Shirley MacLaine on ‘Bernie,’ ‘Downton Abbey,’ and Her Lifetime Achievements

Shirley MacLaine on ‘Bernie,’ ‘Downton Abbey,’ and Her Lifetime Achievments – The Daily Beast.

At 78, MacLaine costars in the new movie ‘Bernie’ and will have an upcoming turn on ‘Downton Abbey.’ Lorenza Muñoz talked to her about her work ethic and why America is a disaster.

by Lorenza Muñoz

Shirley MacLaine had a few facts to go on when she accepted the part of Marjorie Nugent in Richard Linklater’s latest film, Bernie: It is based on a true story. Nugent was mean and nasty. She was a widow hated by most of the town of Carthage, Texas. She was rich and stingy.  She was murdered by her friend, the town mortician named Bernie Tiede.

Everything else was up to MacLaine to figure out. At first she said she hoped Linklater would give her more clues. But he was “ambiguous.”

“The first meeting was strange because he didn’t answer any of my questions,” said the 78-year-old Oscar winning actress. “I said, ‘Do you want me to look like her? What is the wardrobe like? Do I speak in that accent?’ I had to find my own way about everything. All of us were operating on our own.”

Linklater says he offered some advice and had many conversations with her. But knew he could give someone like MacLaine a lot of freedom. Besides, MacLaine was in communication with both main characters, Tiede from prison and Nugent from the great beyond.

“I am always trying to involve the actor in the creation of the character but everyone is different at how they arrive at that,” said Linklater, noting that MacLaine was the first person he thought of for the role in 1998 when he first read the story in Texas Monthly magazine. But she was too young at the time. “The key to Shirley is that she likes playing that side where people think she is a crazy old bitch. But then during the honeymoon period in the story, Shirley still has that twinkle in her eye and she is still very sexy.”

MacLaine also realized that uncertainty was a major theme in the dark comedy. Telling too much or delving too deep, would turn it into a drama.

“I realized he was making a picture about ambiguity,” she said. “Is Bernie guilty? Is he a murderer? Is he adorable? The whole secret of the comedy is not to go too far. If you go too far you don’t have ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ ”

As she speaks, her light blue eyes shoot out intelligence. Her finely penciled lips are a coppery brown, playing off her salmon-colored suit and her reddish hair. Her jewelry sparkles with diamonds and tanzanite, the color of the vision chakra, part red, part blue. When frustrated by a question, her lips purse, her eyes narrow in a flash of Aurora Greenway, her character for which she won her first and only Oscar in Terms of Endearment.

MacLaine, avid spiritualist and searcher, is comfortable with the unanswerable.

“I think you can have a work ethic about doing nothing,” she said.

One question she has been asking herself lately is why she and so many millions are fanatically gripped by the Masterpiece drama, Downton Abbey, in which she was recently cast. The publicity generated by her hiring prompted the producers of Downton to call her agent, ICM’s Jack Gilardi, to thank him.

“She is so professional and very creative,” said Gilardi, who has represented her for 20 years. “She has a great gift understanding people. She knows how to make you tingle.”

She had never seen the series—but after watching the first two seasons, she was hooked. Now, she is muzzled by creator Julian Fellowes’s edict that no one from the cast can talk about Season 3: MacLaine, who will play Martha Levinson, Lady Cora Crawley’s mother, could not offer much insight.

“Why is this a hit? I haven’t come up with the answer,” she said. “I think Maggie Smith is one answer. I liked Upstairs Downstairs, but not like this. It is really worth an examination.”

She is fond of pondering, and began asking deep questions like “What is this all about?’ ‘What is God?’ ‘Are we alone?’ ” at the age of 10.

Her father, an intellectual with a background in psychology and philosophy, engaged her questions by asking more questions, such as, if there is a God, then we must ask what it means.

