"The Last Word" brings together two different generations of Hollywood "it" girls turned "it" women: Amanda Seyfried, who's continuing to come into her own as an actress, and Shirley MacLaine, who seemed to arrive fully and formed and, sixty-plus years after her film debut, still has plenty of "it" to spare.
The two women recently sat down at a press conference to promote their co-venture, in which MacLaine plays a glass-ceiling-breaking businesswoman whose hard-driving ambitions and penchant for speaking her mind has left her with more than her share of detractors, prompting her to seek out local obituary writer and risk-averse aspiring poet Seyfried to craft an obit the uncompromising subject can approve of.
Together, the two actresses sound off on topics ranging from motherhood (Seyfried's about to have a baby with co-star Thomas Sadoski), legacy, risk-taking ageism, and MacLaine's priceless response to the prospect of a remake of one of her most beloved films.
Shirley, have you thought about your own legacy and what you want people to remember you for? What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Shirley MacLaine: I don't know, but I just figured out what I want my obituary to say is, "You think I'm dead, but I'm not." What do you do about legacy? You leave it alone, you try to be the best. Right now you're hoping to get financing [for films] and you get slipped great scripts, in terms of working.
In terms of my life, I just want to share whatever I've learned, which is to know yourself, look for yourself, know what to look for, share it, be honest, be authentic -- and even if it hurts your feelings. [Laughs]
In this film, Shirley's character, Harriet, is proud of the risks she took in her life. What are the biggest risks you have taken in your lives?
Amanda Seyfried: OK, I know this one: for me, I used to not consider myself a risk-taker at all. I'm a very fearful person. I wasted some time being fearful, then one day I had an artistic opportunity that scared the living daylights out of me. Instead of saying no, I said yes and the course of my entire life has gone on a different path and I will never be the same person I was before that.
I've gotten more than I can even say out of that; that one risk that I took. I don't look at things as risks anymore. I look at them as opportunities that fail spectacularly. We're too afraid to fail and that we're not going to get anywhere and that's another thing I love about this movie.
MacLaine: I want to know what that risk was.
Seyfried: It was a play off Broadway. It was a two-person play with [Thomas Sadoski]. It was terrifying. It was terrifying because I'm terrified of audiences. I'm terrified of being alone and I hide on film sets. I've never truly had the challenge of acting naked like that. I just learned everything. I learned a lot. It definitely made a giant impact.
MacLaine: Fabulous! The biggest risk I always take is going in front of a live audience. I agree with her. There's nothing more risky to do. You really have to leave yourself open to your own authenticity and you find that out pretty quick.
In terms of a life or death risk, don't have an answer, and I can't think of it. I went to Broadway when I was 16 and I didn't consider it a risk. I thought it was probably what I should do. I think that I think like a dancer: nothing is a risk -- it's more that it's what I think I should do. Therefore, I don't define it as a risk. I still don't consider anything that I do a risk. Jumping out of an airplane, I wouldn't do so, therefore I'm not going to risk it.
Another point of view about risk-taking is that I'm naïve. I'm very aware, but I'm very naïve. So when you are very naïve and expecting safety and the best, you don't feel you're taking risks. You can get smacked a little, but usually it works pretty well. As much as you can instill your open-minded naivety, basically open-minded to damn near anything, nothing will be a risk. You'll be safer. [Chuckles] Not bad.
This film has big themes about motherhood. Amanda what did you take away from the film now that you're about to be a mother?
Seyfried: I want to make it very clear to my child that they are safe and loved. I don't want to ever lie to them. There's a huge responsibility to being a mother and I feel like this experience, especially with Shirley, it's all about honesty in your life, in your acting, and in your relationships. There's nothing more powerful and direct. There's nothing to be confused about.
Whether you like it or not, the answer is just how you feel. Feelings aren't facts, but certainly the way you feel about things is worthwhile. It was instilled in me even further that I just need to continue being honest and trusting myself and the journey of getting to know myself. I want to instill that so desperately into my child because you are all you have and you have this chance to really experience things to the fullest with all the self-knowledge you can ever have ... This message and this movie is really powerful and I'm taking it straight to this fetus.
There's a mentoring theme as well. Shirley, was there anyone who gave you advice, or someone that you still remember taking you under their wing in the beginning of your career?
MacLaine: My God, the first person that comes to mind is Joan Crawford, and I didn't listen to a thing she said, thank God. Really! She really ... Oh my God, what can I say? [She zips her lips discreetly] Wrong, nope!
OK, wait a minute, another person. I was in love with Alan Ladd and I went to a party at Romanoff's. I'm 5'7" and in heels I'm 5'9" or 10". My friends said, "Hey Shirley, it's your favorite actor, come and meet him." I turned around, and he was there, and I went, [looks down] "Oh, hi, Mr. Ladd." [Laughs] He's about 4'9" and all my adoration disappeared in the dust.
Shirley, what are your thoughts on ageism in Hollywood? And did you think that the initial reaction to your brother Warren Beatty's Oscar night incident, suggesting he'd erred because of his age, was ageist?
MacLaine: I don't know what happened at the Oscars that warrants it to be ageist -- I don't want to talk about [Oscar night], it was awful. But I do think that aging people are underserved in this culture big time. I want to stay healthy and serve that community and be a voice. Yes, I want to be queen of AARP and say what they feel and it's awful that they seem to be made invisible. Maybe that's one reason why I did this great movie. I didn't want an older person to be invisible in any longer. That's what I want to do with it.
If you could write your own life story, what would you title it?
MacLaine: I would write "So Far I Like This Lifetime the Best."
Seyfried: "I Promise I'm Not Stupid." Because I'm not stupid, but I've been going around in my life thinking I was not as intelligent. And you know what? Intelligence is all different. You can be intelligent in all different ways, and I'm intelligent in a lot of different ways and I'm just still trying to empower myself with that. So that's what my book would be called -- today.
The music in the movie, as played by Shirley's character -- whose deep-dive knowledge of The Kinks and more gets her that DJ job -- is eclectic and very effective. What's on your playlist?
MacLaine: Me, I've never heard of The Kinks, just so you know. You know, what really moves me is the Pas de Deux in "The Nutcracker Suite." I love classical music, and I love the times and Dean [Martin] and Frank [Sinatra], with the lyrics and wonderful rhythms and how they blend the music into the heart. I'm old fashioned.
Seyfried: There is a time and place for every genre, for me. I'd like to be listening to Bruce Springsteen when I'm giving birth. "Tougher Than the Rest." He's got a great collection, but yeah, I also like Patty Griffin.
What is your favorite quote from the movie, and why?
Seyfried: "Fail spectacularly" and "I am who I am" -- those are the two I keep thinking about. "Fail spectacularly" because if you're afraid to fail what can you do in your life? And, also, something always comes of that. You'll always learn something. And "I am who I am" -- I just love it. It's just so ... It's true!
MacLaine: [Makes a skeptical noise]. I don't know anything about it. Is she going to play my part? [Mimes getting on the phone] "Hello, Oprah?"
"The Last Word" is in theaters now.