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Whoopi Goldberg talks about plum role in ‘Big Stone Gap’

Los Angeles Times

Whoopi Goldberg doesn’t like to fly.

So when she showed up to make the indie romantic dramedy “Big Stone Gap”’ in the bucolic Virginia town of the same name, the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Award winner arrived in a big “rock ‘n’ roll” bus.

Of course, Goldberg didn’t drive. “Nobody lets me drive — ever,” said Goldberg, 59, during a recent phone chat from New York. “That was my dressing room, my house and my hotel room. It makes my life easier. I can be where I want to be, and I don’t have to get on the plane. The town is wonderful.”

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The production had chosen a nice secluded place with a tree for Goldberg to park her bus. But she was fine with it parked in the middle of town, across from the post office.

“She is no fuss, no muss,” said Adriana Trigiani, who makes her directorial debut on “Big Stone Gap,” which opens Friday. “You can’t do anything for her. She’s always doing for you.”

Adapted by Trigiani from her popular novel, “Big Stone Gap” stars Ashley Judd as Ave Maria, the Appalachian coal town’s self-proclaimed spinster who works in her family’s pharmacy and directs the town’s annual outdoor play. One day she learns a dark secret about her family that changes her life.

Goldberg plays Fleeta, who works in the pharmacy and is Ave Maria’s best friend and confidant. Trigiani had sent Goldberg her novel several years ago, and the actress immediately responded to Fleeta.

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“She’s a bit of a realist,” said Goldberg of her character. “She’s somebody who loves the people in town. She is a good person. She is the moderator of the town.”

Some fans of the book, though, were surprised when Goldberg’s casting was announced. “I got a letter from one of my readers who said, ‘I didn’t know Fleeta was black,’ ” said Trigiani, who wrote the lady back and said, “She is now.”

Goldberg was willing to wait for Trigiani to obtain funding to make the film, which is being released by Picturehouse. “She said I don’t have any money, and I said that’s OK, nobody has got any money. If you ever get it, I’m your girl,” Goldberg recalled.

Trigiani felt Goldberg “understood what I was trying to do. When she enters the room, there’s an effect that a spiritual being has entered the room and a hush comes over the crowd. There is a warmth. Not everybody has it. It’s her essence.”

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Starting with her Oscar-nominated turn 30 years ago in Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple,” Goldberg has played numerous memorable roles. She won the supporting actress award for 1990’s “Ghost” and had a blockbuster hit in 1992’s “Sister Act.” But her movie acting career has slowed in recent years while Goldberg concentrates on her day job as one of the regulars on ABC’s daytime talk show “The View” since 2007.

“I can do [movies], but it has to be done in a specific way,” she said.

Goldberg lamented how hard it is “if you’re over 12" to find decent roles in films. “So indies are the place to go. I think actors are just starting to feel like we’ll go anywhere to do our craft, if it’s on TV or an indie. I think we just want to act in good things that have something to say. When we do crap, we want it to be great crap like ‘Sharknado.’ That is great crap.”

In the meantime, Goldberg has a book coming out Tuesday called “If Someone Says ‘You Complete Me,’ Run!: Whoopi’s Big Book of Relationships.”

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“It’s a semi-serious book,” explained Goldberg. “It’s really about mistakes people tend to make, and because I have done so many and made so many.”

Among her suggestions: “Sign the pre-nup. If you are player, you got to let the person know, and if you are somebody who is with a player, recognize who they are and decide if you actually want to stay. But we are in such a rush to get into a relationship to be with somebody and get married. It’s like, slow down.”

Goldberg has been married three times — she’s currently single — and has no plans to go down the aisle again. “I am very happy to actually never get married again — unless it is to my cat.”

susan.king@latimes.com

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