GEENA DAVIS talks girl power, sports and women in Hol­ly­wood on the 25th an­niver­sary of her ground­break­ing movie

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - Front Page - By Dot­son Rader

Geena Davis, 61, grew up in a fam­ily of mod­est means in small-town Mas­sachusetts. Her dream of be­ing an ac­tress led her to Hol­ly­wood, where she found fame in movies in­clud­ing Beetle­juice, Thelma & Louise, Stu­art Lit­tle and The Ac­ci­den­tal Tourist, which won her an Os­car.

This sum­mer marks the 25th an­niver­sary of an­other film she starred in: A League of Their Own, the true story of a WWII-era women’s pro base­ball league. In the film, which will be com­mem­o­rated April 18 with a spe­cial Blu-ray re­lease, Davis played a catcher ex­celling with her team­mates at a game dom­i­nated by men.

Af­ter the movie, she be­came an in­flu­en­tial voice against gen­der and age dis­crim­i­na­tion, found­ing the non­profit Geena Davis In­sti­tute on Gen­der in Me­dia and the Ben­tonville Film Fes­ti­val in Arkansas—which be­gins its third year in May—to pro­mote di­ver­sity in en­ter­tain­ment.

What at­tracted you, 25 years ago, to A League of Their

Own? Ev­ery­thing about it was ap­peal­ing. I had al­ways cared about women and girls’ em­pow­er­ment, but hav­ing just been in Thelma & Louise and seen the re­ac­tion that it got just jacked it through the roof. And then to be able to be a part of a movie that is about women hav­ing a chance to do things they don’t or­di­nar­ily get to do was in­cred­i­ble. It is played by an en­sem­ble of women, di­rected by a woman [Penny Mar­shall]. I’d never played an ath­lete be­fore. I was scared, but it was re­ally fun.

Did the movie change any

thing for women? It’s had a tremen­dous im­pact on girls play­ing sports. And I still have girls and women rec­og­nize me from that movie and say that it en­cour­aged them to play sports. That’s what I hear con­stantly: “I play sports be­cause of that movie.”

Did A League of Their Own change Hol­ly­wood’s at­ti­tude

to­ward women? Noth­ing changed. There’s been no mo­men­tum to change. Hol­ly­wood still be­lieves that any suc­cess­ful movie star­ring a woman or about women is a fluke. Re­search by my in­sti­tute [see­jane.org] has proven that to be false. Films with a fe­male lead made 16 per­cent more at the box of­fice than movies star­ring men. Movies with male and fe­male co-leads made 28 per­cent more than movies with only male leads.

Why is there a Hol­ly­wood

bias against women? Half of it is the idea that men don’t want to watch women in lead­ing roles. The other half is un­con­scious gen­der bias. For the most part, women take up very lit­tle space on­screen, are val­ued for their ap­pear­ance and don’t get to do the ad­ven­tur­ous and im­por­tant things. It’s un­con­scious gen­der bias that’s re­spon­si­ble, not a Hol­ly­wood plot against women.

Do you ever see any of the League of Their Own cast— Madonna, Rosie O’Don­nell,

Tom Hanks? Tom, for sure. I also see a lot of the girls at my Ben­tonville Film Fes­ti­val. We’re hav­ing a League of Their Own 25th an­niver­sary soft­ball game, with the whole cast and di­rec­tor Penny Mar­shall.

You’ve led the way in ex­pos­ing gen­der bias in chil­dren’s movies and TV. How did

that hap­pen? I got in­ter­ested in in­creas­ing the num­ber of fe­male char­ac­ters in kids’ en­ter­tain­ment be­cause of my three chil­dren. I have twin boys. When they were lit­tle we saw a squir­rel in a park. They said, “Look, he’s cute.” I thought, Peo­ple al­ways call an­i­mals “he.” Why? So I said, “Yes, she’s so cute.” I thought, Oh, my God! They’re 4 years old and they al­ready think ev­ery­thing is male!

In your own ca­reer, you’ve faced gen­der and age dis­crim­i­na­tion in Hol­ly­wood. Why didn’t you sim­ply

walk away? I don’t want to be forced into re­tire­ment. I tremen­dously re­sent how ev­ery­thing re­ally nar­rows down the older you get. It’s not fun.

Men don’t have that prob­lem?