And so she is perplexed by folks, like the people of Carthage, Texas, who don’t ask questions and are certain of the unknowable. The residents of the town would not believe that their beloved Bernie confessed to shooting Marge Nugent in the back four times in 1996 and then stuck her in a refrigerated cooler face down below the chicken pot pies.

“The townspeople of East Texas are like the Greek chorus in the movie,” said MacLaine. “The most interesting thing is that they refused to believe the truth. It is, I think, a sociologically important statement on East Texas. It is kind of like another country.”

For MacLaine, there is no border dividing show business and life. In life, we are our own costume designer, our own actor, distributor, producer, director, and writer, she says. During her current one-woman show, she compiles clips from her acting, dancing, and singing life together with her thoughts on meditation, reincarnation, UFOs, and chakras. At the end of the show there is a question-and-answer session and rarely do people ask about Hollywood.

“The questions are never about showbiz. They are about my books,” she said. “They get the compilation that life is show business. They understand that we are just actors strutting up on the stage, as the great man said.”

Perhaps because of her belief in life as show business, her holistic approach about her mind, body, and soul has spared her the fate of many of her contemporaries. She has avoided the pitfalls of fame, money, prescription pills, or drugs or alcohol that brought down many actresses of her generation. Since she believes in the laws of cause and effect, there are no accidents. She has outlived nearly all of her contemporaries.

In June, the American Film Institute will present her with a lifetime achievement award. It is an understatement to say she has achieved much. She has made more than 50 feature films, hung out with Frank, Dino, and Sammy; worked with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Hal Ashby, and James L. Brooks; costarred with luminaries like Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson, and Peter Sellers; received six Oscar nominations, with one win in 1983 for Terms of Endearment, and seven Golden Globes, including the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. She’s written several bestselling books, including her spicy tell all, I’m All Over That—and Other Confessions, last year. It will be challenging to fit her ceremony into two hours, said Bob Gazzale, chief executive of AFI.

“Perhaps more than any other recipient, with Shirley I would underline the word life,” he said. “It’s so much more than just movies. It’s been an epic journey and she has invited all of us to come along for the ride.”

Part of her journey at one time included politics. She was eager and fresh faced in 1972 when she traversed the country pumping up enthusiasm for George McGovern, along with her brother, Warren Beatty. Since then she has only backed one candidate, Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich. She is disillusioned by politics and dismisses the system as so corrupt it cannot be saved. She views America’s materialistic ways as a disaster, in the literal sense of Greek etymology: dis—meaning torn away from, and aster, the stars. Or, the separation from the spiritual.

Although she is highly disciplined, she says she is trying to stop being so goal oriented. It was a lesson she learned when she made her pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the route through Spain said to be taken by St. James in the ninth century. Instead of taking in the stars at night and relaxing through the voyage, she rushed through it to reach the end by a deadline.

“One reason I live in New Mexico is that there is no goal-oriented work ethic. I think you can have a work ethic about doing nothing,” she said. “In Santiago de Compostela, I learned we only need a pair of shoes, water, and a good hat. That is all you need in life.”

What is M1GS?

What is #M1GS?

Worldwide, May 1st is traditionally a ‘Workers’ day – a day of Labor Solidarity, and a public holiday. It’s a day to celebrate and march in support of im/migrant rights. In protest against the corruption of the worldwide marketplace, which has led to illegal foreclosures, mass unemployment, low wages, high taxes and a penalization of all those who do not own the ‘99%’ of the world’s resources, and in solidarity with the im/migrant movements of May 1st, we decided to declare May 1st, 2012 a People’s General Strike. Instead of calling upon unionized Labor to make a specific demand (illegal under Taft-Hartley), we are calling upon the people of the world to take this day away from school and the workplace, so that their absence makes their displeasure with this corrupt system be known.

We can tell you that May 1st is International Workers Day. We can tell you that in some countries it’s a public holiday to commemorate the historic gains made by the Labor movement. We can tell you that in Los Angeles, May 1st is traditionally a day to celebrate and make a stand for immigrant rights.

