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Blythe Danner Lands First Leading Film Role In 'I'll See You In My Dreams'

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's a rare thing in movies for a romantic comedy to focus on a woman who's in her 70s.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS")

RHEA PERLMAN: (As Sally) Guys ask about you all the time, Carol. I could hook you up.

BLYTHE DANNER: (As Carol) Oh, come on. Don't start with that.

PERLMAN: (As Sally) What?

DANNER: (As Carol) The dating talk, the second husband talk. You couldn't pay me.

PERLMAN: (As Sally) But they do pay you, when they die.

DANNER: (As Carol) Not always.

BLOCK: Carol Petersen is a widow with no interest in finding new love until it sneaks up on her. The new movie is, "I'll See You In My Dreams." Carol is played by Blythe Danner, who told me this character felt comfortable and familiar.

DANNER: Well, I think that she is a brave woman. She's an older woman who suffered a lot of loss and it has made her probably more closed-off, but she's a bit snarky. She - I think as you get older, that happens (laughter). It's one of the - I think it actually happens to be a positive thing because you don't have to be quite as, you know, on your P's and Q's. You can - you're more liberated, I think, as you get older.

BLOCK: Yeah.

DANNER: But I think that old age, you know, as I - it's really given me so much to chew on and reflect on. And the film brings into focus, for young people as well as people in my generation, that we are all in this together and what's ahead is, is you've got to be tough to confront it all.

BLOCK: You know, it's interesting because your character Carol, even though she's suffered great loss - her husband and then her dog to whom she's very attached - she seems quite comfortable and happy. She has a good life. She has her routine. She loves drinking wine. She reads The New York Times. She waters her flowers. She doesn't seem unfulfilled.

DANNER: That is true. And she's been - it's been 20 years since her husband died. I don't think she has any desire for a new relationship, as she expresses with the bridge group. So...

BLOCK: Her group of women friends at the retirement home - where they live - that she refuses to go to.

DANNER: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Carol, when are you going to move in here?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: (As character) Yeah, Carol you missin' out on all the action.

DANNER: (As Carol) No. I'm happy in my house. I'm very happy, thank you.

DANNER: She has her dog and she - well, we don't want to give away too much, but there is - she is comfortable and what follows is upheaval in her life.

BLOCK: One bit of upheaval in that comfortable life that Carol is leading comes from Lloyd, the pool guy, who comes to clean her pool and ultimately convinces you to go out and sing karaoke at a karaoke bar.

DANNER: Yes.

BLOCK: And you choose - your character chooses a really tough song, the torch song "Cry Me A River."

DANNER: "Cry Me A River," one of the great songs.

BLOCK: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS")

DANNER: (As Carol, singing) Now you say you're lonely. You cry the long night through.

BLOCK: Did you choose that yourself?

DANNER: It was one that I had sung. I'd loved singing jazz when I was younger and that was actually my first desire - to be a jazz singer, but I fell into acting. So I was - when I read the script that Carol got to sing, I thought, oh, got to come up with one of these songs that I used to sing years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "I'LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS")

DANNER: (As Carol, singing) Cry me a river. Cry me a river. I've cried a river over you.

BLOCK: There's a really striking parallel with this movie and your own life because your character has been a widow for 20 years after a very happy marriage, and you lost your husband, Bruce Paltrow, the director and producer, about - what, I guess 13 years ago?

DANNER: Thirteen, that's right.

BLOCK: Did that scare you in any way, that that part in some way was so close to your own experience? Or was that tempting?

DANNER: One of the things about being my age now - I'm 72 - is that I've lived a long life and it's all there, it's all crisp for the mill, you know? So I thought, aren't I lucky to be able to access all of this? So it didn't frighten me. I just felt that this was a wonderful present that I was able to call on to so much in my life and I was surprised that this was not so heart-wrenching. I just - all the emotional stuff just sort of came in waves. And I thank my past for - the grief that you go through is there to be tapped-in on, I think. And, you know, if you want to be grateful for loss, I guess that would be what would be - to be thanked.

BLOCK: I think at one point in the movie, Carol says, you know, what would be the point of dating someone new when I had when I had that?

DANNER: I sort of feel that way as well.

BLOCK: Really, in your own life?

DANNER: Yeah, pretty much.

BLOCK: There's a moment in the movie when you are arranging things on your mantelpiece in your home, and there's a photograph there showing you at a younger age with your husband and daughter. I was wondering if that actually was a picture of you and your late husband.

DANNER: It was. It wasn't supposed to be Bruce, but there he was. I was (laughter) actually surprised.

BLOCK: Do you remember what you thought when you saw his face in that picture?

DANNER: I said, thanks honey (laughter), it's good to have you here.

BLOCK: On the set.

DANNER: Yeah.

BLOCK: I'm trying to think back - is this the first time that you have had a lead role like this - a romantic - well, it's a comedy, but it's also - it's got a lot of pathos in there too. This is a first for you?

DANNER: The first in a film. I've been on stage for so many years. I've never, ever thought I would have a role like this, so...

BLOCK: Why not?

DANNER: Well, I've just never been - thought of myself as a film actress. I've always been a stage actress.

BLOCK: Well, it's not a bad deal to get a romantic lead at age 72.

DANNER: No. And I was 71 when we did it.

BLOCK: When you made the movie.

DANNER: (Laughter). This is the 50th year of my professional work life, so it's an anniversary gift, this movie.

BLOCK: Happy anniversary.

DANNER: Thank you, thank you.

BLOCK: I'm curious to talk to you about your stage work, which you've done for so many years. And you said you see yourself primarily as a stage actress, not as a film actress. What is the appeal of theater for you and why does that feel like home as opposed to a movie set?

DANNER: Well, there's much more physical freedom. You know, you grab the boards, as we call them. You get on stage and you hold on for dear life, but your feet are grounded and allows the rest of you to sort of fly.

BLOCK: Physically ground yourself like that.

DANNER: Yeah, yeah. But it is a place you can fly, too. That - once you're really rooted there it gives the rest of your spirit, your body, your instrument, if you want to call it, a chance to really take off.

BLOCK: Well, Blythe Danner, it's been fun to talk to you. Thank you so much.

DANNER: Thank you. Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Blythe Danner stars in the new movie, "I'll See You In My Dreams." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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