A Chat with Linda Gray (“Expecting Mary,” “Dallas”)

This weekend marks the opening of “Expecting Mary,” a film about a young pregnant girl who ends up having to leave home to truly find a family. (I just made that up. Just now. I clearly should be writing taglines for a living.) The actress playing Mary – Olesya Rulin – is perhaps best described as an up-and-comer, since her highest profile roles to date have been “High School Musical 3” and a 6-episode stint on ABC Family’s “Greek,” but the same certainly cannot be said for many others in the cast: among those who turn up in the film include Elliott Gould, Lainie Kazan, Cloris Leachman, Della Reese, Cybill Shepherd, Gene Simmons, Fred Willard, and…yes, the title of this piece has given it away, but we’re going for the dramatic pause, anyway…Linda Gray, who was kind enough to take a bit of time to tell me about the film as well as to answer quite a few questions about the experience of playing the iconic role of Sue Ellen Ewing on “Dallas.”

Linda Gray: Hello, Will Harris! I was expecting your call!

Bullz-Eye: (Laughs) Well, I’m glad to hear that! It’s a pleasure to speak with you.

LG: Thank you very much!

BE: I must admit that I have yet to see “Expecting Mary,” but based on the cast alone, I’m certainly interested in doing so.

LG: (Laughs) Well, I think it’ll be one of those delightful movies where you laugh and maybe cry, and, you know, you’ll be entertained, for sure.

BE: Well, first off, let me ask you how you came to be involved in the film.

LG: It was because of the writer, Dan Gordon. Dan is an extraordinarily wonderful writer, and if you Google him… (Laughs) …you’ll find out all kinds of wonderful things that he’s written. But Dan Gordon had come to see me in London when I was doing “The Graduate,” and when he saw the play, he gave me a video – at that time, there weren’t all that many DVDs – of “Terms of Endearment,” and he asked, “Would you like to do this as a play?” And I took a deep breath, because I’d already stepped into an Anne Bancroft piece, and I thought, “Oh, boy, how do you go into an Academy Award winning role by Shirley MacLaine? But I said, “Yes, let’s do it.” So he got the rights from Paramount and Larry McMurtry to do it as a play, and we toured it in the provinces of England. It was kind of an off-off-off-off-Broadway kind of a thing… (Laughs) …just to kind of see how it worked, how the scenes played together and how the characters worked. So we did that, and I did it for almost six months, eight shows a week, and cried my eyes out every show, until I came to him and said, “Look, I love your writing, but…can you write me something lighter? This is too heavy for me!” (Laughs) So, anyway, we sat down and started throwing around ideas, and…I didn’t want to have a J.R. guy in my life. I said, “Okay, here’s my wish list: I don’t want her to be the wife of someone like that. I want her to be a little bit zany.” I wanted her to be a little Lucille Ball, a little bit of something that people hadn’t ever really seen me do. I wanted her to have a big heart, and…well, anyway, we hashed it around, and he came up with a former Las Vegas showgirl, and I said, “Yes!” And we kept going, and it was, like, “What if we did this? How about that?” And it was a lovely, lovely collaboration. But he’s the genius with writing. We just bounced ideas around, and he took them in and molded them into the script, which was, well, genius.

Nothing really good happens unless you have a good script, and he orchestrated it beautifully, so that…when you see it, you’ll see that each character has their moment, and they all shine in their scenes. And that’s what attracted all of these wonderful actors. Actors vibe to a script like that, so here comes Cloris Leachman and Della Reese and Lainie Kazan and Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould… (Laughs) I was, like, “Oh, my gosh, look at this cast!” Everybody kept saying, “Yes!” Nobody said “no.” It was just all about arranging their schedules. It was an 18-day shoot, which may surprise you when you see the film. It surprised us! (Laughs) And it was just…charming. I think what happens when you get professionals together, really good actors that have been in the business for a long time, and they know there’s an 18-day shoot…Dan Gordon was a first-time feature film director, which was an interesting thing, but the good news is that, as a director / writer, there weren’t many scenes that he had to tweak on the set then and there, but when there were, you didn’t have to wait to find the writer and say, “What do you think of this?” It was instant.

