AFI honoree Shirley MacLaine still has moves
Posted June 17, 2012
It's dancing that Shirley MacLaine keeps coming back to.
MacLaine, 78, had only one request in advance of her American Film Institute Life Achievement Award tribute. "The only thing that I have asked them to make sure they cover is my dancing," says the legendary actress, after a firm handshake in the Four Seasons lobby bar. "Because that's who I really am. I'm a smart dancer."
Show producers listened. A clip of MacLaine dancing in Sweet Charity opens the glittering tribute which airs on TV Land Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Later in the show, John Travolta introduces a montage of MacLaine's most memorable moves. "Look at her onscreen," Travolta said. "Her grace, her physicality … it's effortless."
At the tribute, Julia Roberts, who starred with MacLaine in Steel Magnolias, called her "a force of nature." Meryl Streep, after showing a clip from Postcards From the Edge, credited MacLaine for blazing a path for actresses in "the prickly years" from age 45-65. Another common refrain: MacLaine's talent for melding comedy with emotional depth in films spanning The Apartment to Terms of Endearment, the latter of which scored MacLaine an Oscar in 1984.
And, of course, there was a little roasting.
"All jokes aside, it's as if she's lived several lifetimes," cracked Sony chairman Howard Stringer, the first of many to aim jokes at MacLaine's well-documented beliefs in reincarnation and UFOs. Jack Black toasted her as Moses, a court jester and an alien in a montage from the past, present and future.
Before the gala, MacLaine said her metaphysical beliefs haven't changed, "Except maybe gotten a little more informed. People who have their experiences talk to me all the time on my website … I am more immersed in it than ever."
Which makes 2012 a curious year for MacLaine to be honored by the American Film Institute.
"I think it's interesting that I'm getting this recognition in the doom and gloom year," she says. "I find that fascinating. "
In conversation, MacLaine's favorite memories slowly bubble to the surface, from dining with Alfred Hitchcock to shooting The Children's Hour with Audrey Hepburn. Recalling her Oscar acceptance speech for Endearment, "I mostly remember saying 'I deserve this,' " she says with a grin. Receiving her AFI award, MacLaine thanked "those I've made love to on screen and those I've made love to off screen. I swear, I remember maybe half. Although I just remembered two more."
Although MacLaine spends most of her time writing in Santa Fe, she keeps a close eye on what's going on in Hollywood. "I know everything," she says. "I love to hear the gossip." Her next year is packed with roles, from shooting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller and Wild Oats with Black to a turn on Downton Abbey, a show she's "addicted to," playing Martha Levinson, Lady Cora's mother.
"My philosophic attitude about this business has been one of an avocation, not a vocation," summarizes MacLaine, who recently has finished a memoir, What If. "My vocation is learning about life, identity, traveling to learn about other people. And basically I learned that I won't do anything that is tearing on my soul.
"So for me this whole 70-year experience, or whatever, has been varying degrees and levels of fun. Expressive fun. And a lot of hard work."
And the best may be yet to come.
"There's a lot I haven't written about," says MacLaine. "And I'm not going to save it for another life, I'll do it sometime. It's shocking."
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