Friday, July 12, 2013

Reverend's Interview: Girl Power

It took several weeks, publicists on two different coasts and a persistent writer to get four of the most talented women (including an out lesbian comedian) working in film, stage and TV today together for one conference call interview. The occasion? Their new movie The Hot Flashes, which is arrives in theaters today.

Wanda Sykes, Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah and Camryn Manheim play former high-school classmates who reunite in their mid-40’s to form a basketball team. They do so in the hope of winning a local tournament’s cash prize and saving their late friend’s mobile breast cancer clinic. Virginia Madsen and Eric Roberts also star, and the film is directed by Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan, Making Mr. Right, She-Devil). It is hilarious, heartfelt and, most significantly during a special-effects dominated season, human.

While I scrambled to keep up with their conversation, it was immediately apparent that Manheim (who hails from Long Beach and whose parents still live there), Sykes, Hannah and Shields developed a strong bond while working on the movie, which is set in Texas but was primarily shot in New Orleans. Sykes and Manheim struck me as particularly close, with Manheim referring to herself as “Wanda’s wrangler” while they were working in the Big Easy. Here’s what else the ladies had to say…

What was the experience making this film like for each of you?
Manheim: It was life-changing in many ways. We came down to make a movie about a human issue, a women’s issue. I think we all got sucked in by the message. Then you’ve got five strong women, five women in our (ahem) 40’s, and we bonded on so many issues and became this incredible group of women who took over New Orleans for two months.
Sykes: I agree. We became a team on and off the court, and we all became drinking buddies!
Shields: It’s a rarity to have women together where there was no ego. It was a celebration of women, with our age and life experiences. We were able to celebrate our differences and were equal pieces of the puzzle. We didn’t fit into one category but we all got along so well.
Manheim: I want to second that. We all got to be who we distinctly were. Daryl would literally talk to the animals!
Sykes: Funny story: One day, there was this huge bug on the car’s dashboard and someone said, “Kill it before Daryl adopts it!” (Laughter)
Shields: Daryl (who plays an initially-closeted lesbian in the film) is amazing when it comes to animals and was always like, “I’m swimming with the dolphins and running with the wolves!”
Hannah: I’m not quite that woo-woo. (All laugh.) It was (A) great to learn how to play basketball finally and (B) I just loved getting to see these ladies every day. New Orleans wasn’t that bad either.
Sykes: It’s such a weird thing in our society and especially in the entertainment industry that older women are not celebrated more.

Was this story particularly personal for any of you regarding the topic of breast cancer, either your own or a family member’s or friend’s?
Sykes: Yeah, I have new boobs night now.
Shields: And they are pretty too!
Sykes: Actually, while we were filming I delayed surgery to have my real fake boobs put in.
Hannah: While we were making the film, my best friend was having a lumpectomy and then had to have a mastectomy.
Sykes: Early detection is the biggest key to prevention.
Shields: All of us are women who are trying to make a difference in the world, and to have fun making a movie with an important message was so rare and so great.

Daryl, regarding your lesbian character, did you have any particular lesbian role models? And what was working with Wanda, who is out, like for you?
Hannah: It was interesting to me because none of my lesbian friends are so afraid of being out (as this character is). I had to think back to when some of my friends were more closeted. Obviously, some people still have to struggle with their comfort level. It was kind of sweet how (her character’s) friends were more accepting of her than she was of herself.
Shields: There was a sense of ownership and pride with all the women in the film. I had to find the courage to divorce my husband. Wanda’s character is running for mayor.
Sykes: I was trying to get the title of “lesbian consultant” on the film, but Camryn told me she knows way more lesbians than I do. (All laugh.) It was sweet how Daryl’s character was handled in the film and how the other women protected her.

Would any of you say this movie has particular meaning or a message for LGBT viewers?
Sykes: Acceptance. We all accepted and celebrated each other as we were. And also to say it’s never too late. When I came out I was 45 or something, so it’s never too late.
Shields: Yeah, there is something to say about acceptance and the freedom to be who you are. I think this is across the board in the film and not just applied to the gay and lesbian community.
Manheim: We were the group of merry pranksters in New Orleans.
Sykes: Ask Camryn about how she greased the pole. (All laugh.)
Shields: No, you can’t print that! (Laughing.) I must say, though, that you haven’t lived until you’ve gotten kicked out of a casino with Wanda.

Had any of you worked with the great Susan Seidelman before this film? What was working with her like?
Shields: I don’t think any of us had worked with her before.
Sykes: That’s right, none of us.
Manheim: It was great to have a woman director, and one who let us be the posse we became. Some directors are threatened when their cast gets too close.
Sykes: That’s why I got kicked out of the casino. It was our director encouraging our bonding (laughs).

For more information about The Hot Flashes, visit the film's official website.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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