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Awards

The Envelope: Blythe Danner celebrates 50 years of acting with her first leading role in film

Blythe Danner

Blythe Danner is treating this awards season tour for “I’ll See You in My Dreams” as a celebration of her 50 years in acting.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

At 72, Blythe Danner is a welcoming, gentle, attractive grandmother of four who gives an award-worthy performance as a widow trying to expand her lifestyle in the independent drama “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” And according to Sam Elliott, her costar in the romantic summer release, that wasn’t an act she put on for a visiting journalist. Elliott had nothing but praise for Danner’s professionalism and ease on their initial day of shooting.

“We had never met before, and in our first scene, we had to kiss,” Elliott said. “Intimate scenes are difficult, I find, but especially when you’ve just met your partner for the first time. But Blythe was very direct, honest and a real pro. I later discovered she hadn’t kissed a man since the death of her husband, [writer-producer] Bruce Paltrow.”

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An acclaimed actress best known for her theater work and such cult films as “Hearts of the West” and “The Great Santini,” Danner is most recognized for her numerous television credits, which a decade ago resulted in her receiving three Emmy Award nominations in the same year.

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Does the film industry shy away from making movies featuring older women?

I think they’re fearing it less and less. I remember seemingly just a few years ago talking to the legendary French star Leslie Caron, who told me she was leaving the film industry because she was told she was too old. But Meryl Streep and Maggie Smith always seem to find richer, complex roles. As an actress, I’ve been basically a supporting company person most of my life. Onstage, I’ve had many leading roles, but “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is the first leading role I’ve had in a film.

How did you make a despondent character likable and relatable for a film audience?

I don’t think I had anything to do with that. I came to it with nothing artful. Because of my personal history, losing my husband, I just came to the role as an open wound in a way. Luckily, I was given a very good script, and all my co-workers I felt were on the same page. It wasn’t easy, but it felt effortless, if you know what I mean. What I like about doing independent film is that the crew feels as if they’re leaning forward to hear and see everything that the actors are doing. Studio crews probably have seen it all, but independent crews still have a desire to look at it as part of the learning process.

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Why do the best roles for women today seem to be on television rather than film?

The great cable shows have opened up women’s roles tremendously. A few years ago, I played Hank Azaria’s mother in a Showtime series called “Huff.” It was the kind of three-dimensional, snarky role that one rarely finds in films. But on another level, television can afford to take risks with female parts because it has much more product than films.

What’s the best acting advice you’ve ever given your children, Gwyneth and Jake?

[Laughs] Always fold your own clothes. Don’t leave that as something else the dresser has to do. I could never tell them to learn their lines, because when we’ve worked together in summer stock, Gwyneth, for example, knew hers better than I did.

What do you anticipate it will be like being on the awards circuit over the next few months?

This is the 50th anniversary of my career. That is how I’m treating this, as a celebration. I’m not doing this to garner a nomination but to revel in the fact that I’m 72 and I’m so grateful to have my first leading role in a film. For me, I consider it a gift to still be working at my age at something I truly love.

calendar@latimes.com


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