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Speaking With... Shirley MacLaine 02.22.13

Shirley MacLaine. | PhoCredit: Greg Gorman

Shirley MacLaine. | Photo Credit: Greg Gorman

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♦ 8 p.m. Feb 22

♦ Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles

♦ Tickets, $29-$125

♦ (630) 962-7000:

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Updated: February 21, 2013 5:03PM

How does one even BEGIN to tell the story of legendary actress Shirley MacLaine? From the iconic film roles (“Terms of Endearment,” “Sweet Charity,” “Postcards from the Edge,” “The Apartment,” “Irma La Douce”) and 13 best-selling books, to the television roles (most recently a guest appearance on season 3 of “Downton Abbey”) and a life long ago as a Broadway gypsy (and a life REALLY long ago in various incarnations), seems everything we ever wanted to know about MacLaine is right there in front of us.

She likes it that way.

“I can’t live my life as a closed book,” MacLaine said in a recent interview.

That’s precisely why the 78-year-old Oscar winner is touring the country in her one-woman, autobiographical show, which arrives at the Arcada Theatre on Feb. 22.

Question:What can people expect from an evening with Shirley MacLaine?

Shirley MacLaine:It’s just me opening up about my life, my films, co-stars, lovers, directors, experiences. Lots of film clips. And I talk about my books. I always have segment where I take questions from the audience; that’s my favorite part. It’s interesting, the people in the audience. It’s a mixture of those who’ve been going to see my films for 60 years and those who really only know me through my books.

Q.Since you brought up lovers, who was the love of your life?

SM: [Laughs] My [Rat Terrier] Terry. No contest! That’s pure, unfiltered love. [As for human lovers] I just talk about whatever face comes up on the screen [during the clips] and then talk about my love affair with him. I’ve had experiences with most of my leading men. I mean you’re on a film set for months at a time; he is always there.

Q.Have you had more lasting friendships with your male co-stars or female co-stars?

SM: Definitely female co-stars. All of us from “Steel Magnolias” are still best buddies. We didn’t like the director [Herbert Ross] and we were protecting each other from him. He was pretty bitchy. He hurt Julia Roberts’ feelings. I didn’t like how he handled Dolly [Parton], either. [Laughing] He’s lucky he’s still alive.

Q.You’ve worked with some of the most iconic film directors in history. Who was the one that demanded the most from you as an actress?

SM: Billy Wilder used to say “Do that scene again and take out two and a half seconds.” He wouldn’t tell you which two and a half seconds to take out. Then you’d redo the take and he’d yell cut/print! I always thought that was fascinating. And I loved Mike Nichols when we did “Postcards from the Edge.” He’s a very specific director. I couldn’t stand [Bob] Fosse [who directed MacLaine in “Sweet Charity.”] He was all about “Can you stand the pain?,” because he would make us do [a scene] over and OVER again. I just loved Hitchcock. I was his eating partner. We both loved food. I don’t know what these blonde women are talking about [in the recent Hitchcock biopics). He wasn’t like that with me. But then I’m the eating type. I would have every meal with him.

Q.Looking back at your 60 years in Hollywood, how different is Shirley MacLaine today from that ingenue who arrived all those years ago?

SM: I came to California when there were no freeways. [Laughs] I think I’m very different now. I could always be had; I was innocent and naive and very open back then. That’s why none of the big stuff really mattered to me. I learned over the years to be a bit more discerning. And I was suspicious where suspicion was necessary. I love to look at how the studios now operate. In my day it was the star system and everything was run by people who cared about making movies. Today it’s all about branding because corporations own the studios. I don’t like that. That’s why most of us work in independent [film] world. That’s where good scripts are. You work for much less, but you get good stuff to do. I’ve changed relative to that.

Q.Plum roles still come your way these days, such as “Bernie” and “Valentine’s Day,” and television’s “Downton Abbey.” The same can’t be said for all actresses of “a particular age.”

SM: “Women of a particular age.” You mean MY age. [Laughs] It’s like two roles a century that will come your way now, if you’re lucky. But I just finished a film [the remake of “Elsa & Fred”] with Christopher Plummer. It’s an old people’s story, about what happens at that age when you fall in love. Something that people over 50 can go see. I mean what are they gonna go see? Spider-Man goes to Mars? I might do Melissa McCarthy’s new movie, about a girl and her grandmother going across country. She is the most talented actress. For “Bernie” they came to me. Jack [Black] is just a darling, and so talented. I just finished “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” [starring and directed by Ben Stiller] in which I play his mother. And I said to him, “Did you see the film version with Danny Kaye? Does it bother you that I had a love affair with him and now I’m playing his mother?” [Laughs]

Q.So how did “Downton Abbey” come your way?

SM: They called me. I get called a lot! I hadn’t even seen it and didn’t know how great it was. The ladies at the hairdresser’s where I get my hair done were totally into it and they filled me in. They said you HAVE to do this role. So I did. And I am returning! Don’t know what the story line is, but as long as Maggie Smith is there I’m going back.

Q.What’s the toughest part about doing a period piece such as “Downton.”

SM: Literally the hardest part is getting dressed in the morning. Those tiny little buttons and hooks and zippers. You really do need servants to help you get into and out of your clothes. But I think it’s just extraordinary. It takes us back in time when things made more sense, I think.

Q.Is live theater still your first love?

SM: I do love the theater. I can’t sing and dance anymore. I guess if I worked out I could do some things. I just love the spontaneity of a live audience. The danger of it. Not knowing what’s gonna happen, how they will react. But I might do a Broadway play, who knows? I just love doing this show because it’s not 8 times a week, and the not knowing what I’m going to do or say on any given night is wonderful.

Q.As an accomplished author, your life has literally been an open book. Any regrets?

SM: I like being an open book. It gives you so much to talk about. I don’t feel the need to hide anything. I can’t live a closed-book life, or protect very much [information] because frankly I wouldn’t remember what I’m supposed to protect! I’m finishing my next book. It’s called “What If?”

Q.Do you have a favorite film from all those you’ve starred in?

SM: The hardest film I ever did was “Terms of Endearment” and it was my favorite.

Q.Can you describe your “Terms of Endearment” co-star Jack Nicholson in one word?

SM: [Laughing] Oh my, no! There are NO words to describe him. He is just the best; terrific, unpredictable and in the moment.

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