Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen: Book Clubbers

August 20, 2018
It’s not all about Jane Fonda as the surprise US hit, Book Club, prepares for Australian release.

“Jane says yes,” answers Mary Steenburgen about whether the four stars of Book Club – Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Steenburgen – will stay in touch after the film’s completion. “We have one member of the group who keeps shying away and we keep pulling her back in… I think you can probably guess who. I won’t let go, I love them, I think they’re magnificent.”

The missing member is the famously private Diane Keaton, who was the only one that did not show up for the publicity tour. However, here we have Steenburgen and Bergen.

This is a rare movie with 4 female protagonists…

Mary: How about four old female protagonists, that’s even more rare, it’s like lightning in a bottle.

Is that what appealed to you?

Mary: The three [other] ladies were cast before my character was cast. So, the fact that I got to work with those three legends, I would have said yes to pretty much anything. Women our age are used to playing somebody’s dotty old aunt or the annoying mother in law, but to have four leads that are our age and with four different and compelling stories, that never happens to us. So that was really special as a woman and an actor, and having looked up to these three women my whole life.

Do you feel like the whole MeToo and the whole inclusive movement now has changed career patterns for women?

Candice: Things have already changed a little bit. And I think it’s going to be just little incremental changes. And it’s up to the women to keep that moving forward. And it’s up to us to somehow find a forum for a dialogue for men and women so that men are included in the discussion.

Mary: This movie was made before that particular whole phenomenon, so it’ll be interesting to see how it effects things. The ism that people talk about the least in America is ageism, and it’s sadly the most pervasive with both men and women. It’s not confined to Hollywood, it’s not confined to women. It’s just a bit of a sad thing that we do in our culture, where we assume and agree upon a diminishment. Why would anyone want to do that for your future? So, one of the lovely things for us was just the fact that this was about women who are still searching and struggling and thinking about romance and thinking about sex, and mostly thinking about friendship and the value of it. The big surprise in life is that there isn’t a moment where you’re going, ‘I figured it out, I’m above it all now.’ It never occurs.

Candice: I think it’s just nice that people are focusing on people who are older and see that life doesn’t end, it deepens. And you accommodate it in many ways. I think that if this movie does well, it’s only positive for people our age that they are being focused on and given more latitude in their lives.

Mary: However old you are, it’s more positive for you too. There’s not going to be a moment in your life where you’re going to want to go ‘I’m done’, unless you’re really done. Jane has a line about it, ‘I don’t want to start dying before we’re actually dying’, and that’s very much what this film is about.

Candice, your character has a lot of fun with the dating app. Is that something you would ever try in your life?

Candice: No, no. I’m married for almost 20 years. I don’t even know how I feel about friends of mine doing it, but I guess it’s a necessary evil. But, I think face to face contact is something that is being undervalued lately.

Mary: She knows which way to swipe…. We know that much.

So, you prefer romance of back in the day of meeting someone in a pub or a club?

Candice: Well, romance is the best way it could go. It could also be disastrous. I just think it’s more interesting, there’s more at stake, it’s more of a game.

So, what is the secret to a good marriage?

Mary: For me, it was marrying Ted Danson. I mean, what’s not to like.

Candice: Both of us think a sense of humour is vital in a man. My husband is not in the business at all, he’s a real estate guy.

Mary: But he does have a killer sense of humour…

Mary, you must also have a really good sense of humour to go along with Curb Your Enthusiasm, especially those episodes where you’re divorced.

Mary: Believe me, I had nothing to do with that. Curb is improvised, so you don’t really know what you’re going to do when you go, you just show up, and they go ‘ok, you threw a party last night and you didn’t invite Larry’ or whatever. And so, Ted comes home, and I go ‘what was it about?’ And he goes, ‘you and I are divorced and I’m dating Cheryl.’ And I was like ‘Ted, they use our names, people are going to think that’s true.’ Then it comes on the air, and it’s the number 1 trending thing and people are going ‘are Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson really divorced?’ I have friends that actually say ‘tell me it isn’t true?’ And I say ‘yeah, it’s true and we decided to announce it on Curb.’

Candice, will we see you on television again?

Candice: We’re doing another season of Murphy Brown.

How will people react to it now?

Candice: From the reaction that we’ve been getting, they’re very excited, which is lovely to see. We have so much to work with now, politically in this country. We have a lot of fuel.

How are you guys different today as actors compared to when you started?

Mary: I think I am more at peace in my mind. When I was younger, I feared this age a little bit. And now I am here, I am completely gobsmacked that I get to keep on working, which I didn’t think I would, frankly. A lot of women that I admired weren’t working at this age.

Candice: And it’s unusual that we are…

What did you guys know about Jane? Did you know her, is she a friend?

Candice: We both know her slightly. I met her when I was 17 and still in high school.

Mary: May I describe it? So, Jane’s boyfriend brings Jane, for some perverse reason, over to meet Candice, who he had a crush on. Candice was extremely young, it was at Candice’s house, and the moment that Jane saw Candice for the very first time, Candice was on a ladder. Which I think is so sexy. And, Jane said ‘and I wanted her to fall off that ladder.’

Candice: I think that both of us are so in awe of Jane…

Mary: Jane is in a league of her own. She’s a total, utter inspiration to be around. I think I would have felt that at any age that I met her. It’s certainly crazy that she’s 80. Everyone focuses on how beautiful she is, which she is, but that’s not the craziest part. The craziest part is energetically what comes at you – the sort of ferocious questioning and rigorous self-examination, but in the most charming way…

Candice: She pays attention like a hawk. She notices everything.

Mary: She’s the best listener. She’s truly one of the most incredible people I have ever met in my life.

What was the first time you met Jane, Mary?

Mary: I went to a party with Jane a couple of years ago. It’s not the first time I’d met her, I’ve marched with her on political stuff before, but it’s been part of a bigger group, on the front lines of marches. But I was across from her at a party, and people were asking her questions, and she was answering so un-guardingly, it was so truthful. I said to Ted on the way home, ‘she should not be so honest, she should not be that unguarded, she doesn’t know who was there, I would never repeat what she said, but somebody else might.’ I woke up the next morning and I thought, ‘instead of wanting to change her, you should be more like her.’ I do hide a lot away and she doesn’t. [To Candice] You’re a bit like that too. What you see… tell it like it is. I love that about both of them.

Book Club is in cinemas August 23, 2018. Our interview with Jane Fonda will be on the website tomorrow.

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