We know her best from her roles in The Grinch and Babe : Pig in the City, but in her latest role - that of a Church gossip in the family dramedy Little Boy- Mary Stein gets to demonstrate another side of her affluent career.
Big fans of The Grinch! Fond memories for you?
It was an extraordinary experience! From my initial interview with Ron Howard to having the casts made of our heads by Rick Bakers studio to create the exquisite Grinch faces, from the screen test with Jeffrey Tambor to the hours in the makeup chair applying the prosthetic, exquisite wigs and costumes, from being secretly shuttled around Universal to the stage we were shooting on so no one could get a glimpse of us. Wild! And, then to work side by side with actors like Jim Carrey, Christine Baranski, and Bill Irwin....not too mention the other extraordinary people from Cirque Du Soleil and Broadway actors of note. It was an adventure in the extreme! Then there was that beautifully surreal set...and the fabulous heart centered story of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Tremendous experience! Many of us are stayed in touch. It’s so much fun to see what everyone has gone on to do. Connecting on FB really has helped that. One day on the set at the end of a scene, it was the last shot of the day, all of us Who’s were in the town square, where the mayor of the Whoville, played by Jeffrey Tambor, was confronting the Grinch, played by Jim Carey. They were face to face arguing in a side shot suddenly Jim who was kind of barking right up Jeffrey’s “prosthetic nose” just got so close he bit Jeffrey’s nose and prosthetics right off his face. It was hilarious! Jeffrey’s jaw dropped. It brought the set down with laughter. The shoot was 6 months for me so the stories are endless....
Ron Howard seems like he’d be great to work with?
The nicest guy...and an actor’s director. Really tries to make you feel he’s one of the cast & crew with you. Very unassuming. He’s a big family guy. His family was in The Grinch too. So, that was sweet. I got to know his Dad, Rance during the course of the shoot. Made it kind of special.
Who has been your favorite director to work with (you’ve worked with so many heavyweights!)?
In film, I would say Clint Eastwood hands down. He’s so respectful and enthusiastic. No ego, just pure creativity. Pretty much anyone who has worked with him will drop everything to work with him again. The set has a lovely feel to it. No drama except in the story. He works really fast. So, there is a heightened intensity and playful focus. He has great respect & understanding of actors because he is one. And, the direction he gave was really brilliant. Total actor’s director.
Did you know Alejandro Monteverde before being cast in Little Boy?
No. My agent got me the audition. I didn’t know anything about the players or the project at the time. We were focused on getting me a role in a feature length drama. I auditioned in the traditional way. I was called back. And then showed up on set.
This is a film many could relate to. Did you personally relate to the story?
Many aspects of the story are relatable as with any wonderful script. There were ruffians and town bullies were I grew up. Luckily, I wasn’t bothered too much by them. But, it was an issue for some. On the other hand, the people that were bothered. It was scary. And, there’s the theme of prejudice. I have a friend whose parents were in Japanese internment camps during the war as depicted in the story. It was really difficult for them. And, my grandfather also fought in WW1 & WW2 which was hard on my grandmother & my mom and her 5 brothers & sisters when he left to war. And, as per my character, Martha, the church gossip, we all know the self-righteous fundamentalist bible toting person that thinks they’ve got it all sewed up in God...and in reality they are deluded and horribly judgmental of others causing more harm than good. It’s a fabulous story that touches on a number of universal themes that will speak to everyone.
Many actors find it difficult to watch themselves on screen. What about you?
The first time I saw myself in a movie on the big screen was a feature film called “Man of the Year”. A bio-pic about a gay guy in the mid-90’s that went to the Toronto Film Festival. I was mortified. Somehow it shocked me and I felt so vulnerable. All my silly humanness was up there and I felt embarrassed. I slept the whole next day. Then I moved on and never looked back. I got used to it. Much of my work prior to that was in theater. So, I didn’t see my work. I simply left it at the stage door. I don’t have a problem watching myself now. Depending on the type of project sometimes I’ll even peak at the playbacks on-set and can make subtle adjustments to my work between takes. It depends on the scene though. Often there's no reason to look. You need to simply keep the life going and make directorial adjustments. More often than not though I see it as a finished product at a screening or premiere. I’m always curious about the whole story and how it comes together. But, I leave it at that. I don’t feel the need or desire to watch my work beyond that.
Little Boy was originally due out in April, but I believe it’s been brought forward to February. What was the decision there? Do you know? Maybe they want audiences to see it sooner – because of good word-of-mouth!?
I don’t know much the “why” of that. I know that it’s important to plan the release of a film wisely or it never reaches much of an audience. I’m not sure when Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s Open Road got involved to support it’s release. But, my hunch is that it had something to do with their coming on board to launch it that pushed the date back so they could plan promotion for it.
How important are good reviews to you – whether they’re for Little Boy or another project?
They’re nice to get if they’re good. But, have little to do with what we do as actors. We can’t afford to listen to the critical voice of a review. We have the voice of a director, a writer and our own creative process to stay true to. On the other hand, reviews are important from the standpoint of sales....just like awards are...it will help sell the movie. But, in terms of what I am creating as an actor, reviews aren’t terribly useful. I suppose saving them after to use to promote yourself for future projects might be helpful. But, it’s not useful for me to concern myself with them for the most part.