Spotlight: Mary Steenburgen


Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen will add another honor to her list of accolades when she receives a star on the Walk of Fame Wednesday. Steenburgen came to prominence with such films as "Melvin and Howard," "Parenthood" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and has been a presence in more than 65 film and TV productions. She will next be seen opposite Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant in "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" opening Friday. Steenburgen, who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Jo Nelsen, is also a political activist and longtime supporter of nonprofits Heifer International and Oceana, along with her husband, Ted Danson.

The Hollywood Reporter: Are you as unconventional in real life as the characters you sometimes play?

Mary Steenburgen: I'm told a lot that I have an odd way of thinking! My family could wax lyrical about this -- they're the ones that tell me most frequently that I'm the butt of all the jokes in the house.

THR: The characters you play tend to be compassionate, "good" women.

Steenburgen: I'm actually attracted to a much wider range of roles than just friendly, nice, compassionate people. The whole idea of being an actor is to be able to transcend one little niche and explore the parts of yourself that are light and parts that are dark, funny and serious.

THR: In "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" you play a character that is compared to Sarah Palin. How did that feel for a diehard Democrat?

Steenburgen: I feel like I've finally made a movie that will make some of my relatives very happy. (Laughs.) I don't want to spend my career playing characters that are like me or politically aligned. It was important for me to not sell them short.

THR: What role are you most proud of?

Steenburgen: One of the more perfect films I've made is "Melvin and Howard." And because Jack Nicholson started me in my career, casting me in "Goin' South," that film will always be special. And, oh my God, I loved doing "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." Who wouldn't love kissing Johnny Depp all day?

THR: Are there things you'd still like to accomplish?

Steenburgen: Yes! I've barely scratched the surface. And, not to be mysterious, I have a secret career I'll probably be talking about professionally in the next few years.

THR: How do you deal with fame?

Steenburgen: I don't court it. There's an inherent shyness to me that fame has probably complicated rather than made easier. In fact, I trick myself into believing I'm not famous.

THR: Tell us about your nonprofit involvement.

Steenburgen: Heifer International and Oceana are the dominant ones at our house. I also helped found Angels at Risk, serving kids unable to afford drug treatment, and ANSA -- Artists for a New South Africa, a very vibrant organization that works for all kinds of educational exchanges and human rights violations and also just to make that part of the world a better place.