Magnetic actress Geraldine Page. has 36 years ofstage and screen roles behind her. Her career has been honoured with two Emmys. numerous theatrical awards. and eight Oscar nominations. Strange then. that even after her recent Oscar for Trip to Bountiful. Geraldine exudes about as much grand off-stage presence. as
the ‘bag-lady' she was once assumed to be.
Singer and actress. Cher. who confessed to the mistake. adds that she then ‘looked up and saw that she was a legend.‘ For all that. the first impression ofeccentrically comfortable clothes and undisciplined long brown hair is surprising.
'l'he soft-spoken actress herselfis : not troubled by life’s incongruities. [ ‘Mainly people are gathering things I together from several areas. My mind works the other way. . . I’m always looking for the differences.‘ 1 she drawls. It is a remark she makes when opting out ofplaying ‘spot the trend in American film-making.‘ but it also sheds some light on her acting feats. particularly in Trip to I Bountiful. A young bl in grey jeans and over-shirt Geraldine says she has been playing old women since she was 17. As (‘arrie Watts she plays one so well. that one can hardly imagine the actress herselfto be anything other than a hymn-singing OAP But what makes the portrayal convincing. is the differences she has observed between old age as seen in the popular imagination. and old age as it actually is. Page’s Mother Watts. is for instance. unaffectedly flirtatious. and even after all these years. an angry young woman. disappointed in love. ‘It’sa I traditional mistake in thinking of ; older women. that all that type of appetite’s gone. . . With all those old i chestnuts in comedy. . . you can start ; to think it‘s true.’
But Geraldine disclaims that the multi-faceted character was all her i own invention. The play was premiered on television in 1953 with Lillian Gish pioneering the role of the old woman who escapes from her daughter-in-law’s cramped urban household to rediscover her home town. Geraldine was disconcerted but characteristically not put off by
the Lillian Gish version she had seen. ‘I’m very greedy and no matter what it is I think I can do it’ she states. ‘I was worried at the beginning because Lillian is a very wiry little person and he emphasises in the writing that she is all energy wound up. . . and I thought ‘here am I. my corpulent self— a whole different person.’ ‘In order to transform the part Geraldine simply turned back to Horton Foote’s
‘beautiful’ script. ‘I just decided to
see what possibilities there were and
it opened up in all directions.’
Now. literally squirming with pleasure at the memory of that rewarding treasure hunt she says: ‘Wouldn’t anyone in their right
. minds want to tackle that great. great part'.’ It is very demanding because E’s an opportunity to do everything
in the world. It’s so well rounded. it includes almost everything.’
2 The List 13 — lo June
BETWEEN THE LINES
Stephanie Billen talks to veteran actress, Geraldine
Page whose work has at last been recognised with
an Oscar for her part
Mrs. Watts is probably the largest on screen part that Geraldine Page has ever undertaken but she is ‘extremely fond‘ ofall her roles irrespective ofsize. She stole the show in the film. The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984). as an Irish mother. ‘It was a magnificent role though it was only two little scenes. I told all my friends not to drop their' gloves. or go and buy popcorn. or they‘d miss me,’ she chuckles.
She is particularly fond ofolder parts. ‘I love them. . . there is so much more stuffin them. . . Maybe it’s sour grapes that I don’t get cast as the ingenue . . .‘ One of her earliest parts was as a drunken movie star twenty years older than herselfin Sweet Bird of Youth opposite Paul Newman in the 1962 film. In complete contrast. she gave her most austerely unlike herselfperformance as E.G. Marshall’s suicidal wife in Woody Allen’s Interiors.
Her opinions of the Hollywood greats with whom she has worked are unpredictable to say the least. She has called James Dean. remembered from an early stage play. The lmmortalist. ‘a stitch‘. but says of
The Trip to Bountiful r .43“ >4
Woody Allen, ‘He’s no sense of humour.’ As director, Woody was ‘tyrannical’ and. worse. ‘inarticulate.’ Yet, ‘In the end, [gave him some of my best work - when it boiled down to what he was trying to do.’ The problem in fact. was Page doing too much. as Woody tried to explain. Geraldine’s little girl voice takes on a MacEnroe-esque peevishness: ‘I’d say, ‘How can you say that; I’m not doing anything.‘ I’d feel like a little onion, all layered and artificed. and I’d look in a mirror and take offa layer. . . and he’d say: ‘No, you’re still coming on like an interior decorator in a movie‘. Eventually she realised he just wanted ‘the line from the personality.’ ‘the truth of it’. and the performance fell into place.
In fact. Geraldine’s acting is regularly criticised for being over-fussy. In Trip to Bountiful. where Mrs. Watts is a constant irritation to her daughter-in-law, this is particularly appropriate. But to an extent. fidgeting is a Geraldine characteristic anyway. She is scarcely aware of talking with two hairpins in her mouth as she gestures
to put up her hair mid interview . . .
Naturally unselfconscious, Geraldine seems also to be happy. She has the stability ofover twenty years of marriage to actor Rip Tom, who took over from Paul Newman in the Broadway version of Sweet Bird of Youth. And, back in the States, amid New York’s changing skyline , she has her Manhattan brownstone, with its rooftop garden. With Page-like presumption, it just ‘grew up'. after they ‘hauled a whole bunch ofdirt onto it.’
Unlike her latest character, Geraldine has no desire to go ‘Home’. She was born in Missouri, but grew up in the Chicago of the Depression, an experience she dismisses in one word as ‘traumatic.’ Her search for expression took her from music to acting and the Goodman Institute. ‘I was lucky, because every movie I ever went to see was in New York, so when I finally got there, I knew where everything was. I felt much more at home there than I ever did at Chicago. . . Chicago has this beautiful strip along the shore; everything after that’s hideous.’
Geraldine remembers being maddened by John Wayne’s taunting growl during the filming of Honda in 1953, that ‘a woman’s place is in the home.’ In fact, Page proved most ‘at home’ wherever she was working, be it on stage or film set. She won her first Oscar nomination for Honda, and since then has earned directors’ respect as much for her dedication as for her sensitive acting. For Bountiful, she worked budget-conscious 18-hour days. At the time it felt terrific, ‘pure joy’, but afterwards she fell ill, collapsing and spending two weeks at New York Hospital for treatment of high blood pressure earlier this year. She had in fact spent 18 months travelling Europe, shooting five films, appearing off-Broadway in four plays, including The Madwoman of Chaillot, and Sam Shepard’s new four-hour play, A Lie ofthe Mind. She was also giving acting lessons at Manhattan’s Pelican Theatre School.
For all that, she claims: ‘For me, working in new places is a holiday.’ A small part in White Nights, took her to Scotland. Though on location not far from Glasgow, she had the impression that it was ‘way up in the North,’ and was impressed both by the beauty of ‘all that purple wild flower’, and the fact that she had never been so cold in August before.
This month, Geraldine is off to Paris to shoot a tv film, The Beatte Karlsfeld Story, about an old woman with a tragic past in a concentration camp. Needless to say, there are many more ‘holidays’ to consider after that. With Geraldine’s pleasure in life growing every day, it is no surprise to hear she’s not ready for nostalgia. For the untidy minded woman with a hunger for parts, ‘Life
just gets more and more wonderful with associations that multiply from their longevity.’
A Trip to Bountiful opens at the A BC, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow on Fri 20 June.