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Lara Flynn Boyle may never see this article.
She doesn’t have a computer and stays off social media. She’s not even sure how to look things up online. “Could not tell you how to Google,” she says flatly by phone on a recent Monday morning, in between drags of a cigarette lit to calm her nerves after being startled by an automated message on the conference line we’re sharing. “Couldn’t tell you how to do any of it — nothing!”
The device she’s holding? Not a smartphone. “I still have an old phone, not the ones that can look up where you are or where you’re going. No thank you!”
But the 51-year-old actress welcomes questions about where she’s been over her decades-long acting career, one that started in the late 1980s and includes dozens of projects from cult classics (Twin Peaks) and Emmy-winning TV series (The Practice) to global franchise fare (Men in Black). In recent years, however, as the work has slowed down, Boyle, a native of Iowa who grew up in Chicago, has kept a low profile while dealing with drubbings from the tabloid press.
She’s quick to forgive, however, saying it’s all part of the profession she loves. Though she doesn’t do many interviews, Boyle made an exception because that profession has put her back on the big screen this month in Death in Texas, her first movie in more than five years. Boyle plays Grace, the mother of a just-released felon, played by Ronnie Gene Blevins. He returns home El Paso to find out that their time is limited as she’s dying from liver failure. Intent on securing a transplant, her son tumbles back into old habits. Bruce Dern and Stephen Lang also star in the gritty indie written and directed by Scott Windhauser.
I met Boyle for the first time in October 2017 while attending the LA County Walk to Defeat ALS, where she was supporting a longtime friend, Pilates guru Mari Winsor. At the time, she said she was eager to get back to work, and when I remind her that people might call Death in Texas her comeback, she, again, offers a quick no thank you. “I never went anywhere.”
Here, the actress opens up on her creative process, letting go of vanity, a memorable exchange at her Twin Peaks audition, and why she, too, is loving Ted Lasso.
At the ALS Walk, you told me that you go anywhere a good call sheet takes you. How did the call sheet for Death in Texas find you?
Lucky me, they found me, and they know that’s how I roll. They found my peeps, and I was like, “This is brilliant.” Yeah, they definitely hooked me up. When I started doing independent movies back in the day, they were called B movies. Studios and agents would say, “Well, we don’t want her doing too many of these B movies.” They called for quotes on this movie or that movie, but they didn’t want me to do them. People used to make fun of us actors who wanted to do B movies because it was like, “Well, maybe you’re not getting enough right work.” But we all wanted to do B movies, they were the best. B for best. I never lost interest in them, in my whole life. Now they’re classy and cool and everyone loves them. It’s guerrilla filmmaking, and we all want to make good movies and tell good stories when you don’t care about the size of the trailer or anything. It’s like acting camp and to this day, I’m always like, “Sign me up for acting camp.”
How did it feel to be back at acting camp? Because this is your first movie since Lucky Dog, right?
Oh, I don’t know what they titled all of them. I have no idea. I just know they’re all fantastic. It felt exactly the most brilliant way it should feel. There’s no need for an alarm clock. You can’t wait to get to set. You can’t wait to show up. You hope everyone is there, with no ego. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way, but you pray for it. On this, no ego, everyone wanted to make a movie. We weren’t trying to prove anything. We weren’t trying to be arty farty. Every department wanted to shine and share what they love about telling stories. I know this sounds like a very typical quote, but seriously, when you go back to movie camp, everyone is so jazzed to be there.
I love that. It’s a good thing because a character like Grace asks a lot of you. She’s going through so much in her life — she’s dying, falling in love and there are some big emotional scenes. What was your process for stepping into this part?
It was a commitment to myself to go in with no vanity. I was like, “Look, I’m going to look like shit. Make me look even crappier than I already would.” It was selfishly, again, it was like being back in acting class. I didn’t care where a camera was, how I looked, or what makeup they put on me. I just committed to the part and thought, if I could click my heels and be a mother who [operates] with a selfless kind of love, what would that feel like? I’m an actress so it’s a stretch to become that selfless. (Laughs.) Hello! I know! We love attention. But I was like, “Let’s be raw and absolutely 100 percent not self-involved.” It was a little bit of work to be that mindless and focus completely on another human being.
