BEVERLY HILLS — “You can hardly go wrong in Paris,” says Gena Rowlands, who, at 76, still commands a room with her presence and rich voice. The actress penned her first script, “Quartier Latin,” for the film “Paris, je t’aime,” in theaters this week, in which she and longtime friend and collaborator Ben Gazzara play a once-married couple reuniting in the French capital.
“Ben and I have been friends for more years than I can think of, so it was not work so much as just having a good time,” she says from her perch in a director’s chair in a suite at the Beverly Wilshire hotel here.
Each of the film’s segments is set in a different arrondissement, and Rowlands chose the Latin Quarter because “it’s pretty and lively, and there was a darling restaurant there and I liked seeing the opera in the background. I just thought the whole thing was fun.”
Despite her cavalier attitude, Rowlands put a great deal of thought into the nuanced dialogue between her character and Gazzara’s, which is not surprising since many of the films she collaborated on with Gazzara and her late husband, John Cassavetes, dealt with domestic drama. “These are two Americans, who, for whatever reason, are in Paris. So I thought, ‘What are people Benny’s and my age doing in Paris that would be some kind of love story?’ and it occurred to me one of the most recognizable things among people is a man who likes younger women,” she says. “I imagined them as having married young, quarreled, made up, got divorced and got married again. Now they have been separated for a long time and she lives in Paris.”
Without giving away too much (the film is only five minutes long), suffice it to say that old wounds remain fresh. “That’s where the bantering and needling come in, and I was hoping we could leave the impression that there is still the residual love that I have noticed in quite a few divorced people. It’s not always a bitter, horribly awful thing. If you love someone, it must be very hard to completely get that out of your system.”
This story first appeared in the May 3, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Rowlands is still every bit as in-demand on-screen as she was 50 years ago. She stars in the Lifetime film “What If God Were the Sun?” premiering on May 14, and voices a role in the animated movie “Persepolis” in August. Her offspring are equally thriving: Zoe Cassavetes just made her directorial and writing debut with “Broken English,” Nick Cassavetes directed “Alpha Dog” earlier this year and daughter Xan Cassavetes is writing scripts.
While many of her signature roles are high drama, Rowlands says of her current project: “I like this film. It’s one that people can go and enjoy and not have to worry about cars crashing or machine guns going off.”