Actress Mary Steenburgen

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The stage, screen and television star discusses her role in the new film comedy, Last Vegas.

Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen has won acclaim for exceptional performances in each of her diverse roles. Her credits include the drama series Joan of Arcadia, a four-episode appearance on the hit sitcom, 30 Rock, and the films Melvin and Howard—for which she won a best supporting actress statuette—and the ensemble cast of the Oscar-nominated The Help. The Arkansas native pursued drama in college and began her career with an improv troupe in New York at age 19. She helped found Artists for a Free South Africa and works for human rights and environmental causes. Steenburgen is next up in the new feature comedy, Last Vegas.


Tavis: Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen easily moves from drama to comedy, co-starring in movies as diverse as “The Help” and “Elf.” She’s now costarring with an impressive array of actors, all Oscar winners, in a new comedy called “Last Vegas.”

She shares the screen with De Niro, Klein, Freeman, Douglas. We’ll take a look at “Last Vegas,” which opens this Friday.


Tavis: (Laughter) Where else do you start this conversation? Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Mary Steenburgen. Five Academy winners – the entire, all the leads are Oscar winners.

Mary Steenburgen: I know. It was amazing. It was a privilege. Just to hang out with those guys was a total joy, and I really felt like the luckiest person on the planet.

Tavis: And the only girl.

Steenburgen: And the girl. (Laughter) I was like the Angie Dickenson of the Rat Pack.

Tavis: Yeah, how did you manage that?

Steenburgen: Very well, thank you. (Laughter) Yeah, it was great. I love them all, and they’re so different.

Tavis: Right.

Steenburgen: Yet there was so much chemistry, I think, among all of us, and we just had the best time. There’s something really beautiful about doing, acting with people like that at this moment in my life, when nobody’s, like, rushing off to see what their next job and looking. People were just absolutely enjoying working together, and the fact that we’ve all kind of survived this crazy business and we’re in this wonderful comedy that also has something to say about friendship and aging. It just felt like a privilege.

Tavis: I was going to say Ted Danson must really trust you, or trust them. (Laughter)

Steenburgen: You know what –

Tavis: To let you out of the house with four guys all day long.

Steenburgen: I have tried to make Ted Danson jealous, and it doesn’t –

Tavis: It doesn’t work?

Steenburgen: He is way too secure. (Laughter)

Tavis: That’s what you want to be, though. That’s the way you want to be in a lifelong relationship like that.

Steenburgen: Yeah.

Tavis: You want to be secure.

Steenburgen: Yeah.

Tavis: To your point earlier, Mary, that it was a joy to do this, I got the sense that what you were saying to me was that people, that this group of actors – my word, not yours – are settled, and so the work is –

Steenburgen: Yeah, it’s not about proving yourself so much anymore. It’s about really drinking in the moment, I think. I don’t know that any of us ever particularly articulated that, and they may have very different reasons or experiences of it.

But every time I looked around, all of us just had a great, big grin on our face, and they were adorable together, these guys, and they were so sweet with me. These are all guys that I’d wanted to work with and never really had, except for Kevin Kline.

I did the movie “Life as a House” with him. Other than that, I had no experience of any of them. Morgan and I have done political stuff together, but that was it. Man, I loved it.

Tavis: I want to ask a few other questions. Before I do that, though, it occurs to me I should probably give you an opportunity to just say a little bit about what the movie is about.

I think I’ve given some sense of that, but I’ll let you say a little bit more about what the project is.

Steenburgen: Well, it’s a movie about four friends. They call themselves the Flatbush Four, and they’ve been friends since childhood. They both picked on each other and defended each other. They’ve all been married. Some have lost their wives and had big lives.

The only person that has never gotten married is Michael Douglas’ character, and he’s about to get married to a 30-year-old for his first marriage. So he invites them all to come to Vegas for his bachelor party.

It’s really about the kind of craziness that ensues, but also about, it’s about what it is in this moment in your life to be looking at love and marriage and what’s behind you, what’s in front of you.

It’s a very funny but significant film in the sense that it really talks about aging, which a lot of movies would rather die than talk about.

Tavis: How are you going about, at this point in your career, making decisions about what you do want to do and don’t want to do at this point in your career?

Steenburgen: Well, I still try to do what I’ve always said I would do, which is say yes to the things that make my heart beat faster, particularly if there’s something scary about it. That’s probably good for me to try to go there.

In the past year, just doing things like I played a reoccurring part on “30 Rock,” and that was so fun and so scary, because it’s “30 Rock,” and I didn’t want to let anybody down. They’re so adept and fast.

So it’s really just trying to sort through the best of the things I’m offered. But the other thing I’ve done in life that makes it easier for me not to feel concerned if I’m not working every minute is that about seven years ago I started writing music, and I ended up with a publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group.

I’m a staff writer for them, so I actually write music. I just got back last night from Nashville. We just got a Tim McGraw cut, which was very exciting.

