mkp-posterBrett Haley’s poignant, funny, and beautifully acted film, I’ll See You in My Dreams, tells the story of Carol (Blythe Danner), a widow in her 70s who is struggling to make sense of her increasingly isolated life. She enjoys spending time with her three close friends (Mary Kay Place, Rhea Perlman, and June Squibb) but hasn’t dated since her husband died years ago. When the death of her beloved dog rattles Carol’s routine, she tries to reconnect with her daughter (Malin Akerman) and soon finds herself involved with two very different men — Bill (Sam Elliott), a man her age who lives in the moment, and her much younger pool cleaner, Lloyd (Martin Starr), who, like Carol, is struggling to find his purpose. Through these new relationships, Carol confronts her fears about love, family, and aging, and she begins to adopt a new outlook on this later phase of life.

It is always a joy to see Mary Kay Place on the screen. I first fell in love with her when she played country singer Loretta Haggers on Norman Lear’s hilarious and provocative Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in the mid-1970s. Place has had memorable roles in many films over the years including Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York, and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker. She has appeared in many excellent television series including Tales of the City, My So-Called Life, The West Wing, and Big Love. I sat down with her to discuss her role as Blythe Danner’s friend Rona in I’ll See You in My Dreams.

Danny Miller: Mary Kay, I was watching Grace and Frankie last night, the new Jane Fonda/Lily Tomlin series on Netflix, and was thrilled to see you pop up in an episode. Between that series and this movie, dare I hope that we’ll be seeing more of the magnificent actors of your generation? It’s like a “taste of honey” — now I want more, more, more!

mkp-junerheaMary Kay Place: You know, Danny, I’m just so grateful to still be working in films and TV shows that move me! Yes, of course I would love to do more of them and to have a lead part and all that but I’m really grateful that I’m still actively engaged in this process of storytelling. And the fact that I get to do a movie like this every so often is very satisfying to my soul. That may sound pretentious but the process of making this movie was such a joy.

Everyone connected to this film has been saying that it was one of the best experiences they’ve had on a movie in a long time.  

Look, it was $1.59 film so it wasn’t about the salary —it was about the satisfaction of the process. We had so much fun, I loved every second of it. And again, at this point in my life I’m grateful to still have these opportunities. Believe me, I have many friends who are perfectly brilliant actors who don’t work that much or they get a really bad sitcom to do. And that would not interest me at all, to be honest. I don’t even think I’d know how to do it.

Does that mean you turn a lot of stuff down?

I turn down stuff that I can’t understand how to play as a real human being. I can’t do sitcom stick figures. But I’ve been so lucky to work on such great material over the course of my career.

It’s interesting that someone as young as Brett Haley could write such authentic characters who are this age. Were there ever moments where you or the others stopped and said, “Hmm, I’m not sure my character would respond in this way?”

No, never. It was beautifully written from the get-go and there was never a moment of feeling that something was false or askew. But, you know, I think if there had been, Brett would have changed it in a heartbeat because he was not precious about anything. He also has a very good ear for any dialogue that sounds forced or shoehorned in. But his script was free of all that.


This is such a killer ensemble. Did you already know a lot of these folks?

I knew Blythe and her family socially. Rhea, too. And I had met June briefly because Alexander Payne and that group are friends of mine. But I had never worked with any of them. I remember once I had been asked to work on a series that Blythe’s husband, Bruce, was doing but it was in New York and I couldn’t go because I was working on something else. So this was our first time working together and it was just fantastic. And for an independent film with that budget, I have to say it was beautifully produced. The two women producers had everything perfectly organized — you never got to set and things were missing or they didn’t have the right equipment. It was a very smooth production even though we shot it in so short a period of time.

marykay-cdWhen I heard that Blythe was singing in the film, I was hoping that you’d have a musical number as well! I have both of your albums and I still know every song on them by heart, we listen to them all the time. In fact, I digitized them myself before they were re-released on CD a few years ago.

Oh my God, you’re kidding! I would love to sing again professionally, it’s been quite a while even though I still enjoy singing in my kitchen. I actually started writing some new songs a few years ago but then my Dad got sick — he passed away in January — and I’ve been going back and forth to Tulsa a lot to take care of him and now to deal with our family home. But I’ll get back to it.

mkp-snlI don’t think I’ve seen it since it first aired over 35 years ago but I loved when you hosted Saturday Night Live and also sang on the show with Willie Nelson. There are lines from that episode that I still repeat regularly!

Oh, that was terrifying to do but so much fun.

And that came right off your stint on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

You know, I just watched a bunch of those for the first time in years. I have that giant box set they have out now. It was very interesting to revisit that show all these years later — Norman Lear was a genius!

I was thrilled to see you in that role on Grace and Frankie last night and I remember hearing about an HBO series you were doing with Tomlin a few years ago. Whatever happened with that?  

Arrrgh! 12 Miles of Bad Road! Oh, Danny, it was brilliant. We did six episodes that never aired. It was made just before a new regime came to HBO and it was very expensive to produce because it was about rich people in Dallas. Who knows — maybe by the grace of God it will come out at some point. It was SO funny.

mkp-newyorknewyorkOne movie that I’ve always been curious about, Mary Kay, is Scorsese’s New York, New York. You were wonderful in it as Bernice but it seemed like your original part was much bigger than what we saw in the finished film. 

Yes, it was, but I think the first cut of the movie was over four hours long! Marty was really into improvising back then. It was amazing as a young actress to be improvising — with Robert DeNiro, no less! That was like a dream come true. I can’t even tell you how many scenes we did that never made it into the film. My character was having an affair with his character but most of that stuff was cut because you can’t improvise until the cows come home and then expect it all to be in the film — there was just WAY too much footage.

Do you think that footage exists somewhere?

Probably. I know Marty did an extended version that came out later but, of course, I wasn’t part of the core story which was about Liza and Bobby. The fact that I even got to shoot those scenes was a miracle because  they were way out of proportion to the main story. Believe me, that would never happen today, all of that would have been cut before any camera started rolling. But it was a lot of fun to do!

I still remember your rendition of “Blue Moon” from that film. I loved it!

Oh God, I had to record that at seven in the morning without warming up at all, it was crazy. But because Bernice wasn’t supposed to sing that well, I thought, “Okay, why not?”