De­bra Winger takes on her best role in years

Ac­tress, 61, ap­proaches sev­eral sex­u­ally can­did scenes with no con­cerns about age

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - GARY THOMP­SON

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.

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