But only you can tell us what you’re striking for on May 1st, 2012.

Because the May 1st General Strike is about you. It’s about the debt imposed on you for daring to dream about a college education. It’s about the healthcare you can’t afford, the family member with a disease which goes untreated because they lack insurance. It’s about your car that got repo-ed after you lost your job. It’s about your home that got foreclosed on when the bank went bust. It’s about your family, who came here for a better future, and got lost in the broken immigration system, and found that they’re denied access to legal work, education and security because they’re undocumented. It’s about you, the gay kid who gets bullied at school, and will grow up in a country which denies you equality and humanity, simply because you love someone of the same gender. It’s about the fact there’s no jobs, even if you got that college education and those grades. It’s about the single mother who struggles to support her kids on minimum wage – which is not a living wage. It’s about the woman who makes it through Harvard, works her ass off in one of the best law firms in the country, and constantly loses out on that promotion because she’s not a man. It’s about the homeless African-American guy who lives on Skid Row and gets thrown in jail for peeing in a park, because there are no toilet facilities on the street for those like him. It’s about the protestor who gets beaten and thrown in jail for holding a sign in a public space which says he’s had enough. It’s about the farmer who’s had to leave his home and work, because the state raised his land tax. It’s about the father who loses a son to a pointless war over oil in a foreign land.

It’s about the fact this is not the America we were brought up to believe in.

M1GS.

Fuck the American Dream. Make America a Reality.

How can I participate?

If you are part of unionized labor, and your contract is up for negotiation, you can officially strike on May 1st. If you are not – call in sick. Take a holiday. Don’t show up to school. March with us, or join in one of the many events that will be taking place on May 1st, either in the day or in the evening. Block parties, rallies, protests, marches, family BBQ’s – this is a day when we take a stand against the way the system has enslaved us and burdened us with unmanageable debt, incredibly long working weeks, unfeasibly expensive healthcare — by taking a day for ourselves, being human again, spending time with our families and friends. Our bosses dictate everything to us — but not our holiday. The holiday of the working class, the 99%.

If you can’t participate on #M1GS, you can contribute in other ways. Spread the word. Poster your neighborhood. Help form Strike Committees in the workplace. Agitate. Tweet. Like.

STRIKE for:

IM/MIGRANT RIGHTS

ECONOMIC, SOCIAL & ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE and LABOR RIGHTS

PEACE WITH JUSTICE

CIVIL LIBERTIES — END THE POLICE STATE

HOUSING, EDUCATION AND HEALTH CARE AS HUMAN RIGHTS

WOMEN’S RIGHTS, LGBTQ RIGHTS & GENDER EQUITY

The goal is to shut down commerce worldwide and show the 1% we will not be taken for granted, we will not be silenced, WE WILL NOT MOVE until our grievances are redressed.

Every continent, every country, every state, every city will stand up.

Labor and workers are under attack by the 1%. Occupy stands Immigrants and with Labor both organized and not. Unions and union rights are what made our working class strong. Every benefit we have as working people has come from the struggles of organized labor and immigrants fighting for their rights. Now they are trying to destroy our bargaining rights, they want their greedy hands on our pensions. They don’t have enough already? ENOUGH.

We demand good jobs and good pay for everyone on the planet. Citizen of the country they work in or not. Outsourcing will no longer be tolerated by the so called “job creators” for cheap labor. All human beings deserve a living wage.

Education, Housing and Healthcare are human rights NOT “entitlements.”

*Compiled from various fb groups and websites

via Anonymous • What is M1GS?.

100 Best Songs of the 1970s 20 – 11

100 Best Songs of the 1970s | NME.COM.

20 Led Zeppelin – ‘Stairway To Heaven’

Released: November 1971

If a classic rock radio station ever polls its listeners, this bananas blend of bustling hedgerows and head-caving guitar tends to tussle it out with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘ near the top. We all love a grand folly and if you can get through Robert Plant’s hey-nonnying about pipers and May Queens, Jimmy Page has reserved a screaming balls-out axefest just for you.