The only thing that caught me off guard was seeing you play a mother to Ronnie Blevins, who is not that much younger than you. [Boyle is 51, Blevins is 43.] The script points out that your character had him at age 15, but what was it like to play opposite Ronnie as his mother?
Well, one of my best friends in the whole wide world, she had her daughter when she was 15. I kind of based it on my dear friend.
Ronnie posted on Instagram that you were magnificent in this film and that you’re a dear friend. Most of your scenes are with him — how did you find your rhythm?
We just melted together. Hopefully, I felt a little more sisterly than motherly, but it was pretty much around the same line. A lot of times he’d be like, “What do you think about this?” And I’d be like, “Shut up. Don’t make me feel so old.” He’d be like, “No, what do you think about this?” We were never at a loss for conversation or anything, all day long every day. We very much shared a symbiotic sort of kinetic bond.
Where did you shoot?
We shot outside in New Mexico, way outside New Mexico. I shot another movie there with Texas in the title.
The other film is West Texas Children’s Story?
Yes, exactly. That was not filmed in Texas either.
Grace is coming to terms with her past while facing her mortality. Are you someone who pulls from your own experiences while getting into character?
Absolutely. You have to pull from yourself. The only difference is she’s made mistakes and I haven’t. I don’t believe in regret. The only person you’ve got is you so you’ve got to pull it all out and it has to be you, 100 percent. That whole thing in drama school when they tell you to put on a mask — no. It’s all got to be you. For the character, you get to walk in their shoes but you’re going to take them off at the end of the night and you don’t have to have the blisters they have. There are so many avenues that you should’ve, would’ve, could’ve gone down when you step into the shoes of people you’re playing, but you step out when they call wrap.
What was your most challenging scene?
I wasn’t challenged. I shook hands with the character, so nothing challenged me. Once you commit, it’s like doing laundry. You fold it up after it’s done and dry. The commitment comes when you agree to do the part and once you make that agreement, it’s not challenging. It’s just a job.
Maybe another way to ask it is what was the most rewarding scene? You have some big emotional moments, was there a scene where, artistically, you felt it was rewarding to push yourself?
I have to say this scene I have with my son in the kitchen; that’s the most rewarding scene. When I have to tell my son, “Look, this is just how it is,” and I instinctively give him a quick kiss on the face. I could’ve pushed it, and been like, “Oh, I can play this scene for your consideration for an Academy Award,” but I played it as close to the human heart as a mother would have in that moment. I felt the most connected with Ronnie as mother and son.
It was a sweet moment. Are you someone who can watch yourself on screen?
No, no, no. I’m awful. No, no, no. I’ve only seen about 45 percent of anything I’ve ever done.
Why is that?
Oh, it’s a long, long list. It’s a long, long list. But that’s there, and that was there, and that was in the moment, and that was real. No, there are many reasons why I don’t watch. One of the silly little reasons is I don’t want to get mad at the editors. I don’t want to get frustrated. It’s there, it’s left, and I’ve got to move on.
Some actors say it informs their process, other ones say they’re too overly critical …
It’s not vanity for me, I gave that up a long time ago. I want to commit to a scene and if you look in a mirror, you’re not in a scene. I was there, I committed, I earned my money. I was raw and real and did my job and then I’ve got to move on. I can’t do anything about how an editor or a director sees a scene or how they want to slice it. Those minutes were my beautiful time to communicate with my scene partner. I got my presents, I got my candy, and now I move on.
Tell me about your journey with vanity. I think all actors must come to terms with it when they see themselves on screens, magazine covers, billboards. How did you give it up, as you said?
Bette Davis said at the best: “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” It’s a lovely hurdle to get over. Things drop, things fall, things change but the work is always there.
