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Dyan Cannon Talks 'Last of Sheila,' James Coburn, the Lakers

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This Tuesday at 7 p.m., KCET Cinema Series screens the 1973 whodunit romp "The Last of Sheila." Co-stars Dyan Cannon and Richard Benjamin will be in attendance and will be giving a Q&A about the film afterward. The screening -- presented by the James and Paula Coburn Foundation -- will mark the first time Cannon has seen the film since its original release. In an interview with KCET, Cannon recalled filming "Sheila," looked back on her friendship with James Coburn, and also weighed in on the Lakers season as only an expert superfan can.

Why does "The Last of Sheila" still have a following forty years later?

First of all, you must be making a mistake. It can't be forty years later. Maybe it's four? Five? It can't be forty. [Laughs] I think it has a universal appeal because it's a whodunit shot in the south of France with an amazing cast. And I think that there's something for everyone in the film. There's someone that everyone can identify with. It's a romp. It's an adventure. It's a mystery. ... I have people stop me in the street all the time about it. And by the way, I haven't seen it since it was released, so [Tuesday's screening] is going to be a big treat.

Just watching the movie, it seems like it was a great deal of fun to make. Was it? Do you have any stories about what it like on the set?

First of all, the film's location was set in the south of France. Now do you want to go to the south of France for a month or two? [Laughs] As it turned out, we were filming on Sol Siegel's yacht, and I'm not quite sure why they didn't think that through a little more, because the sea we were shooting on was unpredictable from day to day. So we had to wait in the south of France while they built a set at the Victorine Studios for us. We had to spend our days lying on the beach and going to lunch and shopping. It was a hard job!

Your character was based on Hollywood talent agent Sue Mengers. How much of her personality made its way into your performance?

Not only did I know Sue, but she was my agent. That was why I gained twenty pounds for the role. Sue was a hefty girl. I don't think at that point the public knew her. Now that's changed. They're doing a Broadway show on her, and I just gave an interview today for a book that's being written about her life. But at the time, I did go to the agency and watch her conduct her business throughout the day, which gave me an idea about how to handle that phone scene.

Can you describe Sue's personality?

[Laughs] She was tough, soft, determined, capable, victorious, vulnerable, strong, resourceful, and a bit of a bully.

What do you remember about James Coburn?

What a mensch. What a great guy. What an amazing man. I'll have a lot to share at the Q&A about him. But he was generous to a fault. I remember one night after dinner someone went by on a motorcycle, and I said, "Oh, it would be so much fun to ride one of those." So he went immediately and got a motorcycle to take me for a ride. He was a special, special man.

Off the subject of "The Last of Sheila," I wanted to ask you about a subject that I think you know very well, and that's the Lakers.

[Laughs] I want to tell you how much I love James Coburn. I am missing a Lakers game [to attend the Last of Sheila screening]. And I do not miss Laker games. But on April 9, we're playing New Orleans, so what I did is sell my ticket to charity. That's how much I love James Coburn. That's a lot. I don't miss a game. So now, what do you forecast for the Lakers?

Oh, I wouldn't hesitate to make a prediction to you because I think you just know way more than I do about basketball. But it's been a tough season, and I think people might like to hear the thoughts of true fan.

Did you see the retiring of Shaq's jersey? I was overwhelmed with his thanks to me. And I'll tell you what I know about the Lakers: I know that they have the hearts of champions. I know they never give up. And that's enough for me. No matter what happens, I'm going to be there to cheer them on, to say, "I know who you are, I know what you do." I was at Dr. Buss' memorial, and the next night when the Lakers played, there was a different rhythm to the way they played, a different cadence. I wouldn't put anything past them. I mean, look how these guys rally. Do know that it was only two weeks ago that our five starters were playing together for the fourth time this season? Isn't that staggering to consider? I mean, the fourth time this year that our starters played together -- and rallied. No matter what happens, they've had a tough year, with so many injuries and three coaches and so many changes, but as I've said before, this is a team with the heart of a champion, and win, lose or draw, I'm going to be in their corner, cheering them on.

Spoken like a true fan.

It's easy. These guys have shown me so much for so many years. They make it look it so simple, but it's tough on that court, Drew. These guys are amazing.

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Any other thoughts about James Coburn?

He was generous -- as an actor and as a friend -- and I love him with all my heart, which is why I'm going to be there on Tuesday. What a fun evening we're going to have!

Top image: Dyan Cannon and James Coburn in a scene from "The Last of Sheila."

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