Friday, June 12th, 2015

She’s The Best Thing In It

Veteran character actor Mary Louise Wilson starts this affectionate portrait on her life with what she claims are the five basic stages of acting:
1) Who is Mary Louise Wilson?
2) Get me Mary Louise Wilson?
3) Get me a Mary Louise Wilson type;
4) Get me a young Mary Louise Wilson.
5) Who was Mary Louise Wilson?
The Tony Award winner is disarmingly honest about the ups and downs of her long career, which has now brought her at the age of 79 leaving New York after 60 years to go back to New Orleans to teach her first acting class.  Winning a Tony for her performance in ‘Grey Gardens’ in a role that had been specifically written for her had been a curse. Since then the phone had stopped ringing with any offers as Broadway producers assume that as a character actor she would now be too expensive, but even that doesn’t seem to suppress her good-natured humor or make the twinkle in her eye disappear.
Mary Louise is however a rather rare bird in her profession having hated her stint in Hollywood playing in lucrative television sitcoms and hot-footing it out of there when she got too miserable.  She found solace in the theater, plus drinking half a bottle of wine every night, and getting married.  The latter to an actor who landed a role on Broadway in Man Of La Mancha.I saw the Show and said this is a bomb, but it lasted longer than our two year marriage.’  She admitted finding her sobriety 18 years ago, but refused to talk any more about any other likely romance.

Then at the age of 69, Mary Louise and Mark Hampton wrote ‘Full Gallop’ a one-woman play about fashion doyenne Diana Vreeland that garnered her several awards and a major boost to her career. It also led to her Tony Nominated performance in Cabaret two years later.

Now back in New Orleans, even though the acting classes take a while to really kick in, when they do it is obvious that Mary Louise not only is in seventh heaven surrounded by all these 20 year old students, but that she has a real flair for infusing them with her energy, enthusiasm and her well-crafted acting techniques.  As teacher and pupils bond, Mary Louise appreciates that she is really well suited for the role even though she may have arrived more at it initially by fault than design.
This first feature documentary directed by Ron Nyswaner (Oscar-nominated Writer/Producer ‘The Philadelphia Story’) also asks other female actors for their take on their profession including Melissa Leo, Estella Parsons, Charlotte Rae and Valerie Harper. The best quote however comes from Frances McDormand who simply described her own very successful career as ‘I have been supporting male protagonists in movies and television and plays for 30 years and so you kind of end up being a character actor by default sometimes.’
The movie is at best uneven and because one cannot help but be so charmed by Mary Louise, you simply knows that she deserves a better profile than this. Hers may not be a name that is instantly recognized by every theatergoer or movie/TV watcher, but the instant you catch sight of her, you remember exactly where you saw her in a performance that you admired and probably really loved.
The title of the documentary is explained at the end. Having recently lost her sister, after losing her gay brother to AIDS some decades ago, Mary Louise is visiting the cemetery where her family is buried to reveal that she already has her own tombstone ready for the day she joins them.  It simply reads ‘Mary Louise Wilson : She Was The Best Thing In It.’ 


Posted by queerguru  at  02:11

Genres:  documentary

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