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The Sunday Conversation: Melanie Griffith returns to the stage

Melanie Griffith returns to the spotlight as a young man’s dysfunctional mother in “No Way Around but Through,” a new play written by and starring Scott Caan, which runs through July 8 at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.

You play a very different kind of role from the sweet, girlish characters you’re famous for. Your character is jaded, steely, a bit of a monster.

I don’t know if she’s really that much of a monster. I think she’s a monster in his [her son’s ] mind. You know, kids that don’t want to be doing what they’re supposed to do, like grow up. But yeah, I guess she’s a monster in a way, but I’ve been through stuff like that with my kids. I still go through stuff like that.

It’s an edgy role. Is that what appealed to you?

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Yeah. I love the way it’s written. I like the way Scott writes. He’s a young writer — he’s 34. I think he’s really gifted. I studied acting in New York with Stella Adler and I spent a year studying playwrights, the great ones, like Clifford Odets. And now people are likening Scott to [David] Mamet.

Because of the play’s mannered speech?

Yeah, but I think in a way he’s more like Clifford Odets in the sense of trying to get at the issues of family. And so I thought it was really beautiful when I read it. And I know his dad [James Caan]; I’ve known Jimmy for years and so I read it, and he came over with Val [Lauren], who directed us. And I was really excited to work with them. They’re all young and hungry and good and trying to stretch themselves. I remember being in that place. It’s been a really wonderful experience for me because I got to watch them and to be the older person and be the sort of monster mom. It’s been really fun.

More than one critic said they couldn’t stop watching you.

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I was just laughing. I think that’s funny.

And you got great reviews on Broadway when you played Roxie Hart in “Chicago.” Why haven’t you done more theater, or are you planning to?

I would love to. I really love it. It’s so much more challenging than film. And the way the film business is these days, it’s pretty bad. And the things that are written now are not very good, not many. And the good ones go to the chosen few of the year or the decade. And there certainly aren’t a lot of movies written for women who are in their 50s. I think that’s always a shame; it should be done more.

I know you’ve been pursuing a number of projects recently, but I haven’t seen you around lately. Are you diving back into your career or were you doing that all along?

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I have four kids, and Stella, my youngest, is 15, and she’s going into 10th grade in September, so now I can start thinking about going back to work. I really love working. It makes me feel like an even better person when I work. I function much better if I have a really rigid schedule. When I’m left to my own devices, I can just be all over the place.

Plus just getting older in this town is very hard on your self-esteem if you pay attention to what people say or read what people write. That’s why I really like doing theater. I think theater actors are a whole different breed.

Next month you’re being honored at the Munich Film Festival. Why are you laughing? Does that surprise you?

No, I think it’s sweet. I feel very funny about getting these lifetime achievement awards. I got my first one when I was 44. That was 10 years ago, but really I’m doing that because this film that I did called “The Grief Tourist,” which I think is a brilliant movie, is opening there. So I’m just flying there to open that and I’m getting the lifetime achievement award that they very sweetly, nicely are giving me. And then I’m flying right back because I have to do the play.

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Tell me about “The Grief Tourist.” It reunites you with Pruitt Taylor Vince, whom you appeared with in “Nobody’s Fool.”

Yeah, many years ago. I think he’s an amazing actor. Frank John Hughes, who wrote it, is really close friends with this man named Erik Jendresen, who has been writing with my husband,Antonio [Banderas], different movies and things, and he also wrote a TV show for me to do [“This American Housewife,” which Lifetime did not pick up] that we shot earlier this year. Somehow Frank called him and asked him to get the script to me. So I read it and I did it. And I just saw the movie four months ago. It’s really good and it’s really powerful and it’s really dark, but I think it’s a great movie.

I play a waitress, who’s a woman who lives alone and has her own problems, but nothing like the guy [played by Vince, who’s obsessed with visiting scenes of disaster]. It’s just interesting. I don’t want to tell anybody anything; people should just see it.

Has it been hard for people to look past your girlish roles of the past when they’re casting?

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I don’t know. And I really don’t care. Honestly. At this point, I would be really, really happy if I could do more work, if I could make more movies. But I don’t want to say that I would be grateful. I would be really happy to be working and be able to do my craft. But I’m not desperate anymore or feeling weird about myself because I’m not working in this business. I’m older and wiser and there’s a lot more to life.

What’s going on with your kids? Are they following you into the business?

They’re all doing great. My daughter,Dakota [Johnson], has gotten a new TV series that she’s going to start shooting at the end of August. It’s called"Ben and Kate"and it’s for Fox. She’s only 22 but she’s really good. And then Jesse [Johnson], my stepson, Jesse’s 29 now. He’s about to play John Wilkes Booth for National Geographic, and he’s an amazing actor. And Alexander is a musician; he’s 26, and he’s an incredible guitar player, piano player, drum player. He’s got a band called the Moonshine Band and they’re struggling, but that’s all part of it. And then Stella will be 16 in September. And she’s a great person.

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Do you worry about them going into the entertainment industry?

No, because the two that are in it want to be there, and they’ve seen so much. They know what they’re getting themselves into and nobody can fool them either. Or trick them in any way.

You’ve struggled with sobriety over many years.

How have you managed to succeed?

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It’s exactly what I used to hear, when they would say, “It takes what it takes and you’ll know when you know.” What happened to me three years ago was the tipping point for me. It was when I finally went, oh, OK, I get it.

The family intervention?

No, it wasn’t an intervention, well, sort of, in a way. My daughters really sat me down and said, look, Mom, this is what it is. Dakota and Stella, both. I don’t want to say what really happened, but they were the ones who said, “You really need to get help,” and I heard them and knew what they meant. And I saw it and I did it. But I couldn’t have done it without them. I really couldn’t have. And I’m so grateful. I see now I just didn’t get it before. It doesn’t mean that I’m stupid. It’s just that that’s what the disease is.

calendar@latimes.com

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