Beat the press
PASADENA, California-Shirley MacLaine, whose career began in the days of the movie-studio system, has learned a lot about the new Hollywood recently. In the last seven months, she has talked to the media about movies she made with three costars: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Diaz, and Jennifer Aniston. All three have been the subject of media scrutiny that is beyond anything MacLaine saw close up in the first 50 years of her career.
In a Pasadena hotel room, she admits that she was particularly impressed with Aniston. The former Friends star was dumped by husband Brad Pitt, who then went on to make a public show of his affection for new girlfriend Angelina Jolie. "She has come through what must be the most painful of requirements of any human being, much less a young person," MacLaine says. "To live your life in a spotlight like this is so painful, and to have to work and do three pictures a year? It would be very hard to separate the performance from whatever you are going through inside. I am really proud of her with the way she is handling this. I think that she is an icon, if that is possible at 36, for what to do when you get trampled in public. I think her emotional discipline is extraordinary."
MacLaine and the scandal-plagued Aniston worked together on a movie about a fictional scandal called Rumour Has It”¦, which opens on Christmas Day. The movie's scandal is related to another movie, The Graduate, in which a young man played by Dustin Hoffman has an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the mother of his girlfriend. In this film, it is rumoured that the characters in the book on which The Graduate was based were themselves based on a Pasadena family. Aniston's character, Sarah Huttinger, comes to the conclusion that her grandmother was Mrs. Robinson and that her late mother was sleeping with the same man.
Aniston says she liked the concept but would be unlikely to emulate her character and sleep with a man in his 50s. Sleeping with older men "never pans out", she says. "I don't like the idea of older men and younger women. I did that when I was in my early 20s and it was stupid. I mean, it was fun for a few minutes, but then it was 'Can I get you some tea?'?"
She explains that she took the film because she was looking for something that would be somewhat similar to her work on Friends. "It was fun. It was a nice light first job after Friends. It was a delicate step out of the nest. And as far as romantic comedies go, there was an interesting premise because you have The Graduate as a backdrop, as opposed to the formulaic girl-fakes-fiancé-to-get-the-guy-she-really-wants premise. There is nothing wrong with that, but there are just so many ways of telling a story and people get lazy. When I read the script, I thought that [screenwriter] Ted [Griffin] had done a really good job."
Aniston's annus horribilis began while she was making Rumour Has It”¦. She went to work every day, accompanied by tabloid reporters and paparazzi. Rob Reiner, who took over the director's chair from Griffin after 12 days had already been shot, says he was once the observer of a similar situation, but that the first time the circus came to his set, the star of his film was able to take something from his personal life and make it work for the character.
"I have tremendous respect for her because I don't know if I could have dealt with what she did," Reiner says. "I saw this before, particularly the whole thing with the media, when I directed The Story of Us with Bruce Willis. He and Demi [Moore] were going through their problems and it was rough, but I think it was easier than what Jennifer went through because the movie was about a marriage that was breaking apart, so he could use a lot of it. That wasn't true here, but Jennifer did a great job. She can find the truth in a scene and knows how to blend in the emotion of it and the humour, which is a rare thing."
Aniston knows exactly where the skill set for handling her off-screen problems came from. She says she never wanted to echo her mother's reaction to her own marital breakup. Her parents, actor Nancy Dow and Days of Our Lives star John Aniston, divorced when she was a child, and she says she learned what not to do from her mom. "I watched my mother be very bitter and very angry through a divorce and never let it go and waste the second half of her life. I thank her for that unconscious sacrifice of what not to do. It is so easy to blame and to point and to be victimized."
Aniston formed a bond with MacLaine during the shooting of Rumour Has It”¦, and it appears from their camaraderie in the interview room that they are still close. (At one point, after Aniston says that she is somewhat like the character in her film, MacLaine whispers to her, "Have you ever fucked in a bathroom?", a reference to her character's ambition to have sex in a plane with her boyfriend. Aniston quickly replies, "Yes, and it wasn't much fun.") The older actor gave Aniston advice when she could, but admits that when she was a leading lady in the 1960s, most of the "scandals" were created by publicists and movie studios. She recalls that if someone wanted to further their career, the easiest way to do it was to show up at filmmaker Dudley Murphy's house.
"People and Us and the Globe and the Star hadn't been invented back then," she says. "There was only Confidential, and Dudley would invite people out to his house at Malibu. If you were having an illicit affair and you wanted it to be written about, you would go to a table in the house where you knew there were microphones concealed. Then someone would report on it in the magazine. That's so different than the things Jennifer and Cameron Diaz and Nicole Kidman have had to go through. These wonderful women spend half their day avoiding these mothers from the media."
Aniston says that it's getting worse. "If I drive really slowly and watch what is happening behind me, I can see these men driving on sidewalks and cutting through intersections to get to me. It's very weird. And now the Los Angeles Times says that they [the tabloids] are hiring retired gang members because they just need to shoot a camera. They don't have to be professional photographers. They need to be aggressive and scare the shit out of people and get the picture."
If there has been an upside for Aniston since the sudden termination of her marriage, it has been the public reaction to it. While Pitt and Jolie have been cast as the villains of the piece, she has emerged a hero of sorts. She says that she tries not to pay attention but admits there are days when she wonders if there is anything about her personal life that is still private. "The public reaction surprised me, but I really tuned out from all that and from reading things and listening to things because while there has been much that is positive, there is so much toxic stuff as well. I feel that the best way to deal with it is to sit in it and not be embarrassed. It gives you freedom in a weird way. As I was saying to Shirley today, 'I might as well pull my pants down at this point. They've seen everything else.'"