Tavis: That’s pretty big, Tim McGraw. (Laughter)

Steenburgen: We write music. I just finished writing a song with Chris Allen, who won “American Idol,” for a small indie movie. We write all kinds of stuff. It brings me great joy to do that, and it’s something I can do whenever I want to do it. So I like that.

Tavis: Seven years ago you got this deal, but you didn’t start writing music seven years ago.

Steenburgen: I did, actually.

Tavis: Wait, wait, hold up, hold up, hold up. (Laughter) So you’re this deep into your career, and seven years ago you just decide to start writing music? How did that happen?

Steenburgen: I didn’t decide. It’s a very strange story, and all I can tell you is what I know of it, but I don’t know what happened in the end. I had a surgery on my arm. It was a minor surgery, but I did go under general anesthetic.

Came out from underneath it, I felt very strange, and kept complaining to my husband I felt weird. Three or four days later I really hadn’t slept, and he said, “Well, can you describe it?” I said, “Honestly, I’m, like, hearing music all the time.” There’s a book written by Dr. Oliver Sacks –

Tavis: Oh, I know it well, yeah.

Steenburgen: Okay.

Tavis: A few books, yeah.

Steenburgen: Yeah. He calls it musicophilia. I don’t know if that’s what happened to me. I just know that one day I had one kind of brain and the next day it was like that brain, but way overscored with music.

So it took me a few months of just feeling like I was losing it, and then I decided, wait a minute – you’re a wife, you’re a mother, you’re a daughter, you’re a sister. People count on you. You’d better figure out how to make this work for yourself.

So I started studying music and studying songwriting, and I started writing songs. I’m sure most of them were terrible. I know that a lot of them were. Eventually they got better and better, and I was signed by this amazing man, Don Passman.

Then Universal, Monty Olsen at Universal signed me to a publishing deal. Now I work in Nashville at Universal, and I’m privileged to write with some of the great writers in Nashville, like Troy Verges and Jeremy Spillman and Matraca Berg, and all these legends.

Tavis: You’re really upsetting me with this story. (Laughter) You know why?

Steenburgen: You want to go have surgery right now.

Tavis: No, no, I’ve been under anesthesia two or three times. (Laughter) Nothing like that ever – who was your anesthesiologist?

Steenburgen: I know, I know. I wish I –

Tavis: Because the two or three guys that took care of me, they took good care of me, thankfully, they brought me back out.

Steenburgen: They just gave you a headache, right?

Tavis: Yeah, but I woke up and I’m less gifted than I was (laughter) before I went under. You come out more gifted. That is a heck of a story.

Steenburgen: It’s crazy, and you know what? I don’t know, Tavis, if that’s – I don’t know what happened.

Tavis: Yeah.

Steenburgen: It’s just the only explanation. In his book he says that most people had some type of trauma.

Tavis: Some kind of trauma, yeah, mm-hmm.

Steenburgen: People got struck by lightning or whatever, and I didn’t have any of those things. This is the only thing we could figure out. It was, I just know that it was never a goal of mine, which is kind of strange.

There’s other things I’ve wished for. It wasn’t that, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It’s a city of poets, Nashville, so to go work there is just such a privilege.

Tavis: It is a city of poets, but I want to be even more crass than that.

Steenburgen: Okay.

Tavis: Just because it’s me. Quincy Jones, a great artist himself, Q told me one day, “Tavis, ain’t no money like music money, because music money don’t stop.” (Laughter) So it’s not –

Steenburgen: Well, I’m not there yet.

Tavis: It’s not just poetry, it is – it’s great lyrical stuff, but you can do well for yourself when Tim McGraw starts making a hit out of songs that you write.

Steenburgen: I hope he does.

Tavis: So congratulations on that.

Steenburgen: Thank you.

Tavis: Before I let you go, it’s not just acting, it’s not just the music. You still doing your candle thing?

Steenburgen: Well, we’re trying to, but my daughter who I did that with had a baby – yay.

Tavis: Congrats, yeah.

Steenburgen: My granddaughter, and then she has another on the way, so we’ve been – it’s been on the back burner, because it really was – she’s the one that did most of that, and she’s been otherwise engaged.

Tavis: Yeah, yeah, I see. (Laughter) Not enough hours in the day for you.

Steenburgen: Yeah.

Tavis: And when do you have time to see Ted with all this other stuff going on?

Steenburgen: Oh, trust me. I see plenty of Ted.

Tavis: Well, tell him I said hello when you see him again.

Steenburgen: All right.

Tavis: The movie’s called “Last Vegas.” You can’t do better than a cast that includes Mary Steenburgen, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Robert De Niro. I’m sure you don’t need my encouragement to go see it, but go see it. Mary, good to see you.

Steenburgen: So good to see you, Tavis.

Tavis: Good to have you back.

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Last modified: November 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm