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When Life Imitates Tart: Shirley MacLaine & Amanda Seyfried Go At It In THE LAST WORD

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Never start a headline with a bad pun, and never write your own obit might be two unwritten rules of journalism, but in new movie THE LAST WORD, starring Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried, a lot of rules are broken so let’s skip the logline and go straight to the press conference at The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. The timing is key here because this takes place Friday, Mar. 3, in the wake of MacLaine’s brother Warren Beatty’s epic wrong-picture Oscar controversy and the shock death of Bill Paxton, 61, who was Seyfried’s friend and co-star on the HBO series “Big Love.”

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Selfie from THE LAST WORD cast.

MacLaine, who plays Harriet Lauler a bitter ad exec who hires Amanda Seyfried’s character to pen a loving tribute before she dies, is seated beside Seyfried, with director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road), newcomer Ann’Jewel Lee, 10, and co-star Thomas Sadoski known for the CBS TV series “Life in Pieces.” To further up the stakes, Seyfried and Sadoski met on the set of this film, and are set to become parents shortly. Plus, Amanda has brought her dog Finn to the show, which makes this event even more like a surreal Hollywood family gathering.

Every single journalist in the room has worked up a strategy for addressing the 800 pound story lead in the room. Without being so indelicate as to outright ask about either the Oscars or Paxton without ruffling the stars or overshadowing THE LAST WORD’s release, the questions veer toward the inevitable.

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MacLaine shoots down all comers. “That’s Warren and Jimmy Kimmel’s problem. It was horrific,” she says of the Oscar misidentified Best Picture fracas. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Her firm stance here quashed any other talk of current events in Hollywood. And right there, while she sorts out the room, you see the character she plays in THE LAST WORD in sharp relief. You don’t mess with a legend, and you’re not going to slip a fast one by Shirley MacLaine, who’s a master at shutting down nonsense. The best part is she also steamrolls the “who was your mentor,” and the “Ms. MacLaine you’re a legend” crap too.

“Joan Crawford. She was the first person to give me advice (in Hollywood). I didn’t listen to a word she said.” MacLaine smiles as she says it.

When you get up the courage to ask your not-political-political question, with a Marlon Brando lead-in from one of her memoirs about how Brando actually got her into politics over a death penalty case while she was frying an egg, as the story goes, MacLaine dodges that bullet too.

“You know I was named for Shirley Temple, a Republican? Well, I have to play both sides of the aisle.” The way she turns her gaze directly into your subtext after that moot zinger is a private moment, comical, deft.

Amanda Seyfried, Mark Pellington, and the cast turn their chins in her direction. You can’t help it. This is a woman who has survived Billy Wilder in THE APARTMENT, Hitchcock in THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, and is an Oscar winner, six-time Academy Award nominee, as well as a Cecil B. DeMille Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement honoree. Plus she has privately endured the recent deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, after playing Reynolds’ fictional mother to Fisher’s fictional daughter in POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE. Meryl Streep played Carrie Fisher’s fictional account of herself as Debbie Reynolds’ daughter. The four of them were very close during the filming, now 50 percent of them are gone.ShirlMerylDbCarrieHere’s where, even in this swank Beverly Hills suite years away from the Golden Age of Hollywood that she bridges, Shirley MacLaine melds with THE LAST WORD character Harriet Lauler. As in Madison Avenue and Show Biz, both of them had to break down doors while protecting their inner selves in a world where women were either glamorized, marginalized or downright obstructed from their goals.

Later, when it’s revealed that screenwriter Stuart Ross Fink wrote the script for THE LAST WORD specifically for Shirley MacLaine, about a hard-driving ad exec (Harriet Lauler) turned surrogate mother for Amanda Seyfried’s character (Anne Sherman), this new movie becomes almost poetic and reverential.

In the opening scenes, real-life images from MacLaine’s life slip across the screen and through time in an appreciation of a woman whose career has spanned more than 70 years as an actor, performer, dancer, show pony, and hoofer. “Shirley and I had a 20-minute discussion on the psychology of pajama versus a robe,” Fink explained. “It was at that point I realized Harriet was no longer mine. She had become Shirley’s.”

“There’s no other actress who can portray a combination of bitchiness, vulnerability, humor, and empathy like Shirley.”

