TCM Fest: Shirley MacLaine on Her Best Roles, Witnessing UFOs and Passing on 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' (Podcast)

Shirley MacLaine - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Shirley MacLaine - H 2015

One of the great highlights of the sixth annual Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, a terrific event that took place in downtown Hollywood from March 26-29, was the omnipresence of the legendary Shirley MacLaine. The 80-year-old Oscar and Emmy winner, who is celebrating her 60th year in Hollywood, was on hand for a number of different talkbacks and Q&As to mark the occasion, and also to help celebrate her two-time costar Christopher Plummer at his handprints and footprints ceremony in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre. (Her own took place in 1963.)

In the midst of all of this, MacLaine, who looks great and has as much sass and spunk as ever, found 20 minutes to grant an exclusive interview about her life, career and outlook at this time, which you can listen to at the top of this post.

Some highlights from the interview:

  • How Shirley MacLean Beaty became Shirley MacLaine
  • How one family produced two great actors, MacLaine and her brother Warren Beatty
  • How she became interested in metaphysics and UFOs ("I was there in Arlington, Virginia in 1952 when a whole UFO squadron buzzed the White House and the Capitol"); what brought her from Virginia to New York and how, once there, a fateful series of events led to her being discovered and signed to film contract by Hal Wallis
  • The nature of her first filmmaking experience, 1955's The Trouble with Harry, under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock
  • How the 1958 film Some Came Running led to her first Oscar nom and association with the Rat Pack ("I was their girl friday — there was no sex at all, although later I had kind of a crush on Dean [Martin]")
  • How a lot of improvisation took place in Billy Wilder's The Apartment, opposite Jack Lemmon, including the famous last line ("We only had 29 pages of script.")
  • Her displeasure with her reunion with Wilder and Lemmon, Irma La Douce ("I thought it should have been a musical.")
  • The many Jacks in her life — Lemmon, agent Jack Gilardi, friend and Terms of Endearment costar Jack Nicholson, Bernie costar Jack Black ("It's a good thing I didn't have an affair with Jack Kennedy!")
  • Risque scenes that were cut from The Children's Hour ("Willie [Wyler], honestly, did compromise it... I think he got frightened, and I think the movie suffered.")
  • Playing a dancer in Sweet Charity and The Turning Point ("Dancing on-screen is difficult.")
  • How seeing the 1970 film Five Easy Pieces changed the way she approached acting ("When I saw what Jack did with the chicken salad sandwich scene...")
  • How her focus shifted from acting to politics for a few years after she hit middle-age ("I was filling in the gaps with what else I was interested in."); playing the straight-man in Being There ("I was just so enamored of Peter [Sellers] and his ability.")
  • Her experience with Terms of Endearment, generally (James L. Brooks is "an absolutely brilliant handful" but "anything with Jack Nicholson makes me so satisfied"), and Debra Winger, specifically ("Oh, talk about a handful... oy-yoy-yoy")
  • How winning an Oscar actually hurt her career ("People don't think they should send you a script they're not sure about.")
  • Playing a crazy mother in Postcards from the Edge ("I didn't play Debbie [Reynolds], I played my version of Debbie.")
  • Her greatest strength as an actress ("Living in the moment... I don't have filters...")
  • Jennifer Lawrence ("I think she's brilliant... I did meet with her right after she finished doing The Hunger Games, and we had some talks about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. She's my favorite.")
  • How she would have handled the paparazzi if she had become a star in the 21st century ("I would have beaten them up. I would have gone over there and cracked them over the head with a bottle of scotch.")
  • Her biggest regrets ("Breakfast at Tiffany's — I turned it down... although never would I have given Holly Golightly what Audrey [Hepburn] did.")
  • Her life today ("If I can't be creative I'm in trouble.")
  • Her legacy ("I would like to be remembered for making it clear that life itself is show business.")

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg