50 SHADES OF GREY HAIR
Book Club features four sexually vital women — all of a certain age
Mary Steenburgen wanted to do the new movie Book Club as soon as she heard about the project.
She hadn’t read a script but she had heard that Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Diane Keaton were attached to the Bill Holderman-directed film. Yes, it appears we’ve got a Hollywood unicorn here as a major studio movie actually stars not only four women but also women whose ages add up to 289 years.
“It’s sort of lightning in a bottle to work with those three women,” said Steenburgen. “Four women in a movie together who are all leads was so utterly unusual and improbable. So I was really inclined to do it.”
Luckily the Holderman and Erin Simms script that found its way to Steenburgen was decent because, let’s be realistic here, a film about four lifelong pals who are sexually inspired by reading 50 Shades of Grey could easily go wrong.
Four words: ball gag, bladder control.
Thankfully, though the new film focuses more on friendship and growth than Christian Grey and G spots.
“When I read it the thing that impressed me is how Bill and Erin had managed to create four complete people that all have a story worth telling,” said Steenburgen, who won the 1981 best supporting actress Oscar for her role in Melvin and Howard. “It felt honestly like it did say something not just about women and sensuality but about remaining alive every minute that you are alive.”
While the film officially hits theatres on May 18, there was a time when Steenburgen thought this was all too good to be true.
“The four of us paired together, well, I just kept thinking they are going to cancel this before we even start shooting,” said Steenburgen about the cast that among them have four Academy Awards and 13 nominations and enough IMDb entries for 20 careers.
The film went ahead and what we are left with is a great accompaniment to the optimism of spring, the complexities of aging and the nature of friendship.
“Part of what we would sit around and talk about was our war stories,” said Steenburgen who added that #MeToo hadn’t yet blossomed by the time Book Club wrapped. “For the most part we weren’t harmed too badly any of us in the course of going through our careers. That doesn’t mean we don’t worry about our sisters and young women coming up. When we are together it is one of the things we talk about a lot.
“We still have a long way to go in what we allow women to do. To be a fully realized, a fully formed person,” added Steenburgen, who was a tireless supporter of Hillary Clinton.
“The only way we will get to a happy place is if we are partnered with men and not just pointing fingers at them.”
In Book Club, Steenburgen’s character Carol is the only married one of the bunch. Three decades in and her husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) is newly retired from his job and their sex life. The physical and emotional chill is bringing Carol down and she desperately looks for ways to rekindle their passion and re-start Bruce’s life.
Nelson, like Bruce in the movie, has been married for 30 or so years. “It helps with the understanding of what it is like to have to work through problems like this in a marriage,” said Nelson, who has been married to Doria since 1987. “You can reflect on, well, where are these characters at and you can hopefully bring some intelligence and experience to that.”
In the best of times, actors will tell you intimate scenes are anything but. Nelson, however, had fun kissing Steenburgen because for the past 22 years she has been married to his friend Ted Danson.
“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Nelson when asked about locking lips with Steenburgen. “He was on the set. It was great, we’re good friends I’ve known him for so long and he said, ‘you know you are one of the few people I allow to kiss my wife. Like that.’ ”
While the success of Book Club is now in the hands of moviegoers, Steenburgen can’t help but hope there’s room for more than comic book movies.
“It would be nice to work with these women again,” she says. “That would be really nice, but just in general to be in films that treat people our age as if they have the same whole of a life at their fingertips as everybody else. That we haven’t closed doors off and kind of just agreed to be diminished and to play diminished characters.
“That’s just not the truth.”
Mary Steenburgen, left, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda and Candice Bergen make up a formidable chorus line.