BLYTHE’S THEATRICAL SPIRIT
Byline: Sari Botton
NEW YORK — Do actors contribute positively to the world? Blythe Danner used to think not.
“I discouraged my kids from going into the business for a long time, for a number of reasons,” recalls the actress, whose many movies include “The Great Santini,” “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,” and “The Prince of Tides.” She’s now starring in Harold Pinter’s “Moonlight” at the Roundabout Theater Company until Dec. 17. “My daughter was so bright, I said to her, grow up and make a difference in the world. Find a cure for AIDS, or something.”
The daughter she’s referring to is Gwyneth Paltrow, the 23-year-old actress who’s clearly disregarded her mother’s suggestion to find a more noble calling. Two years ago, Paltrow got to act with her mom in a summer production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” After getting a lot of attention for small but pivotal roles in two films, “Flesh and Bone” and “Jefferson in Paris,” Paltrow’s career has begun to take off. She was in one of 1995’s few real hits — “Seven,” in which she played a young married woman opposite her real-life boyfriend, Brad Pitt — and she’s the star of the forthcoming screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma.”
“Watching Gwyneth has actually made me be more forgiving of the profession,” Danner says. Her feelings about acting as a less-than-worthy undertaking inspired her to become a social activist, supporting environmental and pro-choice efforts for 25 years. “Gwyneth moves me, though, and I’ve realized that’s one of the things actors do for people — they move them emotionally. Gwyneth is very good at that. She does it almost effortlessly.”
It could be hereditary. In her current role as Bel, a somber, dissatisfied wife at the bedside of her dying husband (Jason Robards), Danner communicates a range of emotions, and she does it with subtle acting and minimal stage activity.
“In ‘Moonlight,’ I’m seated in a chair for most of the evening,” she points out. Her dialog is simple, too, but Danner is expressive with her eyes and her restrained body language, and the chemistry between her and Robards helps clarify the fairly cryptic story of a dying man whose resentful sons won’t come to bid him farewell.
“Karel Reisz directed the play very specifically, and Pinter gives you very strong parameters in the silences, the pauses and the writing,” Danner explains. “Yet within that, there’s some freedom. Every night it’s a bit different. That’s one of the reasons I love Pinter.”
“Moonlight” marks Danner’s second appearance in a Pinter work.
“I did ‘Betrayal’ with Raul Julia in 1979,” she reports.
Just prior to “Moonlight,” Danner appeared on stage in the comedy, “Sylvia,” about a couple and their dog, played by Sarah Jessica Parker.
“The difference between the two plays is night and day,” Danner says. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do these two, because they’re so opposite. I’ve always been glad I’ve been sort of anonymous in the business, because that allows you great freedom to swing from one complete end of the spectrum to the other, which I did this season. I’ve enjoyed that immensely.”
Her daughter doesn’t have the same luxury. Danner says Paltrow prefers the much more broadly publicized screen to the stage. And being in a relationship with one of Hollywood’s most popular hunks hardly helps keep her under wraps.
“I worry about it,” Danner admits. “She’s very young, and it’s a lot to handle. But she seems to be doing very well with it. She’s always had a great sense of herself. I think she and Brad are both very talented actors who deserve a lot of attention — but it’s important to have some privacy, too.”