Debra Winger takes on her best role in years
Actress, 61, approaches several sexually candid scenes with no concerns about age
Somehow, Debra Winger hadn’t heard the old joke about the three ages for women in Hollywood — babe, district attorney and “Driving Miss Daisy.”
“I think I skipped district attorney,” she cracked.
That isn’t really true — she was in the lawyer drama Legal Eagles — and it isn’t really true that her latest role falls into Category 3.
Winger stars in “The Lovers,” a movie that comes by its title honestly.
The one-time ingenue star of “Urban Cowboy” and “An Officer and a Gentleman” has — at 61 — been given one of the most sexually candid roles of her career.
She prepared for it by being a 61-year-old woman.
“I think that I have an ego, but look, if you’re altering your looks, working out more than any normal human can work out in order to achieve a certain unreasonably perfect standard, you’re not going to be able to tell a whole bunch of stories.
“You’re going to end up limiting yourself. I’ve always been a poster child for ‘Let’s take the makeup down a notch,’” Winger said.
In “The Lovers,” which opens Friday in Toronto, she plays a woman caught in a long, fraught marriage to an inattentive and unfaithful man, played by Tracy Letts, the actor and playwright (he wrote “August: Osage County”).
Both spouses are having affairs — she with a younger man (Aidan Gillen). His is acknowledged, hers is not, leading to intrigue that adds unexpected, unpredictable spice to their relationship.
For Winger, it means R-rated scenes with two different men. Winger knows that’s unusual territory for an actress her age, but she says the constraining factors that affect actresses apply to women in all walks of life.
“You see the trap that’s there for women, to be desexualized. For one thing, you do it to yourself. You’re picking the kids up at school, you don’t want to be dressed provocatively.
“That’s not my thing, anyway. I play it kind of safe. I’m lucky to have a healthy marriage, a husband who’s always telling me I’m looking great.”
Winger is winning praise for the role (“her radiance shines through,” said Variety) and for her work in the Netflix series “The Ranch,” playing a bartender and sounding board for her son (Ashton Kutcher), a former pro athlete now adjusting to life out of the spotlight. Winger knows all about that. After a lucrative career and a trio of Oscar nominations (“Terms of Endearment,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Shadowlands”), she grew weary of limited choices in Hollywood, and so she made a radical one. She left. “For me, the antidote for it was just to have a life. To choose the kind of life I wanted, not just the kind of role I wanted,” Winger said.
She married actor Arliss Howard, moved to a farm in Sullivan County, N.Y., and raised children — essentially taking 20 years off, though she returned from time to time to take supporting roles in movies like “Rachel Getting Married.”
It takes a lot to get her back — she mulled over “The Lovers” for five years, working with writer-director Azazel Jacobs until the script was just right.
Winger is excited about new platforms such as Netflix, new types of stories and new specialty film companies like A24, which backed “The Lovers” and recently backed “Moonlight” all the way to a Best Picture Oscar.
I asked her whether these new avenues will mean more opportunities for people who had been marginalized by the old Hollywood system she rejected.
“I think that’s probably true. There’s that adage, women should write more. And I’m all for more people having the opportunity to tell their own stories,” Winger said.
“But I have to point out this story was written by a 43-year-old white guy, and it’s one of the best roles I’ve ever had.”
Debra Winger says her role in The Lovers is “one of the best roles I’ve ever had.” In it she plays a woman married to an inattentive and unfaithful man, played by Tracy Letts.