arts & entertainment
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Owen Wilson (left) meets Gertrude
Stein (Kathy Bates) and Ernest
Hemingway (Corey Stoll) in Woody
Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
Kathy Bates muses on acting and Woody Allen
By J. Rentilly
WHETHER SHE IS playing a secretary of
defense, a Big Easy matriarch, Santa’s wife, a
recently reborn defense attorney (NBC’s
sleeper hit, Harry’s Law) or the American ex-pat poet and artist Gertrude Stein, in Woody
Allen’s intoxicating fairy tale Midnight in Paris,
Oscar-winner Kathy Bates offers presence and
passion. Onscreen and in conversation, the
63-year-old actress means what she says. Her
conviction is palpable, though never gruff;
her intensity always charmed and charming.
Quick to laugh, twice as polite as anyone you’ll
meet, Bates—once one of Broadway’s most
formidable actresses—is enjoying life.
The Costco Connection: While Hollywood tends to favor disposable ingénues, you
have built an extraordinary, much-decorated
career. Your work in Midnight in Paris is
another reminder of how good you really are.
Kathy Bates: Well, I’ve been very lucky
to play the roles I’ve wanted to, but being a
female character actor in Hollywood can be
difficult. You always wish there was more to do.
And you’re always happy when someone like
Woody Allen writes you a letter on his personal stationery saying he’s got something you
need to do in Paris. I’ve kept that letter close.
The only thing to do is say, “Yes, yes, yes”—
Gertrude Stein style.
CC: You shot the film in Paris. Ernest
Hemingway long ago wrote, “Paris is so very
beautiful that it satisfies something in you that
is always hungry in America.” Does that resonate for you?
The Costco Connection
Midnight in Paris arrives at most Costco locations on DVD and Blu-ray on December 20.
KB: If you’re asking me to be more eloquent than Hemingway, it’s not going to happen. (Laughs) But Paris is a very special place
to me. It’s good for my soul to go there. I don’t
know why. I can’t explain it. I’m not going to
try. When you go to Paris, just be in Paris.
CC: Though we see [Salvador] Dalí and
[Luis] Buñuel and Stein, the performances
are not caricatures. It’s more than funny haircuts and flamboyant costumes.
KB: You always hope it is! (Laughs)
Getting ready for this role, I read a lot about
Gertrude Stein. I looked at pictures of her,
and video. I know I don’t look exactly like her,
but I heard recordings of her reading her
work and put as much of that into the character as I could. I’ve always read like my life
depended on it, so being able to play a great
writer like Gertrude Stein was really a dream
CC: In the film, Owen Wilson’s character
steps into a phantom carriage that takes him
each night to jazz-era Paris. Whose carriage
would you want to step into?
KB: Oh, I’d probably want to meet
[Vincent] van Gogh. I have a copy of his painting Irises on my bedroom wall. It’s been there
for years. It’s an inspiration to me. I’d want to
sit down and have an absinthe with Vincent.
CC: Many actors have expressed how their
work has kept them from a therapist’s couch.
Does that make sense to you?
KB: The roles I’ve played have all strung
together to create an emotional and a spiritual
path that I could not have predicted, so maybe
I can agree with that. Quoting an amazing
author I worked with in New York, Athol
Fugard: “The journey of the artist is a solitary
one.” Deep in my heart, I’ve known this to be
true. Every artist must make his own way. To
be able to step into some of these wonderful
roles, it’s like repeating a mantra, and that
mantra works on your soul as you’re attempt-
ing to discover the soul of this character you’re
playing. It changes you.
CC: Maybe your work is so resonant
because you connect so deeply with the characters you play.
KB: When you’re working on a role, it’s a
road of compassion. What you’re trying to do
as an actor is to embody someone else’s heart.
You have to really find your compassion, find
the character’s shoes and walk in them so that
an audience can do the same thing. That’s creating connection and compassion. We all want
to understand what’s going on in another
human being, and acting is one way to do that.
CC: What’s something we’d be surprised
to know about Woody Allen?
KB: I’ve worked with him two times in 20
years, and I have to say, he still remains utterly
enigmatic to me. My enduring image of him
was on the Midnight set in this cramped, hot
apartment in Paris. He was neatly dressed,
khaki pants, long-sleeve summer shirt, those
iconic eyeglasses, sitting on an upended apple
box with his thumbs together, very contemplatively, waiting for the camera to be set. He
appeared to be conserving energy and very
focused, but I don’t know on what or what he
was thinking. I just watched him for a long
time. I couldn’t tell you what was going on
inside of him. Who could? He’s brilliant,
brilliant, and so very, very funny. Maybe that’s
DECEMBER 2011 ;e Costco Connection 45
J. Rentilly is a Los Angeles–based writer.