IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mary Steenburgen Talks 'Last Vegas' and 'Bored to Death' Movie

Monday, 28 October 2013 10:13 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mary Steenburgen Talks 'Last Vegas' and 'Bored to Death' Movie

Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen is one of the most accomplished actresses of her generation!

Steenburgen first gained attention for her work in the cult classic film Time After Time, but it was her performance in director Jonathan Demme’s Melvin and Howard that earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She went on to star in Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Ron Howard’s Parenthood, Robert ZemeckisBack to the Future Part III, Lasse Hallstrom’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and Oliver Stone’s Nixon. More recently she has appeared in such films as Elf, Step Brothers, The Proposal, Dirty Girl, and The Help, as well as on the TV series 30 Rock, and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bored to Death opposite her real life husband Ted Danson. Now Steenburgen returns to the big screen along with fellow Oscar-winners Michael Douglas (Wall Street), Robert De Niro (Raging Bull), Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me), and Kevin Kline (Darling Companion) in Last Vegas, which opens in theaters on November 1st. 

Last Vegas was directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure), and written by Dan Fogleman (The Guilt Trip). The film revolves around three sixty-something friends (De Niro, Freeman, and Kline) who take a break from their day-to-day lives to throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas for their last remaining single pal (Douglas). Steenburgen plays Diane, an older woman who relocates to Las Vegas to follow her dream of being a lounge singer and meets the four out-of-towners. In addition to the five Academy Award-winners, the film also features performances from Jerry Ferrara (HBO’s Entourage), Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (Freelancers), Michael Ealy (Takers), and Romany Malco (The 40-Year-Old Virgin). 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Mary Steenburgen about her work on Last Vegas, as well as the upcoming Bored to Death movie. The Oscar-winning actress discussed her new film, working with her four legendary co-stars, their acting process, her songwriting career, facing her fears and singing in the movie, collaborating with director Jon Turteltaub, the planned Bored to Death film, and if she will reprising her role from the series.

Here is what Mary Steenburgen had to say about Last Vegas and the Bored to Death movie: 

IAR: To begin with, let me ask you the most obvious question about Last Vegas. As an Oscar-winner yourself, what was it like working with fellow Oscar-winners Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline? They are unarguably four of the greatest actors alive!

Mary Steenburgen: They were all guys that I had on my “fantasy work with someday” list. 

Had you ever worked with any of them before?

Steenburgen: I had only worked with Kevin. We had about two scenes together and it was very brief in a movie called Life as a House, which actually came out right after 9/11. So a lot of people didn’t see the movie, but Kevin is really brilliant in it. Our scenes together were very brief so it felt like I barely worked with him. I had never worked with any of the others and they had never worked with each other. I don’t know how that happened, but they never had. They were legends to me but on our very first day of the read through, about one minute into the read through they became my peers, my buddies and my fellow actors. The guys included me and it felt like The Rat Pack. They treated me with this very sweet respect, but also like one of the guys, which is exactly how I love to be treated by men. We had so much fun together and we would sit kind of huddled together. If there was an overview of us we looked like this little island and on all four sides of us were people taking pictures and waving. It was this crazy circus in Vegas and we were this little island of actors in the middle of it. At our age, having a job that feels good, and that you have a good feeling about the script, the director, and each other is amazing. At this age you’re not thinking about your next job, you’re not thinking about what’s going on somewhere else, or is this person getting more scenes, or a better costume, or whatever the hell people worry about when they’re young. We were just drinking in the moment. I think that’s one of the not so nice things about being this age, which is that you know when you’re lucky. You know when to count your blessings and I think everyone of us did. 

Besides Mr. Kline, had you ever met any of the other actors socially in the past or was this the first time that you were meeting them?

Steenburgen: I had met each one of them very briefly at various events but no more than to just say hello. That was it. I really feel like I made friends with people I respect and care about. 

Most of your scenes in the film are with Mr. Douglas and Mr. De Niro. Can you talk about working with both of them, their approach as actors, and how that may be similar or different from your own?