The world really got to know you as a young actor. Now to be 51, how are you feeling about Hollywood and the roles coming your way?
Well, it’s not always a pony in a parade but I chose my career. I chose the highs, and I chose the lows. This career I have chosen has been kinder to me than it hasn’t. If I can’t roll with the bumps, then I have no business riding the roller coaster. Of course, I’m a human being and there are going to be questions that come into your head or your heart. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I have weathered the storm with a lot of negative publicity and at the end of the day, I’ll take the negative publicity and keep on rolling. It’s worth it.
If I could ask you about the negative publicity, I know that you get trailed by paparazzi and the tabloids and The Daily Mail often post about you. Do you pay attention to it?
Sometimes, yeah. They’re like mosquitoes. The minute you leave your house, it’s like mosquitoes. They’re like, “Boyle has left the side entrance. Boyle is now going out the main gate.” But I chose this profession. I would be a total jerk if I complained about it. If I’m going to take the paycheck, I’m also going to take the bad publicity. It’s going to happen.
Do the stories even reach you?
I don’t have a computer. I don’t have a computer. Could not tell you how to Google. Couldn’t tell you how to do any of it. Nothing. I have enough wonderful people around me who can point me where to go and tell me if people are saying nasty things or good things. I still have an old phone, not the one that can look up where you are or where you’re going. I don’t do any of that — nothing. No thank you!
Oh, wow. Is it just to keep a low profile? Why did you make that decision to not have a computer?
Ignorance is bliss. I’m smart enough, I don’t need that. I can watch the news and I love a newspaper. … I do want to tell you one little story about The Hollywood Reporter.
Back in my time, The Hollywood Reporter used to come out weekly. On the back pages, there would have a list of films in production. Do you remember that?
Yes — the Production Charts.
It was the greatest thing ever when you would flip to the back and see your name in print as part of a film production. It was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m in this!” My life was so lovely. I loved it and loved seeing who was doing this or that.
I love that. I remember those days …
I remember reading those with John Hughes. Coming from Chicago, my god, he was my king. If you could be around John Hughes, then you knew that you’d made it. I remember sitting with him one day while we were doing Baby’s Day Out. This is a true story and it’s a good one. He told me that when he was sitting with [Matthew Broderick] while they were shooting Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, they would go through the Production Charts. Matthew would say, “I wish I was in every single one of these.” And that’s how I felt too! I was like, “John, me too.”
Your name ended up in the credits of many great movies. What are you proudest of?
I’m proud of so much. I got to work with some of the most brilliant directors ever. Before I knew I was going to have an interview with you, I wrote down some of the directors I’ve worked with. It’s astonishing how fortunate I’ve been. It’s just astonishing. I must’ve done something good in a past life. Or it’s just Irish luck. Gosh, I’ve been so fortunate.
When you wrote the list, was there a director or a project that jumped out?
The whole experience on The Practice. That cast, they pushed me every day. Working with Alan Parker on The Road to Wellville, that was just like, “Wow, this is incredible.” I had just seen his movie The Commitments and I went to a performing arts high school so I feel like I knew [The Commitments’ world]. When I got to meet with him for The Road to Wellville, they said, “All the actresses have to be naked.” I was like, “OK, I’ll be naked. Whatever. I’ll do anything for Alan Parker.” He was a big stunner and awesome to work with.
That cast is amazing: Anthony Hopkins, Bridget Fonda, Matthew Broderick, John Cusack, another Chicago star …
It just went on and on, working with Alan Parker, and then I did a movie called Equinox with Alan Rudolph that was produced by Robert Altman. So many greats. I was so little. When I worked with David Lynch, I didn’t even know who he was. I hadn’t seen Blue Velvet. Talk about ignorance is bliss. I was just so blessed to work with so many phenomenal directors.
It’s so true. Anything you would’ve done differently?
Not a thing. Not a thing. Even things that someone else would look at as regrets, those experiences made me stronger, made me more spirited, and made me forge through.
