I’m asked to host screenings and events quite often, and there are only seven nights in a week; the biggest arbiter of when I agree to participate is whether or not the people involved interest me. So when the Los Angeles Film Festival proposed an on-stage conversation with the two stars of their opening-night movie Bernie, directed by Richard Linklater, it was easy to say yes. Who wouldn’t want to spend an evening with Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black? But rather than conduct a conventional q&a they wanted the event to run like a quiz show under the title “Don’t You Know Who I Am?” The premise was to ask each performer questions about his/her own career.
As it turns out, both of them were a bit nervous about this idea lest they look foolish in front of an audience. Over dinner I reassured them that we would keep things loose and flexible, and use the questions only as a jumping-off point for open-ended talk. It seems to have worked out well. I was told to go an hour, or more if I needed; no one was more surprised than I when I checked my watch and found that 75 minutes had already gone by!
Shirley admits that she has little memory for the content of her films, and once she starts spinning stories about her costars and—
—directors, it’s easy to see why. (As she says in her touring show, what she remembers most is how much she weighed at the time and who she was in love with.) There was a palpable chill in the room when she described how distant and unfeeling Billy Wilder was with her during the making of The Apartment. During the screening of dailies, which everyone on the film was encouraged to attend, following a scene that the director felt she hadn’t nailed, he got up and said with a shrug to the assembled group, “Well, I tried.”