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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44 Inch Chest


It’s been 10 years since the release of Jonathan Glazer’s “Sexy Beast,” and yet the movie remains one of the most unforgettable crime thrillers ever made. Much of the film’s success was thanks to Sir Ben Kingsley’s electrifying performance as the venomous Don Logan, so it’s not surprising that the latest expletive-laced thriller from writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto is highlighted by the same kind of scene-chewing roles. “44 Inch Chest” assembles a cast of some of the best British actors working today, including Ray Winstone as Colin Diamond, a gangster contemplating murder after his wife informs him that she’s fallen in love with another man. After his friends kidnap her secret lover and take him back to their secret hideout to exact revenge, the heartbroken Colin must decide between killing in the name of love and walking away the better man.

Though “44 Inch Chest” is filled with lots of clever dialogue between Colin and his friends (an entertaining Tom Wilkinson, Ian McShane, John Hurt and Stephen Dillane), the story leaves much to be desired. There simply isn’t enough going on to fill an entire movie, and the fact that it’s structured more like a play (with a majority of the action taking place in a single room) only makes you wonder why it wasn’t conceived as one. If you can make it through the sluggish 95-minute runtime, “44 Inch Chest” is worth watching for the performances. Just don’t expect to be blown away.

Click to buy “44 Inch Chest”

  

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Monday movie bits and pieces

Just another one of those days filled with sequels and other things no one really needs.

* Armando Iannucci, the “In the Loop” guy, on his screenwriting Oscar chances:

“Our puppy Bramble won last night’s puppy training course. This gives us the momentum we need going into the Oscars.”

* Movie bloggers seem to agree that Ian McShane of “Deadwood” fame can only help the next “Pirates of the Caribbean 4” while playing the legendary real-life pirate Blackbeard. Insert c-cks-cker joke here.

swearengen

* An English Jihadi comedy to screen at SXSW. Here’s hoping the documentary “American Grindhouse” covers its (huge) subject well, because I’ll want to see that one.

* Nikki Finke informs us Harvey Weinstein signed a DVD deal with Sony. I know, your world will never be the same. Just be grateful I don’t pass along all her news about whose at which agency now.

* Whilst promoting Kevin Smith’s “Cop Out,” Bruce Willis is telling people that there’ll be a “Die Hard 5” and that it’ll should go “worldwide.”

* What do you do when you find out your best friend’s wife is cheating on him? That’s the knotty question that’ll be examined in an upcoming Ron Howard comedy starring Vince Vaughn that just attracted Kevin James, as per Screencrave’s Krystal Clark. Intriguingly, the script is by a writer more associated with dramas.

* Speaking of Mr. Smith, AICN’s Merrick reveals that it appears that Seann William Scott will star in his upcoming hockey comedy. Merrick also has the Warren Zevon/Mitch Albom song it’s based on, “Hit Somebody.”

* Coming eventually, maybe: Leonardo DiCaprio in a “‘Mystic River’ meets ‘Taken‘ storyline.”

* Glenn Kenny on people who don’t know the man personally referring to a certain director as “Marty”:

My general policy with movie people is to address them as “Mr.” or “Ms.” until explicitly instructed otherwise. I’m not trying to lord it over anybody with this etiquette tip. I’m just saying that my mother raised me with some fucking manners…I’ve always loved the phrase “fucking manners,” haven’t you?

  

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Wuthering Heights

Here’s a long forgotten relic from the past. It’s a BBC adaptation from 1967 of the Emily Brontë classic, and there’s really only one reason it’s out on DVD at all: It stars Ian McShane (“Deadwood”) as Heathcliff. I’m a slave to all things “Wuthering Heights,” and not just because Kate Bush put her stamp on it, either. I’ll watch any adaptation of the book that comes out, and my wife tells me this makes me a very strange man, since to her mind, it’s not a story that many guys dig. What’s not to like? A guy is jilted by his one true love and proceeds to makes life for her (and everyone she knows) a living hell. I get it; I see where ol’ Heathcliff is coming from. He probably takes it a bit too far, though, especially in the second half of the story, when Cathy’s been dead for years and he’s still pissed off and inflicting all manner of pain and degradation on the next generation. Dude – you’ve got to learn to let it go! I say this through every version, and of course he never gets it right. But those misty moors keep calling me back for further helpings, and I can’t get enough “Wuthering Heights.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t one of the better adaptations, especially given how many strong versions have been produced in recent years. With a running time of just over 3 hours, it pretty much covers the entire story, which is certainly a plus. However, the DVD artwork is somewhat misleading. The full color shot of McShane and Angela Scoular (who plays Cathy) might lead you to believe this is considerably more sumptuous than it actually is. It is in fact in black and white, and the video quality is mediocre at best. The entire thing feels like a stage play on film, and perhaps worst of all, it has no musical score whatsoever. It’s pretty creaky, vintage British TV that’s ultimately saved by McShane, who, even at the age of 25, plays an utter bastard (literally) better than most. Even with the problematic production values, he’s a force with which to be reckoned. The same can’t be said for Scoular, who’s one of the brattiest and most unlikable Cathys ever filmed. Ultimately, this version is only going to have two audiences: “Heights” completists like myself, and female McShane fans with a masochistic streak.

  

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Watch NBC’s “Kings,” Or I’ll Shoot This Dog

Last Sunday, I pleaded with you, the readers of Premium Hollywood, to watch the premiere of NBC’s “Kings,” describing it as “an epic drama with the kind of scope that you rarely see on television in series form” and assuring you that “it needs to be a hit right out of the box, lest it be canceled without ever having a chance to build on its concept.”

How did that request pan out?

Well, I think the opening sentence of the Hollywood Reporter’s piece – “NBC’s ‘Kings’ had a devastating premiere Sunday night.” – says it all, doesn’t it? (Actually, the headline did a pretty good job in its own right: “NBC’s ‘Kings’ dethroned in ratings.”) To borrow a line from another great yet under-appreciated series, the facts were these: the premiere of “Kings” drew only 6 million viewers and was the lowest-rated program between 8 and 11 p.m. on a major broadcast network.

The ever-snarky but nonetheless generally well-informed Nikki Finke over at L.A. Weekly‘s Deadline Hollywood Daily wasn’t afraid to lay the blame for the series at the feet of NBC’s long-suffering executive, Ben Silverman:

I’m told NBC Universal spent a whopping $10 million on Sunday’s two-hour opener for ‘Kings’ and another $4 million per episode. That’s a staggering amount of money to lavish on any drama series, especially one that’s a bomb. Nor does Jeff Zucker have anyone to blame but himself for this disaster. Because I hear that Ben Silverman was hands-on. ‘Kings’ was supposed to move into the Thursday 10 PM ‘ER’ slot (once coveted when the network was still Must-See TV) but has now been banished to Sunday at 8 PM where it can’t do any harm since no one is watching NBC that night anyway. This latest failure follows NBC’s derivative restaurant reality series ‘The Chopping Block,’ also receiving a pathetic 4 share in 18-to-49 demos for its debut Wednesday. No wonder Ben has less and less to do with programming — which was why he was hired in the first place — and more and more to do with liaising with advertisers.

Y’know, I’d say, “Ouch,” but it’s not like this is anything even remotely close to the worst thing Ms. Frinke has had to say about Mr. Silverman.

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