19 Joy Division – ‘Transmission’

Released: November 1979

This intense single stood alone from Joy Division’s albums and is perhaps the most New Ordery of their brief burst of releases with its pulsing beats and that low-slung bass. Its drive and thrash build to a delirious – some think epileptic – height before rattling away to silence. Covered rather more politely by Hot Chip for the 2009 War Child album.

18 Ian Dury – ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Released: August 1977

Released without a Blockheads credit – only sax player Davey Payne and guitarist Chas Jankel join Ian Dury on this one – this is still a typical slab of bar room funk from Dury and co. It’s the spidery riff that really makes the song, working its angular way through the track, although the story goes it was a lift from Ornette Coleman’s ‘Ramblin”. Dury apologised anyway.

17 The Rolling Stones – ‘Brown Sugar’

Released: April 1971

Possibly not the most politically correct song of the 1970s, ‘Brown Sugar’ was written for the singer Marsha Hunt, Mick Jagger‘s then-lover and mother of his first child, and flirts with sadism, smack, oral sex, and all manner of rock’n’roll fun. Above and beyond any suspect lyrical content, it’s all about a kinetic groove, dirty sax and an unfeasibly laid back Keith Richards riff.

16 Bruce Springsteen – ‘Thunder Road’

Released: August 1975

The opening track on Born To Run, ‘Thunder Road’ is one of the Great American Songs, the tale of a couple down on their luck, “praying in vain/For a saviour to rise from these streets. Springsteen later described it as “my big invitation to my audience”, and it remains one of The Boss’ most beloved moments, a staple in his live set to this day.

15 Stevie Wonder – ‘Superstition’

Released: October 1972

It’s just a matter of that bassline, isn’t it? The bassline that isn’t really a bassline, more a funky workout on Stevie Wonder’s fat-sounding Hohner clavinet. Whatever, ‘Superstition’, originally written for Jeff Beck, is no less toweringly cool with each passing year and it got its just desserts with a Billboard Hot 100 No.1. Whether it deserved the Olly Murs cover is open to conjecture.

14 Pink Floyd – ‘Comfortably Numb

Released: November 1979

From ‘The Wall’ album and movie soundtrack, ‘Comfortably Numb’ is a Roger Waters and David Gilmour co-composition supposedly inspired by Waters’ crazy sensations after being injected with tranquilisers before a Philadelphia show. It’s as dizzy and displaced as it should be, drifting through guitar solos and a pretty chorus before winding up in the Scissor Sisters‘ back pocket.

13 The Undertones – ‘Teenage Kicks’

Released: September 1978

Don’t know if you’re aware of this, but this was John Peel’s favourite record. Oh, you knew. Anyway, back when Feargal Sharkey wasn’t running all of UK music he was fronting this chaotic adrenaline rush of adolescent thrills that put his Derry band on the map. And it was played at John Peel’s funeral. Oh, you knew that too.

12 John Lennon – ‘Imagine’

Released: September 1971

Inspired by Yoko Ono‘s Grapefruit book, a collection of poetry, ‘Imagine’ is that old classic – simple but devastating. It wasn’t much of a hit first time out; in fact, it didn’t even get a UK single release for four years after the album came out, but in the wake of John Lennon’s death it became first an anthem for his life and later a universal call for peace that continues to resonate.

11 Talking Heads – ‘Psycho Killer’

Released: September 1977

A No.92 smash in the States, ‘Psycho Killer’ is vintage Talking Heads, sweating with paranoia, its limbs flying all over the shop. David Byrne scrapped his initial plans to include descriptions of the act of murder in the lyrics but it doesn’t take anything away from the song, as taut and just-about-funky as all the best ‘Heads and the starting point of a flood of new wave genius.