At 71, and after 50 years in show business, Shirley MacLaine is far from ready to retire from the spotlight, trotting out on stage only for Academy Award retrospectives and documentaries about the old days in Hollywood. After all this time, she's still a working girl, and this year she's been going at it harder than ever and racking up more box office revenue than a bevy of young starlets.
She added spark to Bewitched over the summer as Endora, and then lined up the three-hankie chick flick In Her Shoes, playing a long-lost grandmother to Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette. While all the actresses have to play second fiddle to a closet full of the most fabulous shoes, MacLaine provides the emotional heft as Ella Hirsch, a retiree living in Florida who was cut off from her family after her daughter died and hadn't seen the girls since they were little.
MacLaine took the time out for an interview at the Toronto Film Festival, where the film was premiering...
What has your lifelong relationship with shoes been like?
It's been very important. As an ex-dancer, I know about pressure points. I have a lot of shoes. I'm not like Imelda Marcos. I have them and I wear them all. I wear a different pair of shoes every day. And you have to when you have feet that have been used to dancing in heels for two hours every day.
What are you wearing today?
That's a good choice for Toronto; you have to walk a lot.
Not me, I'm stuck in this hotel room, talking to people.
Given this movie's relationship with the sisters and the grandmother and the shoes, it's like a home run for women, but what do you think appeals to men?
It's about families. Dark secrets. Unresolved issues in families. It is a real investigation. It's a true story by the way. I liked that. These are things that I think every family has, which are dark, dark, really profoundly difficult and painful events. My character takes care of everybody else because she doesn't want to find out about herself. Then, when the girls come to see her, she opens up herself.
How was it filming in Florida?
I loved Briny Breeze, that's where we shot with the older people. I learned so much. They have real lives that are still sexually active. They won't get into marriage, they don't want to be tied down. They gossip, they have friends and have very close-knit cliques. They're romantic.
Did it make you feel more secure about getting older?
I've never felt bad about getting older. I like it. I like the wisdom inherent in the process. I like the humor. I love the fact that you almost are commanded to be direct and brutally honest about everything. I don't have to worry anymore. "Oh, look what she said, she's so outspoken, oh my goodness..." That's what they used to say. Now they say, "Well of course, she's older."
What did you think of your young costars? Does Cameron Diaz have the stuff to make it 50 years in this business?
It depends on her personal life, on how courageous she is to go within herself, which I think she has been up to now. I don't think that her stardom depends on her looks all that much. I think she has quite a canvas of emotional depth, and little by little, she will learn to access that more.
What has been your secret?
I'd say my inner investigation. Who am I? Why am I here? What did I do that for? Stuff like that. I'm not into avoiding the reality of truth. It's the opposite.
What's the truth in your business right now? Playing grandmother roles?
Oh, yeah, unless I got Maria Ouspenskaya (a Russian actress born in 1876, who died in 1949) to play my mother.
You've had quite a string of successes lately, with Bewitched, In Her Shoes and the Christmas release of Rumor Has It with Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner.
It is a lot of activity. I love it. I'm very happy for it and thankful for it. I can't figure out why.
What is Rumor Has It about?
It's the characters in The Graduate, 30 years later. I play Mrs. Robinson and Jennifer Aniston plays my granddaughter. Kevin plays the Dustin Hoffman part much later.
Is your character still a seductress?
By now I'm cantankerous and irascible, funny, foul-mouthed. I'm trying to protect my granddaughter. I'm into granddaughters, huh?
Cantankerous and irascible are pretty common too...
For me. Yup.
Are you getting typecast?
I just love playing that stuff. These are good parts. Who else around will do them?
What will the next chapter bring for you?
More parts that are contained like this one. I like that. I like playing this. I've done a lot of flamboyance, now I'd like to bring it down.
What about a senior citizen love story?
I'd love to do a love story. It's too bad more people don't make them, because there are a lot of people out there who would like to watch that entertainment '- including the young people. I think they find it amusing and kind of so sweet.