Steenburgen: Our approaches are very similar actually. What’s true about both of them … I mean they’re very different men. All four of the guys couldn’t be more different from each other, but at the same time at the end of the day there is just tremendous respect for the craft of acting, what we do and a professionalism that existed among all of us. It was great. Nobody was like, “I’m so and so, and I get to come in late.” It wasn’t like that! Everybody was a pro. Michael knew that I was terrified of singing, and that was a huge challenge for me. I was really working hard at it but it was a wonderful challenge. I was excited about it, but it was very new for me. I write music, I’ve written music quietly for the last seven years. If you watched the piece about me that aired on CBS This Morning, it was the first time I’ve really publicly talked about my story in music and what happened to me, but also the fact that I write for Universal Studios. One of the songs in the movie I wrote is “Cup of Trouble,” which I sang. However, the other three standards were these beautiful songs that were all challenging and I wanted to do right by them for the movie. Michael was the one that really understood that the most, and was so encouraging and sweet to me about it. Acting with him was such a pleasure. He makes every single word that comes out of his mouth sound like he is improvising. But in fact he’s doing the script. It’s so real and so grounded in who he is that you believe him. Then with Bob, I remember having a moment with him on one of my first days of work. I’m looking at him and once again there’s ten people deep behind him taking pictures and waving. Then I shifted my eyes back and looked into his eyes. When I looked at him, he’s so connected as an actor to you in that moment. He’s so there, so present and it’s like playing tennis with him, not against him. You’re going to be better because he’s so present and suddenly all those people behind him didn’t exist at all. That’s the mark of a great actor and I’m so blessed to have worked with him. 

You mentioned your passion for music, and your singing is absolutely lovely in the film. Was that aspect of the script and this role one of the things that really drew you to this project? Were you excited to have an opportunity to sing on screen? 

Steenburgen: Yes, I was probably more excited as a songwriter and terrified as a singer because I haven’t sung very much. When we write for Universal we’re writing for other artists. We just did a song with Tim McGraw a couple of days ago and we’re writing for all kinds of artists. We write for movies and things like that. So as a songwriter I was excited to write for the movie, but then I also had to sing and I was really scared of it. I worked really hard. I worked with a vocal coach and I practiced every second I could. The biggest part of something like that, or anything in life that you had told yourself that you can’t do, is that it is a mental game of staring down your fear. I wanted to do that and I liked doing it. I feel like if you’re not doing that throughout your life then little bits of you die off. So certainly by age 60, a lot of you would’ve died off and I didn’t want that to happen. I’ve constantly tried to ask new things of myself and say yes more than I say no. I knew I was going to do it, I knew I wanted to do it, but there’s certainly moments along the way that I doubted myself, but I didn’t let that stop me. 

Can you talk about working with director Jon Turteltaub and as an actor, what are you looking for from a director when you’re on set?

Steenburgen: I think the very biggest myth about directors is that they’re whispering these brilliant inspirational things in our ears. I think the biggest truth about great directors and what they have in common, and I’ve worked with a lot of great directors thankfully, is that they create an environment where you can fly and where it’s safe for you to fly. They’re your safety net and they’re there for you. They’ve got your back and if you feel that they are there to help you, then you’re going to be braver. You’re going to ask more of yourself and you’re going to give more to yourself. Just the creation of that environment in itself is direction to me. If there’s something to say to us that we need to be told, I want them to say it because I personally liked being directed. I don’t like to watch myself. That’s terrifying to me. So I like hearing from the director. I would say that what Jon Turteltaub did more than anything was to create an environment where we all felt like we belonged there. We were excited to be there. He heard us and if there were anything we didn’t understand he would address it. He was a very brilliant ringmaster for the circus that we were all a part of.

Finally, I loved Bored to Death and I thought both you and your husband (Ted Danson) were terrific on the show. Is it true that they are working on a film version and will you be a part of that?

Steenburgen: I love that show too. I’m still not resigned to the fact that it’s over. But yes, they are actually writing a Bored to Death movie for HBO. So I’ll get a little fix of it. I don’t know if I’ll be in it, but I’ll at least get to watch it and that’ll make me happy because I love those three guys (Danson, Jason Schwartzman, and Zach Galifianakis) together. They’re just so much fun. It’s one of my favorite things Ted’s ever done. 

Last Vegas opens in theaters on November 1st. 

Bored to Death the movie is currently in development. 

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