I beg your Parsons

Posted on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:29am
By RICH LOPEZ Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com


Estelle Parsons may be an award winning movie and TV actress, but her heart’s in the theater


The last thing an interviewer may expect when talking to a celebrity is to get yelled at for mentioning the interviewee’s accomplishments. Past awards and nominations usually help a career, right? So why did Estelle Parsons chide me when I brought up the Academy Awards? Who knew winning an Oscar would be a touchy subject?

Parsons heads to Dallas this week, starring as Violet in the upcoming production of August: Osage County, the play that might have put the "fun" in dysfunctional. At 82, Parsons remains a vibrant stage presence, touring the country in a harrowing (but funny) Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play. But before she hits town, she chatted with Dallas Voice about her work over the years — including her role as Bev, the first senior lesbian character from Roseanne (for which, luckily, she never won an Emmy).

She’s a pistol — and loonier than an aviary.

August: Osage County, Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Jan. 12–24. $25–$120. ATTPAC.org.

Dallas Voice: Thanks for giving us time to chat. Parsons: Well, why wouldn’t I wanna talk about the play? If you don’t talk about it the play, people won’t come.

Well, yeah…. So you’ve accomplished so much in your career already. Why take on a touring show? I like to tour. It’s much better than staying in one place and a wonderful opportunity I have this romantic idea of being a circus performer or vaudevillian. You ask that like touring shows are second rate but this show is just the opposite. I told them I’m only gonna tour if we have a really great company. I didn’t wanna go out unless it was top notch. This show is much more focused. And the audience can immediately leap right into it.

I didn’t intend to ask it like that. What do you think drew you to Violet? Nothing really drew me to the character. But I like doing cutting edge stuff. I’m working on this Bertolt Brecht adaptation of Measure for Measure. I like exciting work and smaller venues like that. Plus, Broadway is too expensive. I’m tired of playing for people who have money.

Are you more inclined to do theater than movies or television? My heart lies in theater. I like to entertain people. My life is about living and I’m very interested in what makes actors tick.

When your character Bev came out in Roseanne as lesbian, did that affect your perspective of the gay community? I didn’t’ have perspective of the gay community. You know, in Rachel, Rachel, I kissed Joanne Woodward. It was the first time I wrestled with that as an artist. Paul Newman [the director and Woodward's husband] said I might have given that character lesbian characteristics. He told me "Don’t think of yourself as lesbian." I was annoyed because I like to find what I do on my own but it gave me a more interesting character than I might have made on my own.

Did you get any feedback from that role? I think it’s a complicated issue. We’re so oriented to heterosexuality. That seems so more for women than men. I think a lot of people think I’m a lesbian anyway. I think we all have bi tendencies. I went to an all women’s school. If people came up and talked to me about Bev, I don’t remember. But I don’t recall that they did very much. It’s not an issue for me.

Wow. You were nominated for an Oscar for your role in Rachel, Rachel. You’ve won an Oscar for Bonnie and Clyde and received numerous Tony nominations. What does that mean for you now? I’m an artist! You think these fucking awards make a career? You think I’m just going to shoot that part of myself? Acting in theater is what I’m talking about. I started when I was seven years old. As far as a movie career, I don’t really wanna have one.

Um. Let’s move on. You were in Dallas to film Bonnie and Clyde more than 40 years ago, and now you’re coming back to the new Winspear. How do you feel about coming back to a different Dallas? Oh, I am very excited about that, too. Perhaps I’ll meet some new people in Dallas. I try to do that everywhere I go.

After Osage, what are your plans? I’m working on an anti-war show about a Vietnam veteran. I am planning a trip to India. I’m looking forward to not working. But I’ll also be doing some work at the Stratford Ontario Shakespeare festival.

Don’t you have a movie coming out with Al Pacino? Oh, yeah. We worked a very long time on this movie, Salomaybe. We worked together in theater. I don’t know when he’ll finish that. Sometime he doesn’t even release the movies he makes.

Thanks so much for taking time to speak with us. Bye.

Oh, ok, bye.


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