By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Shirley MacLaine, the venerable Oscar winning actress and bestselling author, has traveled the world for work and pleasure throughout her six-decade career, but she dreads flying these days.
“The thing that’s made a difference in my adult life lately is TSA; these are truly thugs standing around, if you ask me,” she says in her straightforward way. “That has dampened my enjoyment about traveling.”
At 80, the divorced Virginia native is still the saucy spitfire she was when she was 20 and making her big screen debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Trouble With Harry.” Her beliefs in reincarnation, UFOs and New Age spirituality used to make some nonbelievers snicker. Now, MacLaine’s views seem almost mainstream in comparison to other celebrities’ out-there philosophies.
Feisty in an endearing way, MacLaine sits down for an interview on a patio at a tony Beverly Hills hotel to discuss her newest film “Elsa & Fred,” a romantic dramedy, in which she stars opposite fellow Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”). The two previously co-starred in the 2007 U.K. drama “Closing the Ring.”
In this adaptation of an Argentinean film, Plummer plays recent widower Fred, who moves into a New Orleans apartment complex at the insistence of his overbearing daughter (Marcia Gay Harden). Grumpy and disengaged with life, he remains in his bed most of the day, tended to by a maid. Then he meets his next-door neighbor Elsa (MacLaine), who claims to have lost her husband years earlier. Michael Radford (“Il Postino: The Postman”) co-wrote and directs this version.
As Fred soon finds out, the outgoing Elsa is a chronic liar, and not being a widow is just one of her many secrets. Elsa doesn’t mean harm by her tall tales. She simply lives in a fantasy world where she aspires to be the central character in the 1960 Italian dramedy “La Dolce Vita.” When Fred, who has come out of his funk thanks to Elsa’s company, discovers her lies, he comes to embrace them as part of her unique personality. He whisks her off to Rome, where she can finally live out the dream of recreating a pivotal scene from the Federico Fellini film at the Trevi fountain with him before it’s too late.