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Fink, who brought the project to director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road), is also an ad man, a creative director who worked for Fortune 100 companies. Clearly he built the story around his experience. Harriet Lauler is a once-Teflon advertising veteran in the movie. Now a broken woman, she was kicked out of a company she founded, that still bears her initials in the logo, only to become an aging control freak in a secluded life headed for the bitter end. Instead of accepting her fate as a dethroned pitch maven, MacLaine’s character decides to stage manage her exit, beginning with hiring an exceptional obituary writer to cement her refurbished reputation after she dies.

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Nobody wants to write obits, especially not for a living or the living.

Amanda Seyfried plays the beleaguered essayist with a day job writing obits who is flung into orbit around Lauler’s ego as she re-brands herself for the afterlife. “I adore Amanda,” MacLaine said. “And Harriet in her way adores Anne, but her biggest problem has always been with people who don’t live up to their potential.”

When you realize this is a first movie for Fink, you begin to understand the complexity of molding the material to MacLaine. And that’s what makes this movie the proverbial love letter to MacLaine, now 82, while also carving out a poignant narrative about the inevitable displacement of productive people as they age. “Older people are invisible,” MacLaine will say at the press conference, “that’s what I wanted to use this movie for, to make older people less invisible.”

What makes the movie raw and strange is the interplay between Seyfried, MacLaine and her on-screen daughter played by a disapproving neurologist Anne Heche in one tiny scene, coupled with long sequences where Seyfried and MacLaine go through their personal pitched battles in the presence of new comer Ann’Jewel Lee, a 10-year-old who takes no prisoners.

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Heche slays as a bad daughter.

At the press conference, after the glittering sheen of star power wanes and Ann’Jewel Lee waits to leave, she wants you to know about “the cursing,” the f-word her character uses. “I don’t say that in real life,” she notes. “But it was just a movie. My mother said it was okay because it’s just a movie.” Just a decade in years and she’s got the wisdom to know the difference between what’s on the screen to make a point, and who she is as a young actor. Mark Pellington adds that she ad libbed a crucial scene with MacLaine, where MacLaine asks “what do you want to be” open-ended. Lee says “ya gotta be something.”THE LAST WORD Poster_rgbIn a surreal LA moment, after leaving the press conference and meeting MacLaine, who is so frighteningly gracious and disarmingly elegant in real life, Ari Shapiro’s NPR interview with the screen star for THE LAST WORD comes on the car radio. She’s parrying back and forth, doing her Harriet Lauler impression, “I know you’re looking for a headline, Babe,” she quips. And of course, Shirley MacLaine gets the actual last word.

Make the time to see her go toe-to-toe with Amanda Seyfried in this movie, because it’s really a moment for women, young and old, and the families we build when husbands, partners, boyfriends, children, and even a high-power career aren’t enough.

THE LAST WORD from Bleeker Street and Myriad Pictures, is directed by Mark Pellington, and stars Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfriend, Anne Heche, Ann’Jewel Lee, Philip Baker Hall, Thomas Sadoski, and Tom Everett Scott. See their website for venues and showtimes for the release run, which opened Mar. 3, in a nationwide roll-out.

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In Case You Wonder Where Warren Beatty Has Been & “Rules Don’t Apply” At AFI

 

SCREENMANCER AFI ALERT: LOS ANGELES, CA, August 30, 2016 — The American Film Institute (AFI) announced today that the World Premiere of New Regency and 20th Century Fox’s RULES DON’T APPLY — written, directed, produced by and starring AFI Life Achievement Award recipient and Academy Award® winner Warren Beatty — will be the Opening Night Gala of AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi on Thursday, November 10, at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA. The cast also includes Academy Award® nominees Alec Baldwin, Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Steve Coogan and Ed Harris, as well as Haley Bennett, Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Taissa Farmiga, Megan Hilty, Oliver Platt and Martin Sheen.

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For the 13th consecutive year, AFI FEST will showcase the very best in global cinema thanks to the visionary support of presenting sponsor Audi. “Warren Beatty has charmed and challenged moviegoers from his first moment on screen, and his talents as an actor, director, writer and producer have always transcended trends,” said Bob Gazzale, AFI President & CEO. “AFI is honored to present the World Premiere of his newest gift to America’s cultural legacy.”

“We are launching the 30th edition of AFI FEST with a new Warren Beatty film that takes place in 1950s Hollywood. Romantic entanglements, the youthful pursuit of success and an outlandish billionaire are brought to life by a remarkable ensemble cast,” said Jacqueline Lyanga, Director, AFI FEST. “On Opening Night, the TCL Chinese Theatre, the quintessential temple of cinema in Hollywood, will shine a light on RULES DON’T APPLY.”