No. I’m al­ways say­ing to my agents, “Pitch me for the men’s parts.” There’s re­ally no rea­son that women can’t play a lot of the [male] roles.

Why are there so few roles

for older women? When you’re younger, you can be girl­friend, wife, the sex ob­ject, what­ever. As you get older, the male writ­ers, pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tors don’t see you as sex­u­ally nec­es­sary and they don’t think of you in other roles. In our cul­ture, the de­fault is al­ways male. When you were grow­ing up, did you have any role mod­els? My mom was a great role model. She was a teacher’s aide. She had lots of en­ergy and loved peo­ple. And I had a mu­sic teacher, Amy Kelly. She was an in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant per­son in my life. I took pi­ano, flute and pipe or­gan lessons from her from age 6 un­til 18. I spent a lot of time with her.

Why was she im­por­tant? She was al­ways very en­cour­ag­ing: “You can do it!” She gave me con­fi­dence. She loved me.

It’s very mean­ing­ful to have some­one not in your fam­ily say you’re valu­able. Any other fe­male role mod­els in your child­hood? Aunt Glo­ria was a very big in­flu- ence. She trav­eled and seemed so in­cred­i­bly so­phis­ti­cated. She took me to my first play at a din­ner theater. I thought it was the most glam­orous thing! I couldn’t be­lieve it—eat­ing while some­body’s putting on a play. And she or­dered a glass of wine. I thought my brain was go­ing to ex­plode! This [was] the most so­phis­ti­cated thing I’d ever seen in my life. She had a huge im­pact on my life.

Did any men in­flu­ence

you grow­ing up? My dad, enor­mously. I re­mem­ber as a child there was a hur­ri­cane and the power had gone off, and he said, “Come, we’re get­ting the kerosene lanterns out of the storm cel­lar to bring into the house.” I re­mem­ber go­ing out­side in the storm and down into the cel­lar help­ing him. It was al­ways like that. “Come up on the roof, we’re putting shin­gles on.” I felt like I could learn and do any­thing. I miss my dad most of all. [Davis’ fa­ther, Wil­liam, a civil en­gi­neer, died in 2009.]

When did you de­cide to be

an ac­tress? When I was 3 years old I an­nounced that I wanted to act in movies. I asked Santa for sun­glasses.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing Bos­ton Uni­ver­sity, you moved to New York City to be a model.

Why? I came up with this idea to be a model be­cause mod­els Christie Brink­ley and Lau­ren Hut­ton were in movies.

That was your plan? [Laughs] It’s so much eas­ier to be­come

a su­per­model than to be­come an ac­tor. Mirac­u­lously, when they were cast­ing Toot­sie [her first role, in 1982] in New York, they wanted a model who could act in her un­der­wear to make Dustin Hoff­man un­com­fort­able. My [mod­el­ing] agency said, “We have one!”

Was be­ing 6 feet tall ever a

prob­lem for you? I was a tall baby. I was al­ways the tallest kid in class. I was self-con­scious about it. My mom said, “You’re go­ing to be tall. You have to stand up straight.” So I al­ways did. I never slouched. I’d find other ways to try to seem shorter, like stick my hip out.

Your cur­rent hus­band, Reza Jar­rahy, is a sur­geon. Does his not be­ing in show busi­ness help ex­plain why your mar­riage is

suc­cess­ful? Two hus­bands [ Jeff Gold­blum and di­rec­tor Renny Har­lin] were in the [movie] busi­ness. That was never a fac­tor in the suc­cess or fail­ure of my re­la­tion­ships. We lead a very low-key, un-Hol­ly­wood life. Most of our friends are not in the in­dus­try. My kids don’t have any friends who are the chil­dren of fa­mous peo­ple. Their lives are in­cred­i­bly nor­mal. We try to keep them grounded.

What will you think if your kids

de­cide to be­come ac­tors? When they were born I said that I will have done my job suc­cess­fully if none of my chil­dren want to go into act­ing. I don’t know if it will work. We’ll see.

Davis, above (stand­ing, sixth from left), as part of ALeague­ofTheir Own’s Rock­ford Peaches and, right, at a re­union event with League co-stars Tracy Reiner, Anne Ramsay, Fred­die Simp­son, Me­gan Cavanagh and Patti Pel­ton and real-life 1950s-era...

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