Aside from the Production Charts in THR, what else do you miss about Hollywood back in the day?
Oh my gosh, I miss tons and tons and tons. I miss sign-in sheets at auditions. You’d have to sign your name, your agency and what time you got there. Then you could look and see what other actors had come in before you. Those were fun. You could see Gwyneth Paltrow and all of the names. I miss the audition process. I used to love going in rooms, having sides with the pages highlighted and reading for a director and casting. It was a great high. Even the walk over from the parking lot to the studio was such a wonderful, amazing experience. I used to put my high heels in my little backpack. Then once I was done with my audition, I would put my flip-flops on to walk back through the studio gates to get in my car.
It was a different time. I believe I speak for a lot of us actors and actresses, it was how you did your day. You’d find a coffee shop where you could memorize your lines and hang out in case you had to get to another audition across town. Auditioning was a lifestyle, and it was a fabulous lifestyle.
When you look back on that, were there any auditions that got away that you really wanted to book?
I can’t tell you that. That I’m not going to tell you.
What is your most memorable audition?
There were so many. I remember when I auditioned for Twin Peaks, and I met with David Lynch and Mark Frost. I went in to read for them at Propaganda Films. David Lynch was telling me just tiny bits about what Twin Peaks was about, and after he explained it, I said, “Well, if it’s about the dead girl, then why am I reading if I’m supposed to be dead?” He said, “No, you’re not reading for the dead girl.” That I remember.
Speaking of the past, what do you remember about the night at the Golden Globes when you wore a very memorable ensemble?
I did? Noooo. (Laughs.)
I’m pretty sure. What do you remember from that night?
I remember it was a great time. I love the spirit of the Golden Globes. It was so pure and honest. It did not mean one actor was better than another actor, or one filmmaker was better than another. It’s a celebration of the year. It was a celebration of Hollywood and all of the entertainment that we put out.
There’s a conversation happening about the future of the Golden Globes and, also, the future of award shows in Hollywood. How do you think they can be saved?
I’m just an actor. I can’t even answer this question. I love a call sheet, I love hitting my mark, and I love working. That is not my place to answer anything on that.
Going back to the day we met at the ALS Walk, I wanted to ask about your friend Mari Winsor. It was sad to hear of her passing last year, I’m so sorry. Looking back on your friendship, what did you learn from Mari?
That is a big question. I still don’t know how to accurately speak on my feelings, other than saying I feel immense sadness. It’s quite painful to see such a brilliant spirit and intelligent person become a prisoner in their body. The most saddening dichotomy out of this is that Mari was just about the healthiest person I’ve ever been lucky enough to spend time with. We went on vacations together, I was a part of her life. But with ALS, it doesn’t matter who it takes as a prisoner. It’s not easy to accept those terms. It’s horrific and just wrong. I can tell you how much the sadness has affected me, but the millions that have to watch their friends and family members suffer is [overwhelming]. It does make you question, why do such terrible things happen to such beautiful human beings?
That’s so true, and to have it happen during such a difficult year is even more challenging. What entertainment have you been keeping up with?
I’m waiting for the new season of Ted Lasso. I think [Jason Sudeikis] is brilliant. I love him so much. It’s so spirited, and there’s no ego. The show is just a good time. Sometimes things don’t have to be so glum and depressing to be brilliant. You don’t always have to be shedding tears for actors to be brilliant. He’s super talented.
I watched Mare of Easttown. Here’s one little thing that kind of makes me a tad bit glum for American actors. I see so many projects with wonderful Australian and English actors and actresses. We do have American actors that can do those roles. We can do it, too. Don’t get me wrong, those actors are lovely and wonderful, but in the United States, we have got some really great actors and actresses, too.
Do you have any new projects lined up?
I have something next, but if I told you I’d have to kill you. I have something, but I can’t say anything.
Has Death in Texas impacted what kinds of roles or work you want to be doing?
It just reinstates how I want to keep rolling.
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