If you judge her strictly by her most recent roles, Barbara Hershey is a very strong maternal figure, not to be taken lightly. She is magnificent as a harridan of a mother in 'Black Swan,' which came out on Blu-ray and DVD yesterday, pushing her daughter Natalie Portman to new heights, even as she watches her every move with suspicion. She is much sweeter as Patrick Wilson's mother in 'Insidious,' which opens theatrically on Friday, and is surprisingly supportive of daughter-in-law Rose Byrne when the latter suspects the family home is haunted,
'Insidious' is not the first time that Hershey has been involved with on-screen apparitions; she fought against unseen supernatural forces that attacked her sexually in 'The Entity,' and she's had her share of other roles which tested the bounds of believability. Yet she's always clothed her characters in a cloak of humanity. She has built a body of work, which now spans more than four decades, that encompasses all shades of "good" and "evil," more often settling in the gray areas between the two.
There's not a more perfect example of her ability to sketch a portrait in shades of gray than in her portrayal of Madame Serena Merle in 'The Portrait of a Lady,' based on the classic novel by Henry James. Watch it and you won't question why Hershey was nominated for an Academy Award for her supporting role.