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Laurie Metcalf on her first Oscar nomination and the power of a 'mom’s fears and regrets'

Laurie Metcalf on her first Oscar nomination and the power of a 'mom’s fears and regrets'
Laurie Metcalf in "Lady Bird." On Tuesday the actress earned her first Oscar nomination. (A24)

Laurie Metcalf, already a three-time Emmy winner and recent Tony winner, on Tuesday earned her first nomination for an Oscar — a supporting actress nod for "Lady Bird." The mother-daughter comedy is up for five Academy Awards, including best director (Greta Gerwig) and leading actress (Saoirse Ronan). The Times caught up with Metcalf shortly after the nominations were announced.

Where are you? Where were you when the nominations were announced?

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I'm in New York right now. I just got in yesterday, I got in last night because I'm in rehearsals on a play today.

What's the play?

Oh, it's "Three Tall Women" by Edward Albee, with Glenda Jackson. So I get to go down to 42nd Street and meet Glenda Jackson today. So I'm doubly excited today.

Tell me what the Oscar nomination today means to you.

I can't tell you how happy I am that the film itself got so much recognition. For Greta and Saoirse, everybody who worked on the film just poured their hearts into it and seemed so attached to it. For it to be recognized in this way is so thrilling to me, and really, it just feels really personal.

How so?

Just that I loved working with Greta and Saoirse so much, and I feel like my nomination is due to them. And at the same time I'm just so happy for each of them. We just had a remarkable time making it, and now it's thrilling to see it recognized.

Has this role felt special to you all along, even as you were making it?

Greta had done such a wonderful job writing such a complex character, that I really felt responsible to make it as three-dimensional as it was on the page. So yeah, it was really an emotional part to work on because of the complexity, because of the mom's fears and regrets, and I was kind of shocked when I saw it afterwards, not so much in the scenes as I was doing it, but some of the lines that my character says to her daughter made me think twice about saying things in the heat of the moment with my own kids. I mean, out of love, out of wanting them to the best version of themselves that they can be, like Marion says in the film. So it was really a personal movie for everybody.

Greta today was only the fifth woman nominated for best director. Tell me what she was like on set. What was it like being directed by her?

Well, for one thing, we had the source material right there because she had also written. Let alone having the director's hat on, she had done that also, so she had done all the heavy lifting on the movie.

She was a natural. I would never have known it was her solo directing debut. She made everybody feel welcome, it was collaborative. I have an image of Greta standing at the monitor with the headphones on next to her DP, Sam Levy, with a giant grin on her face, just filled with joy. I know she felt so comfortable in that position. I know she's wanted to direct for a long time, and she has said that while she was acting on films she was also observing, and that was her way of going to film school. … Her direction made everyone feel really secure and I always felt like she had my back, which makes an actor feel very confident.

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This year in particular, having a story of a mother and a daughter, written and directed by a woman, feels particularly meaningful. Do you feel that way too, and what do you think it means to have a film like "Lady Bird" be embraced in the way that it has been?

It's so apparent, especially this year, when you see something written, directed and at the core, a complex female relationship. The film was always going to be successful, because it's so universal and everybody is responding to it. In this particular time, it just makes it all the more apparent that women's stories are really powerful, and I couldn't be happier for Greta. I just keep thinking about it, that she has made history. What is she, the fifth woman ever ever nominated? I'm just so proud of the whole thing and everybody involved in it.

Follow on Twitter: @IndieFocus

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