We benefited hugely by that, because…there’s one scene you’ll see where I’m holding this baby pig, walking, and Olyesa Rulin, whom I love and adore…she’s the young girl in the film, and I want to adopt her, but I haven’t told her parents yet. (Laughs) But we’re walking, I’m holding this pig, and she looks at me and says, “I thought we were supposed to walk this pig.” Well, the reality was that the ground was 134 degrees. It was so hot. We shot it last summer, at the end of July and the beginning of August, and the ground was so hot that they wouldn’t let us put the pig’s feet down on the ground! So I had to hold the pig, and it makes my character, Darnella, even more zany. I’m holding this pig as I’m taking her for a walk, and Olyesa says, rightfully, “I thought you were walking the pig,” so I say, “Oh, he hurt his little foot!” That was Dan. He wrote instantly that the pig had a hurt foot, but he likes to be out and about, so I had to hold him and carry him. (Laughs) So there are those kinds of little things that nobody would ever notice, but they’re there because Dan was there to write them on the spot!

BE: I’m suddenly reminded of W.C. Fields’ line about never working with children and animals…

LG: (Laughs) Oh, I think it’s absolutely true! I mean, I’ve worked with a lot of animals, and I agree. It’s, like, “Oh, my gosh, this is crazy!” Because they get all the focus. Everybody that I’ve talked to about the movie, they talk about the pig…and the pig isn’t even in the film very much! (Laughs) But, yes, everybody was just enamored, and they washed him in lavender soap. Actually, it was a girl, but in the film, it’s a male pig. But, yes, they washed him in lavender, and he smelled beautifully, and he was adorable.

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A movie news midnight ramble.

It’s a bit late for a Friday night news dump –and most all of  you will be reading this on Saturday morning — but here’s the news…

* Chris Evans has been offered the part of Captain America, but will he accept?

* Christopher Nolan’s multi-star Philip Dick-esque new movie is generating interesting, of course.

* That word about Tim Burton doing an stop-motion version of “The Addams Family” going back to the characters’ cartoon roots struck me as a perfectly reasonable idea. Charles Addams brilliant cartoons have never really be transferred to the screen in quite the fashion they deserve, so why not take another whack, says me. I any case, the whole story appears to be premature.

adams2* Demi Moore and Nia Vardalos: Twitter heroines.

* Friday’s over now. Is Leo the Lion closer to having a new tamer?

* Speaking of lion tamers, Carl Icahn is at the Lion’s gate. (Sorry.)

* Wow, Jeff Bridges was really a lock for the Oscar. George Clooney did his classy Cary Grant thing again and voted for him. Weirdly enough, much as I just about worship Bridges, I actually think Clooney was better in his nominated role than Bridges in his.

* Christoph Waltz wowed the world as Col. Landa, but what he really wants to do, aside from being America’s new go-to bad guy, is direct, at least once. Good for him for striking while the iron is hot, and it’s very hot for him.

* Woody Allen is having second thoughts, it appears, about casting France’s first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, in his new movie.

Carla-Bruni-Nicolas-1

* The ultra-hawkish rightwing’s answer to having more successful political thrillers is apparently the same as their longstanding and unchanging prescription for foreign policy: more mindless brutality, please. On the other hand, I might pay to see Gene Simmons’ head explode in a ball of flame, though I’m not advocating it.

* Which is not to say there aren’t some conservatives who don’t have something to teach us liberals. The subtly and thoughtfully right-leaning cinephile Bill Ryan, via Dennis the C,  takes apart the latest highly irritaining controversy involving the always irritaining Armond White.

* I can’t say I actually know the man really at all, but film distributor turned filmmaker turned back to film distributor Jeff Lipsky and I have a bit of history (discussed in my interview with him from 2007). His thoughts on returning to the biz are some interesting inside baseball and most of them seem to make a fair amount of sense.  His movie love is sincere, even as his tastes are quite different than mine. And it’s interesting and hopeful to see an Indie guy still excited about theatrical filmgoing. But why on earth does he feel the need to single out the aforementioned Armond White for praise? I could go on…

  

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American Idol: Judges can’t save these two

Last night’s “American Idol” results show began with another new twist of rules announcement. I was afraid of the judges throwing themselves more into the mix, but what they announced was something pretty cool. They flashed on a big screen folks like Tamyra Grey, Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson, and Ryan Seacrest asked what they all had in common. That would be that they finished third or fourth in the voting in past seasons, and subsquently went on to have huge careers. The judges will have the option this season to “save” one eliminated contestant and give them another chance, to make up for a bad week, or because they feel so strongly about the contestant. Keep in mind they can only do this once in the next 10 or 11 weeks.

They then showed the finalists in their new digs at the American Idol mansion…are you kidding me? And then they showed the new Ford video, where the group covered Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” And then there was another awful group performance of The Jackson Five’s’ “I Want You Back.” Blech.

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