A star is torn
Liza Minnelli‘s latest movie. Stepping ()ut. marks a significant attempt to re-establish a sliding screen career. TrevorJohnston braves her suite at the Savoy to find out whether life's still a cabaret for the quintessential showbiz baby. Even superstars get the jitters. Sinking into a
voluminous hotel chair. shoes off. legs tucked under her body. a black-clad Liza Minnelli is
taking such an almighty drag on a cigarette that
you fear it might just get sucked down her throat. A well-nourished ashtray. variously emptied cups of tea and half a plate ofdigestive biscuits point to
f a busy morning's round of interviews— day two ofa schedule euphemistically described by the PR
1 handlers as ‘heavy'. Liza is here in London to talk
: and talk and talk. the product in question being
Stepping ()lll. veteran British director Lewis Gilbert's film adaptation of the long-running London and Broadway stage success.
l Iere she plays down-at-heel tap teacher Mavis 'l'urner. whose weekly session in a local church hall brings together all manner of social misfits. from would-be hooters to downtrodden housewives and the shyest of bachelors. It‘s an old-fashoned entertainment. unashamed to pile on the sentiment with a big production number at the end that resonates with memories of the Hollywood spectaculars of decades gone by — fittineg so. given the famed Minnelli lineage.
Good-hearted. more than a little obvious. it‘s probably safe to say that Stepping Out is an audience-plcascr rather than a critic‘s movie and. as the British press are among the first to see it (for once. an American studio movie will be opening in London rather than LA). Liza‘s concern is fairly understandable. ('ertainly a hit film would not go amiss. for although recent live performances have packed out New York's Radio City Music I lall. and her recorded collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys saw her back in the album charts. earlier memorable performances in a string ofclassic movies have. since the onset of the 80s. been succeeded by clinker like the straight-to-video Burt Reynolds ‘thriller' Rentucop.
“I‘hc happiest film I've ever done. bar nonc‘. is the star's own assessment of Stepping ()ul. Those
3 big Bambi eyes widen even more and. as if
someone's just turned a light switch on. her face I brightens and she gushes forth a not entirely l unexpected splash of promo patter. ‘Like the characters themselves. we all had to learn to tap dance. We did eight hours a day for three weeks. and believe me. that's a bonding experience!
There were so many of us and we had to stick together to make it work. and I think some of that really shows on screen.‘
Sure. it's another role to be played. another set of lines to be delivered. but you do get some inkling ofthe sock-‘em-in-thc-aisles persona ofthe all-singing. all-dancing trouper that‘s such a part of what she does.
ller best roles. unquestionably her Oscar-winning Sally Bowles in (tiburet and the even more demanding part. the big-band chanteuse whose marriage to saxophonist Robert De Niro goes sour in New York. New York. have tapped her strengths by casting her as a singer but allowed her to make quite affecting the contrast between the performer's brash exterior and a more rarely glimpsed private vulnerability. L'nder questioning. she shies away from discussing the emotional implications ofsuch parts. instead remembering songwriter Fred Ebb‘s initial joke title The Nifty Nazi Follies when stage director l lal Prince catne up with the concept for (ti/Mire! in the first place. oroffering herown intelligent analysis of why the Scorsese picture never seemed to get the recognition from public and critics it undoubtedly deserved. ‘Audiences were expecting this wonderful kinda Hollywood light musical and it wasn't that. It was an underground film. It was a film about musicians.‘
Stepping ()lll has little of the insight offered by such illustrious celluloid predecessors. but you can see why the notion of playing a woman who‘s almost given tip on herselfyet pulls through when she rediscovers just how much her art means to her could appeal to someone like Liza. lt's undeniably
a curious experience to sit opposite her as a journalist and know the sort of stuff about her personal life that one would prefer not to have exposed in the public domain. lcould‘ve asked her about the travails ofgt‘owing tip with a suicidal mother addicted to booze and pills. about her three failed marriages. about a series of miscarriages. about her ow n struggle against alcohol and drug abuse. but it all would have seemed unduly cruel and undoubtedly have elicited only a frosty response.
Still. while she lights up anothercigarette and gropes for the right angle to approach a query about the effects of ‘growing up in public". you do end tip admiring her resilience and her ability to turn on the sincerity in the most profoundly artificial surroundings. ‘l‘m a worker. ‘l‘hat‘s what l like doing best. l don't worry about being a superstar. I don't know what that means. I like the rehearsal process and I like working. 'l'hat's fun for me. the otherstuffis tough. lhate that. It's hard to sit here and talk. This makes me nervous.
‘I was born and somebody took my picture. That‘s the way it‘s been since. I think I’m lucky in that I didn't go into shock about it later in life. Probably it’s made me more resilient btit also it's fun being able to do what you want to do. And when it does get a little bit hairy. you just remember that you're doing what you want to do. If all the other business is a part of it. then ultimately that‘s()l\'.'
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