The 30th edition of AFI FEST takes place November 10–17, 2016, in the heart of Hollywood. Screenings, Galas and other events will be held at the TCL Chinese Theatre, the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, the Egyptian Theatre and The Hollywood Roosevelt. The full festival lineup and schedule will be unveiled in October.

Patron packages ensure reserved seats for Opening Night and all proceeds benefit the educational programs of the American Film Institute. A limited number of individual tickets to Opening Night and other screenings are also made available at no charge thanks to the event sponsors. Go to AFI.com now to purchase Patron Packages which can include access to Galas and other high-demand films and events. Individual tickets are available at AFI.combeginning November 1.

As part of their membership benefits, AFI members will receive a complimentary AFI FEST Cinepass, which allows access to all regular screenings and special offers at this year’s festival. Additionally, AFI members at the Two-Star level and above level receive a 10% discount on all AFI FEST Patron Packages and Express Passes. Information about AFI membership is available at AFI.com/membership.

Audi is the exclusive presenting sponsor of AFI FEST 2016, once again championing innovative filmmakers from around the globe through its steadfast support of the festival and AFI’s mission.

Additional top sponsors include AT&T; American Airlines, the official airline of AFI; and VIZIO, the official home theater sponsor of AFI.

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Just What Is RULES DON‘T APPLY?
An aspiring young actress (Lily Collins) and her ambitious young driver (Alden Ehrenreich) struggle hopefully with the absurd eccentricities of the wildly unpredictable billionaire (Warren Beatty) for whom they work.

It’s Hollywood, 1958. Small town beauty queen and devout Baptist virgin Marla Mabrey (Collins), under contract to the infamous Howard Hughes (Beatty), arrives in Los Angeles. At the airport, she meets her driver Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), who is engaged to be married to his 7th grade sweetheart and is a deeply religious Methodist. Their instant attraction not only puts their religious convictions to the test, but also defies Hughes’ number one rule: no employee is allowed to have any relationship whatsoever with a contract actress. Hughes’ behavior intersects with Marla and Frank in very separate and unexpected ways, and as they are drawn deeper into his bizarre world, their values are challenged and their lives are changed.

To learn more about RULES DON’T APPLY, visit the film’s official website at http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/rules-dont-apply. In theaters November 23, 2016.

Why We Love The American Film Institute (AFI)…
AFI is America’s promise to preserve the heritage of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers. AFI programs include the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and the AFI Archive, which preserve film heritage for future generations; the AFI Life Achievement Award, the highest honor for a career in film; AFI AWARDS, honoring the most outstanding movies and TV series of the year; AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies television events and movie reference lists, which have introduced and reintroduced classic American movies to millions of film lovers; year-round and special event exhibition through AFI FEST presented by AudiAFI DOCS and the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center; and educating the next generation of storytellers at the world-renowned AFI Conservatory. For more information about AFI, visit AFI.com or connect with AFI at twitter.com/AmericanFilmfacebook.com/AmericanFilmInstituteinstagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute and youtube.com/AFI.

And Why AFI FEST Is a Fan of Audi…
A program of the American Film Institute, AFI FEST presented by Audi is a celebration of global cinema and today’s Hollywood — a showcase for the best festival films of the year and an opportunity for master filmmakers and emerging artists to come together with audiences in the movie capital of the world. Celebrating its 30th edition, AFI FEST is the only festival of its stature that is free to the public. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes AFI FEST as a qualifying festival for both Short Film categories for the annual Academy Awards®. This year’s edition takes place November 10–17, 2016. Additional information about AFI FEST is available at AFI.com/AFIFEST. Connect with AFI FEST at facebook.com/AFIFESTtwitter.com/AFIFEST and youtube.com/AFIFEST.

Shameless Plug for Audi
Audi of America, Inc., and its U.S. dealers offer a full line of German-engineered luxury vehicles. AUDI AG is among the most successful luxury automotive brands globally. The Audi Group delivered over 1,800,000 vehicles to customers globally in 2015, and broke all-time company sales records for the 6th straight year in the U.S. Through 2019, AUDI AG plans to invest about 24 billion euros – 70 percent of the investment will flow into the development of new models and technologies. Visit http://www.audiusa.com or http://www.audiusa.com/newsroom for more information regarding Audi vehicles and business topics.

SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies and applaud AFI.

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