The Exclusive Interview
New York City – She scared the bejesus out of you in her Best Actress, Academy Award winning role as Annie Wilkes in the adaptation of Stephen King’s "Misery."
The next year, Bates was the shoulder that Jessica Tandy’s Ninny Threadgoode could cry on in "Fried Green Tomatoes," a film that landed Tandy an Oscar nomination, but that failed to recognize Bates acting genius. "There was room for only one of us [to be nominated] from that movie ["Fried Green Tomatoes"] that year," recalls Bates, fondly, of the late Jessica Tandy, "and they picked the right person to nominate, for sure. Jessica was a cinematic treasure and it was a huge shame that it took until 1990 for her to get her first Academy Award nomination, let alone win – at the age of eighty-one. She had been in movies, and was a damn good actress, since the early 1930s." (Tandy won Best Actress for her first Oscar nomination in "Driving Miss Daisy.")
I mention the conversation that comes up about Bates and Tandy because it paints a perfect picture of the versatile actress. Other than Meryl Streep, Kathy Bates may be the only living actress capable of perfecting any role she is handed, and yet at the same time maintain her everyday, lady-next-door charm.
Bates is a woman two years shy of sixty, who while very conscious of her looks – she was dressed immaculately, in a black pant suit, and slimmed down – is a far cry from the "Hollywood" leading lady.
"How many roles are there, really, for actresses over thirty-five, especially if they are not fifty pounds underweight," laughs Bates, when the question about why she hasn’t been on the big screen much lately comes up.
While Bates has not been on the screen since the 1930s, she had been around for more than twenty years before her first Oscar nomination and ultimate win for "Misery" in 1991. "It’s hard to believe that was sixteen years ago," reflects Bates. (Those Oscars are a tricky game. Tandy won in 1990 for "Driving Miss Daisy," which was released in theaters in 1989. Bates won in 1991 for "Misery," which was released in theaters in 1990.)
O.K. Quick. Since winning Best Actress for "Misery," Kathy Bates has been nominated two more times. For which two movies was she given the honor? "Titanic," where she played the unsinkable Molly Brown? For the role in another Stephen King classic adaptation, "Dolores Claiborne?" For her role as lesbian Libby Holden in "Primary Colors?" For the role of Adam Sandler’s mother in "The Waterboy?" For her role as the fat and naked Roberta Hertzel, opposite Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt?"
Well, if you guessed both "Primary Colors" and "About Schmidt" you’d be correct!
"For whatever reason, after my Oscar win for ‘Misery,’ my face in Hollywood got recognized and casting directors came calling to my agent. Maybe they were afraid if they didn’t offer me a role every so often they would end up like Jimmy Caan did in ‘Misery.’ Who knows," she chuckles. "But for twenty years before ‘Misery,’ I couldn’t get arrested in Hollywood.
"In addition," adds Bates, cracking up, "I think I was the only actress who told the producers that I didn’t give a shit about taking off my clothes and showing my fat ass and my sagging tits and everything else to the whole world, when I auditioned for ‘About Schmidt." I think the Academy gave me a nomination for that one so that I would never take off my clothes on camera again."
Even though, Bates lost out to Catherine Zeta-Jones that year, who won for "Chicago," and before Kirstie Alley’s "Fat Actress," fat women around the world embraced Bates as a champion. "I got so many letters from large women who thanked me so much for taking it all off, and showing the world that there is nothing to be embarrassed about if you’re not a size zero, and more importantly, that most women, even actresses, are far from a size zero."
From 1971 until "Misery," Bates appeared in a number of modestly successful films, but never as leading lady, hardly anything more than a walk on. The bulk of her earnings came from appearing on Broadway and on high profile television drams. She was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in 1983’s "night, Mother." And the role of Frankie, in "Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune" was written by Terrence McNally, especially for Kathy Bates. However, the role in the big screen version went to Michelle Pfeiffer. "Big surprise, there," laughs Bates. "What would Hollywood want with a middle-aged fat lady, even though that is who the role was written for?"
In fact, in the late 70s, Bates auditioned for the role of Janet Wood, but lost out to Joyce DeWitt. She says she was relieved she didn’t get the role because after thinking about the commitment of a weekly television show, she had had second thoughts.
The year is now 2006 and Kathleen Doyle Bates couldn’t be happier. She appeared in the first box office smash of the year, "Failure to Launch," as Matthew McConaughey’s mother. "And I got to play the wife of Terry Bradshaw. I almost shit when I heard that he was offered the role of Matthew’s father and as my husband. I didn’t think he had ever acted. But any reservations I may have had were quickly squashed," she reveals, "when we read our first lines. He is not only a natural in front of the camera. He is one of the most genuine people I have ever worked with. Even with four Super Bowl rings, and all that testosterone, the man is so down-to-earth and loveable." Right then, Bradshaw walks into the room and Bates stands up to give him a big hug. "I heard that," he says to me. "I paid her to say that."
The $90 million box office success of "Failure To Launch" surprised a lot of people, especially the majority of movie critics who panned the film. However, on the other hand, praise for both Bates and Bradshaw’s acting in the film was abundant.
Both "Failure To Launch" and the 15th Anniversary Edition of "Fried Green Tomatoes" hit DVD stores this month and are already, before their releases, selling briskly on both www..com and www.bn.com.
Bates, who directed a number of episodes of HBO’s smash "Six Feet Under," which she was "very happy to be part of," is at work directing her first feature film, "Have Mercy."
"It’s just a little film, but I am proud of it, and maybe when it’s in the can and ready for release we will talk again," she says.
I certainly hope so!
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