It felt fabulousGod, I loved it!and I think Ive been employing that tactic pretty well frequently now.
When you have a sense of experience and wisdom you realize that life itself is, basically, a theatrical manipulation of mostly bullshit and so you have a certain reaction to that. Which could be called cantankerous. I think a better word is direct, and thats an easy thing for me to playits who I am now. But the interesting question is what happened in between the pixie to what some call ball breaker.
Back in 1954 I was in the chorus on Broadway doing The Pajama Game. I was understudying the role of Gladys who had the big Steam Heat number, knowing that Carol [Haney] would go on for it with a broken neck. But one night I showed up late because the subway got stuck and there, all lined up at the stage door, were [MacLaines future Sweet Charity director and Pajama Games choreographer Bob] Fosse and [producer] Hal Prince and [director] Jerry Robbins saying, Youre on! The conductor asked, What key do you sing in? I said I dont know.
Id never had a rehearsal and I was worried about dropping my hat in the number. Which I did and said Shit! But when we took our bows the audience stood and [movie producer] Hal B. Wallis happened to be there. Warren [Beatty, her brother] and I had always gone to see Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis pictures that read in the credits, Produced by Hal B. Wallis, and thats all I remembered about him.
He said that I should make a screen test and I had no idea what a screen test was (by the way, Hal Prince said, Get more experiencedont go to Hollywood. They joke about that now.) But I got to the studio and back then theyd always use the same scripts for screen tests, but Id never learned Voice of the Turtle so I wasnt gonna act in the test. So I said, Lets get a stool and somebody get me a scarf and began to do some little dance moves with the scarf and then the director interviewed me on camera. From then on they began to test people as a personality rather than playing a part: The personality test was born.
I signed a seven year contract with Hal B. Wallis and then went back to the chorus in Pajama Game. Then Carol was out once more in the fall and that time Hitchs people were there [as in Alfred Hitchcock, who directed MacLaines first film, 1955s The Trouble With Harry].
I wasnt scared of Hitchcock at all: When I first met him at his suite at the Waldorf I was mainly interested in how he could move around with such fat legs. So I asked him to do some moves for me. And he didhe put his leg and foot up on the chair and went La! I kept asking him to do that because it was so cute. Then we did a reading of The Trouble With Harry with Mildred Dunnock and John Forsythe and I read the part and thats when he said I had the guts of a bank robber. He never said a thing to me on the movie, though. Well, except Dogs feet. Dogs feet mean for me to pause. Thats how he directed.
The idea of being in movies was, like, secondary to melike a little hobby that went along with being in this place called Hollywood, California. I was mostly concerned with What is it like living where there are no seasons? [Her classic, movie-ready big break didnt] make me feel anything. It happened to me so thats all I knew. Later, when I began to examine it I realized that this was my destinythat it was what Id signed up for, basically: I dont have a question with the concept that you choose your parents before youre born. Thats why it makes so much sense to me that I chose a mother who wanted to be an actress and a father who wanted to run away and join the circusbut who both chose, instead, marriage and children. That left me and Warren the technique of fulfilling their disappointed dreams. It was who I was and was supposed to be. But I also was supposed to be traveling and I felt this need to go out and see the world at the same time that I was adjusting to the fact I was becoming this star in Hollywood (though Ive never thought of myself as a starI can go with iconic and legendary a little bit now, because of my longevity).
The Rat Pack happened pretty quick after: Frank [Sinatra] had seen me on a TV show and called the studio and said I want that girl [for 1958s Some Came Running]. And let me say that, during their time, The Rat Pack were so outrageous that the likes of them wont come along againwere living in such a climate of fear and in such a curtailed society now that those people would probably be sent to jail. But, anyway, Some Came Runnings Ginny is still one of my favorites. Her care for other people, her ability to love, just everything about her moved me. I saw that hooker with the heart of gold thing right away.
By the time the 60s were up I guess Id done a lot of those loose women. But heres the thing: They do all kinds of pictures with men that have nothing to do with sex, but in pictures with women they always feel they have to bring in the sexual component. Why? Because they just dont understand women. I mean, look at the pictures today: There are very few with women stars and even with the ones that do exist, sex is a big deal.
If Im not doing a couple of things at once I get very tiredso on [1977s] The Turning Points set I wrote one of my books and on [1979s] Being There I wrote most of Out on a Limb. Popularizing the New Age movement, I made it okay to take it seriously. And I think it goes hand in hand with being an actor: To be metaphysical, to be interested in the exploration of the spirit, is to be a true artistwere creating our own reality every moment and thats what the actors job is: We create what we think of the script, we create the temperament, the tempo, and sometimes we create falling in love with the opposite character.
And so if I didnt have a love affair with my co-star I was usually having one with the director. Its not the love scenes, its in-between shots when you fall in love and its involved with so many thingswith being tired, being controlled, rebelling ..and if you have a co-partner questioning the same things its easy to go there. Now I could never fall in love with Jerry Lewis because he was so self-centered. Brilliant, but self-centered. I never fell in love with Dean [Martin] and Frankwell, a little more with Dean because he let me see insecurities and thats something to love because its honest. I did with the others by virtue of the fact that we were on a movie setbut its three months and thats that: I remember having had an affair with one of my directors and one day the film and it were over. Period. On my way home I was crying so hard I thought it was raining and turned on the windshield wipers.
[One co-star MacLaine didnt have an affair with was Being Theres Peter Sellers ] But he thought we werepeople came to me and said, We walked in when he was talking with you in this sexual way on the phone. He could go in and out of reality and was so living his part that he was in love with my character, Eve, and honestly believed he had this affair with me. You see what I mean about brilliant acting being so metaphysical? Thats why its so funny to me when people say Oh, shes so wacky, because it says a lot about how un-wacky I actually am that I dont go into these characters like so many of the brilliant oneslike Nicole and Meryldo. I dont consider this a compliment to myself, but Ive never been involved so much in a character that I didnt know who I wasbut Im a Taurus, Im too routed for that!
Ive been involved with so many pictures that had problemslike, Terms of Endearment was a disaster and look what happened [It won multi-Oscars including Best Actress for MacLaine]. But at one point I quit it. When [director] Jim Brooks found me at the airport I said, Take my Oscar and shove it! Its all too amateur night in Dixie for me. But Jims thing is working with chaos and hes a genius. And before Terms I couldnt get a job in Hollywood so he saved my career. Id work with him again in a shot!
[Twenty two-years later, MacLaine appeared in Bewitched in July and still has the much-buzzed about In Her Shoes and Rumor Has It un-spooling by years end.]
I know theres Oscar buzz about In Her Shoes, but Im gonna leave it alone. Though when you have psychic talent, youre very tempted to use it so its hard to! But also I think its very important to not care about the outcome of anything, basicallyits about caring about the process. And, anyway, I loved the idea of playing a contained portrayal of a grandmother, one not over-the-top in her presentation of herself. I also loved the idea of working with Curtis [Hanson] and Toni [Collette] and Cameron [Diaz]Camerons a delightful actress and this is the part for her.
Okay, were done. When I look back at my career I think, My God, did I DO all this stuff? I cant believe I did all that, because, my God, I did a lot of work, didnt I? I still find interesting scripts and have two I want to do next year. But when people ask, How would you like to be remembered?, its funny: I probably want to be remembered for not bothering with being remembered. It doesnt matter to me. Ill be back again.