The ‘Moonstruck’ Effect : OLYMPIA DUKAKIS GETS MORE ROLES OF SUBSTANCE
Winning an Oscar doesn’t necessarily guarantee a golden film career.
Jon Voight has just made a handful of films since winning the 1978 best actor Oscar for “Coming Home.” Ditto F. Murray Abraham, who won best actor for 1984’s “Amadeus.”
Who can even name last year’s Oscar winners?
The Academy Award, however, changed Olympia Dukakis’ life and career for the better after she won the gold statuette three years ago as Cher’s loving but nagging mother in “Moonstruck.”
“The parts I get are much more substantive,” she said. “The pay is a lot better.”
And Dukakis is recognized instantly wherever she goes. “The fun part is that people pass me on the street and yell lines from my movies: For ‘Moonstruck’ they say, ‘You’re life is going down the toilet.’ Or from ‘Dad,’ they say, ‘How much are those pork chops?’ They say, ‘Do you know who you are?’ It’s real funny.”
Dukakis, who lives in New Jersey, was curled up on the sofa in her West Hollywood hotel suite. She had spent the afternoon at Universal Studios talking with producers about a possible role in an upcoming film project. “I can’t say what it is,” she said, “but I am real excited about it.”
Perhaps she was discussing with producers to play another mother. Since “Moonstruck,” Dukakis seems to have cornered the market on nagging moms, portraying Kirstie Alley’s overbearing mom in “Look Who’s Talking” and “Look Who’s Talking, Too” and Ted Danson’s smothering septuagenarian mother in “Dad.”
Dukakis doesn’t feel she’s being typecast. “I loved doing ‘Dad,’ ” she said. “I liked that woman and I really liked working with (writer-director) Gary David Goldberg. I also did (a non-mother role) in ‘Steel Magnolias.’ ”
And Dukakis just completed another non-maternal role in the Arts & Entertainment production of Robert Anderson’s play “The Last Act is Solo,” to air next month.
But in her latest film, Monday’s ABC Theater presentation “Lucky Day,” she portrays a mom again--the troubled mother of Amy Madigan and Chloe Webb. The drama, however, is a far cry from “Moonstruck” and “Look Who’s Talking.”
“It’s really about the long-term effects of alcoholism,” Dukakis said. “You see what happens to children of alcoholics and what happens as these people grow older and how this family gets healed.”
Dukakis’ Katharine Parker is a recovering alcoholic who abandoned her two daughters several years before, forcing her youngest daughter, Kari (Madigan), to take care of Allison (Webb), her older, retarded daughter. When Allison wins the state lottery, Katharine enters the scene and a bitter custody conflict erupts between Katharine and Kari.
Before agreeing to do “Lucky Day,” Dukakis had two friends who had worked with recovering alcoholics read the script. “I had no way of knowing if it was accurate or it would offend anybody,” she said. “The only thing they suggested to me is that at a certain point someone who is going through the (Alcoholics Anonymous)12-step thing would somewhere acknowledge the help of God. I suggested it to (director Donald Wrye) and he was quick to include it in the script.”
Dukakis found working on a TV project rather daunting. “We had 18 days to shoot this,” she said. “The problem was the script. We didn’t have the final draft until the day we got to the location in Minneapolis. But we got three days of rehearsal. That gave me an opportunity to wrestle with a script which is always great fun. Chloe Webb and Amy Madigan ... we had instant bonding. It was great working with them.”
But why did Dukakis do a TV movie at a time when her film career is going great guns?
Although she’s receiving a lot more film offers, she said, “There are not that many (good) parts for women my age (59) in films. I don’t feel personally neglected. There are all sorts of theories. One is that the financing is a lot easier for action films because they travel better in Europe. The reality is you need to go where there are parts that seem exciting.”
Dukakis is heading next to Australia to star in the film, “Over the Hill,” in which she plays--you guessed it--a mother.
After “Over the Hill,” Dukakis hopes to return to the stage. Though she’s best known for her film roles, Dukakis has worked in the theater for nearly 40 years, performing in everything from Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage” to Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.” For two decades, Dukakis and her husband, actor Louis Zorich, operated the Whole Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey. Last year financial problems forced it to shut its doors. Dukakis was still in a state of shock over the closure.
“Last year I didn’t do anything but work at the theater,” Dukakis said. “I did ‘Happy Days,’ which was wonderful and I tried to raise money. Eventually, the board felt it couldn’t raise additional money and I felt the cuts they were asking to make were not cuts, they were gouges.”
“Lucky Day” airs Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC.