Mary Steenburgen was in Boston recently to talk about her latest film Book Club. The film stars Steenburgen, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda and Candice Bergen as four lifelong friends who have their lives forever changed after reading 50 Shades of Grey in their monthly book club.
I asked the Oscar-winning actress if she had read the 50 Shades books prior to being involved with the film. Mary Steenburgen, “I had skimmed one of them for the naughty bits (laughing). I probably couldn’t have described the whole plot line. The writer of the books (E. L. James) and her husband did a cameo in the film. She was the woman, who when I’m frustrated outside in the front yard with Craig T. Nelson about how we never have sex anymore, she’s the woman walking passed. That’s her and her husband in real life. She was lovely.”
Ms. Steenburgen had worked with Craig T. Nelson previously in The Proposal and talked about working together. “I wanted him for that part because I enjoyed working with him in The Proposal. By the way, 3 out of 4 of us have been married to or had Craig T. Nelson as a boyfriend previously. Only person who hasn’t is Candice so I think Murphy Brown needs a boyfriend. I knew Craig could handle both the dark knight of the soul of that character and the sadness and ‘What do I do with my life?’ as well as the flat-out physical comedy. I just knew he would be perfect. What I didn’t know was that he would be such a great dance partner. I love him so much.”
Steenburgen has a pretty impressive resume with a wide array of TV and movie characters. She talked about what she looks for in a character. “It’s changed a lot. As a mother, when my kids were younger, I have to admit, I looked for the juiciest role I could get that would shoot in the smallest amount of days so that I could keep being a functioning mom. Now I have the luxury of doing a crazy TV series like Last Man on Earth because no one but Ted Danson (her husband) cares that I’m in a car at 4:45 AM driving to Chatsworth. I couldn’t have done this part when I was younger. In general, I look for something that makes my heart beat faster when I’m reading it. It doesn’t matter how big it is, I don’t care about that. I do sometimes care, selfishly, me, Mary Steenburgen, about getting to work with people I admire. I did a tiny part in A Walk in the Woods, with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte just because I got to do it with them.”
Sticking with characters, she discussed the types of characters she enjoys doing the most. “I’m especially drawn to comedy, but I love it if they’re complex and you get to know a whole person. Sometimes, especially with women my age, your character is just there to further the story. She’s not very real or full. I have to weed those out because it doesn’t interest me to do that. One of the things that’s so crazy about this movie, first of all, no one hires four women our age. I’m the youngest of the four. I’m the baby at 65. Nobody makes movies about women our age. Let’s talk about that message, whether it’s four men or four women, what type of message does that send to someone as young as yourself? There’s some age where you’re a zombie walking around where no one wants to hear your story? The fact that they made this movie at all and Paramount came on board and released it and that every single one of these women had their own unique story, they are all going through something, it’s unique. It talks about the importance of friendship. It talks about having each other’s back. We’re not competitive. We’re not being bitchy or mean to each other. That’s something hugely celebrated on TV, especially with women, let’s see how catty and mean and bitchy we can be. There are women who have each other’s backs in life. Truthfully, the four of us did. We were all scared. Everybody was invested but scared. By the end of the first day, I loved these guys. They’re pros. They aren’t divas. Their stories are crazy. I made three friends who I treasure. We text each other.”
Mary Steenburgen has been working for 40 years and with this being a generational movie, I asked her if different generations of fans bring up different movies when talking to her. “Step Brothers crosses all generations. I loved doing Step Brothers. Of all my films, it is the film people have watched on repeat. There are people, especially men that were boys when Back to the Future 3 came out, and that’s a big thing to them. Parenthood was a big film. Melvin and Howard is more people who are INTO movies. For some bizarre reason, country legends were really into my first movie Goin’ South. Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, I ran into them one time and they just went insane quoting the movie. I ran into Johnny’s step-daughter and she was like ‘You know my dad was in love with you and could quote every line from that movie?’ I think it might have been a stoner tour bus movie.”
With a film like this, there could be a lot of clichés used to get laughs. Older people not knowing how to use technology etc. I asked her how they balanced out the laughs without pandering to an audience. “I know what you mean and that can be true, but I also think it’s true that we’re all playing catch up. I do ask my assistant to help me post stuff on Instagram. I’m learning. There are certain musical things I’ve learned, but there are social media things I’m not good at. You never see four women, in leads, in a movie so the whole start of it is not a cliché. I wish it were more of a cliché (laughing).”
Book Club opens May 18th.