Tuesday, April 4, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Leading Ladies

Leading Lady, Sherry Lansing.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Sherry Lansing — Hollywood's Former "Leading Lady" Tells All.  (Or, as much as she wants to tell.)  Also "Big Little Lies" ... Entertainment Weekly ... and Julia Roberts' great eyelash scene!

“TOM WAS one of the most gifted actors — you could see it right away.  He’s one of the kindest, most decent people I’ve ever worked with.  I never saw him do anything that made anybody uncomfortable. I think everyone is invited to their belief system.”

“Mel is very hardworking, very much understands the problems of the studio system. I have only had positive experiences with him.  In my experience, he has never been homophobic or anti-Semitic.”

The above quotes are from the great, now retired studio film chief, Sherry Lansing. Sherry has finally written a memoir, “Leading Lady,” and is on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter. This issue includes excerpts from her book, co-written by Stephen Galloway and an interview with Lansing. I cannot wait to read the entire book. (Under her reigns at 20th Century Fox and Paramount, such films as “Fatal Attraction,” “The Accused,” “Forrest Gump,” “Braveheart” and “Titanic” came to be.)

I chose they above quotes because, out of the movie biz or not — Lansing now works tirelessly for cancer cures — it is rare in our politically correct times, to actually come out and defend friends or people one has worked with successfully; people whose image is somewhat spoiled by personal choices or demons.

This column always receives nasty emails whenever we mention Tom Cruise or Mel Gibson or Woody Allen in a positive manner.  We’re “bad” if we say Tom is an endlessly entertaining, much underrated actor, or that Mel is a great filmmaker (loved “Hacksaw Ridge.”)  Any reference to Woody Allen can make some people go crazy. 

Ditto, too, for Mia Farrow, or even Madonna, still. (In the case of say, Woody and Mia, or Brad and Angie, adult people separate themselves into “teams.”  Team Mia, Team Woody, etc.  And woe to you, to be perceived on the “other” team. Even if you are basically noncommittal in the middle, because all people are crazy, you know?) 
Sherry with Tom.
Sherry with Mel.
One of the reasons I like Sherry Lansing, aside from her talent, is her honesty and guts.

I also enjoyed, in this issue, the tale of  Lansing’s “Fatal Attraction” and the monumental struggle persuading a hugely resistant Glenn Close to film the famous, final “retribution” scene. (Initial testing had gone poorly — audiences hated Glenn’s character, and wanted her to die.) Sherry herself didn’t like the new ending. She felt it undermined the integrity of Close’s character, unhinged as that bunny-boiling  lady was. But Lansing knew what was good for the movie.
Glenn Close in a scene from the original ending of "Fatal Attraction."
Miss Close, however, was adamant.  She would NOT re-film the end. “You can take me in a straitjacket, but I won’t do it!” 

Seeking support from co-star Michael Douglas ended in Close screaming “How would you feel if they did this to your character?!”  His response, “Babe, I’m a whore.”
The actual ending ...
In the end it was old friend Bill Hurt who advised, “You’ve made your point. Now it’s your responsibility to buck up and just do it.”   

She did.  The rest was box-office history and an endless history of  feminist criticism of the movie, which Lansing did not essentially disagree with — given the new ending — but, business trumped men’s fear of women.  “This was one woman, not all women,” she said. 

... WOW! What more is there to say about the incredibly tense, brilliantly acted finale to HBO’s limited series, "Big Little Lies," I was, to employ that tired old cliché, on the edge on my seat to the final fadeout — a fade that included something that could be interpreted a not final at all.  Might there be a season two?  Everyone was brilliant.  I understand there is already jockeying among the ladies, as to who is deserving of lead actress Emmys, as opposed to supporting.  I say, given everybody an Emmy, make it an ensemble thing (I guess that’s for the SAG Awards.)  Not forgetting the men, either.  Especially Alexander Skarsgard as Nicole Kidman’s abusive husband.  He’s come a long way from his fang-tastic  sex-object days on “True Blood.”
... SHOUT-OUT to Entertainment Weekly’s unusual new issue (Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz on the cover.)

The magazine is shot full of fascinating “untold stories” about movies, sitcoms, pop culture crazes. It’s the brainchild of EW editor Henry Goldblatt and it works beautifully. Please sir, may we have some more? 

Among the many delectable bits in this issue was Cybill Shepherd, admitting she was really very much like her heartless character, Jacy, in “The Last Picture Show.”  She said:  “Just in the sense of having men fall in love with me, and breaking their hearts. I did a lot of that.”

I also liked model Cameron Alborzian, who appeared so notably beautiful in Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video. He recalled: “Madonna likes to play ... she was probably more naked than she needed to be.” (We all remember that sheet slipping away from her in their future world bedroom clinch!)

Alborzian also recalled that Madonna, at a career peak in 1989, was “very positive about life. Just living it up.”  (La Ciccone was dating Warren Beatty — among others — not realizing that her “living it up”  would soon shock Warren into married domesticity and fatherhood!)
... WATCHED Mike Nichols’ 2007 movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” the other night.  I’d forgotten how absorbing and amusing it was (and, set in the Soviet-obsessed 1980’s, it has creepy currency, now.)  But what struck me most was Julia Roberts, who plays a somewhat mysterious Washington power-broker-hostess, who uses her brain and sex, to get her way.  Julia has one especially riveting scene — a post-coital conversation with Tom Hanks, while he soaks in a tub.  Roberts, calmly, articulately and ruthlessly outlines her plans and gives Hanks his marching orders, while exquisitely, slowly, applying her makeup.  At one point, as Julia talks seriously and with scary matter-of-factness, about weapons in Afghanistan, she painstakingly separates her eyelashes with a safety pin. Fabulous!   It’s one of those little acting master-classes; reminding me of Meryl Streep’s justly famous “cerulean blue” monologue in “The Devil Wears Prada.”

IF YOU want the essence of the president’s controversial right-hand man, Steve Bannon, go straight to page 11 of The Week magazine. (The president and Paul Ryan on the cover.)  One frightening page tells all you need to know.  And what you need to know is that the current resident of the White House is less a problem than the people whom he has surrounded himself with.  (Equally scary are his daughter, Ivanka, who has a brain, and her seemingly weak-willed, self-loathing husband, Jared Kushner.)

And here’s this, from Mike Taibbi's Rolling Stone cover story on the president: “While we keep looking for his hidden agenda, it’s our growing addiction to the spectacle of his car-wreck presidency that is the real threat. He is already making idiots and accomplices of us all, bringing out the worst in each of us, making us dumber just by watching. Even if he never learns to govern, after four years of this we will forget what civilization looked like — and it will be programming and not policy, that will have changed the world.” 

Contact Liz here.