"As a filmmaker, you are always drawn to working with stars. They are famous, iconic, legendary, a body of work behind them, a status bordering on a combination of reverence and awe," says Mark Pellington, director of "The Last Word," in a statement to KCET. "Shirley MacLaine is the consummate star, bringing all of her history, her craft and aesthetic prowess, and all her legendary skills to the game, yet she was always respectful, able to collaborate, wanting to be directed, and able to find the best performance within her and other cast members. She taught me a great deal about focusing every moment of performance on a specific intention."
On Tuesday, February 28, "The Last Word" screens at ArcLight Cinemas Sherman Oaks for KCET Cinema Series. Joining Cinema Series host Pete Hammond for this evening will be Shirley MacLaine herself. The beloved, award-winning actress will be the recipient of the Lumière Award, which honors actors for their distinguished careers. Previous recipients include Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, Gary Oldman and Kevin Costner. In anticipation of the recognition, KCET asked actors who have shared the screen with MacLaine to comment on their experiences of getting to know her.
"I have admired Shirley's work because she brings such a very indelible and singular presence to every role she plays," says actress Kristin Davis in a statement to KCET. Davis starred with MacLaine in "Heavenly Christmas," the TV movie that ran on Hallmark in 2016. "I found the intensity of her engagement in even little details of our production to be quite inspiring, especially considering all of the truly iconic projects she has worked on. She personifies a true artist in terms of her daily efforts to find the deeper meaning in what we were doing at work everyday, and also in her genuine curiosity and warmth to the people around her on set."
MacLaine made her film debut in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film "The Trouble with Harry." For her performance, she was awarded a Golden Globe for "New Star of the Year." That launched a decades-long career of varied and acclaimed roles. Her first Oscar nomination came in 1958 for "Some Came Running," where she starred opposite Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. She garnered several Oscar nominations in the years that followed, but didn't cinch the win until 1983 for her role as Aurora Greenway in "Terms of Endearment."
Aurora remains one of MacLaine's best-known roles. Here, we see her deftly walk the line between comedy and drama in this story of a tense, loving and ultimately tragic relationship between mother and daughter.
MacLaine's career is filled with iconic performances. In "Postcards from the Edge," she made a memorable turn as Doris Mann, the charming, famous actress whose relationship with her actress daughter Suzanne Vale is, to the say the least, complicated.
In numerous films, MacLaine has tackled both big film moments and the subtleties of the characters she has played. That's made her a force not just for audiences, but for the actors who have worked with her. "Of course, I'd loved her in 'The Apartment' and 'Terms of Endearment,' but the one I was dying to talk to her about was 'Being There,'" says Eric McCormack, who played alongside her in "Heavenly Christmas," in a statement.
McCormack adds, "The bedroom scene, where Shirley, uh, pleasures herself all over Peter Sellers, while he stares, unmoved, at the TV, is my favorite example of how something can be really funny and really sexy at the same time. When I brought it up she said, 'Y'know, [Laurence] Olivier was offered the Mervyn Douglas part. He called me up and said, Please tell me you're not doing that vulgar bedroom scene. I won't do the film if that scene is in. And I said God damn right I'm doing it! Bye, Larry.' Now imagine her telling that story dressed as an angel. A heavenly broad, she is."
Marcia Gay Harden, who co-starred with MacLaine in "Used People," recalls the amount of work that the actress puts into her performances. "Having scrappy battles with your character — as if when you first meet her on the page, she is your adversary — you battle her, and poke her, manipulate and mold her, until she is your own. And then — only then when she has passed the test — you caress and love her. 'BRING IT' should be painted on your trailer door — for that is what you ask of the cast, crew, and director. BRING IT! Yes, I can watch you play with a prop for hours, (those socks in 'Terms of Endearment!')," she explains in her statement.
Mena Suvari, who appeared with MacLaine in the 2005 comedy "Rumor Has It," addresses the actress directly in her statement: "To have shared time, not only on screen but in your presence, while filming 'Rumor Has It' was an absolute privilege. Your strength in holding true to your ideals is what I admire most and I only hope to continue to keep learning from you each and every day forward. Thank you for ALL the beautiful creativity you have shared with us and congratulations on yet another well-deserved acknowledgment of achievement!!" she says.
But it's not just MacLaine's work ethic and commitment to strong performances that has made her so beloved a film figure. In a statement, friend and "Elsa & Fred" co-star Christopher Plummer talks about MacLaine, the person. "Shirley MacLaine is the sweetest, kindest, funniest, wackiest, sexiest, naughtiest alien I have ever known. Reclining in the back seat of a UFO, she is liable to become seriously vocal regarding her belief in the afterlife, namely that we shall all reincarnate in some other form. I have a strong suspicion, however, that when the moment arrives, Shirley will probably come back as herself," he says. "I haven’t mentioned the word talent because we all know she's riddled with it."
Listen to Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried and KCET Cinema Series host Pete Hammond talk about the making of "The Last Word" below.