Byline: Merle Ginsberg
Rita Wilson has developed something of a reputation lately as one of Hollywood’s most glamorous gals. At last October’s Carousel Ball, she — along with her pals Kate Capshaw and Goldie Hawn — basically held court in their designer duds and designer bodies, giggling all night like schoolgirls. And Rita would get even more glam if her husband — Tom Hanks — weren’t such a fuddy-duddy.
Decked out in full-on Calvin Klein black satin and leather, and Dolce & Gabbana shoes (“from what Tom calls ‘the era of ugly shoes!”‘) in a suite at New York’s Lowell Hotel, her brown hair made professionally bigger by the nearby hairdresser, all she’s missing is big red lips to complete the Hollywood feeling. Instead, her lips are neutral.
“My husband hates red lipstick,” she proclaims. “Whenever I’m out of L.A., I usually whip out my secret stash of red — believe me, I have them! — and I put on big red lips and black sunglasses and feel very fashionable. I love to get all dressed up for parties in L.A., but if you notice, never any red lips. It probably goes back to some teacher Tom had in grade school.”
Wilson’s in Manhattan to help out “Mixed Nuts,” the Nora Ephron comedy in which she co-stars with Steve Martin. It got dreadful reviews and hasn’t been performing at the box office like the big Christmas hit Tri-Star hoped it would be. But for Wilson, it’s still a big deal: In it, she plays her own opposite, a shy, fumbly, dowdy woman who can’t dress to save her life .
“All my friends were laughing when they saw it,” Wilson notes in characteristic bubbly fashion. “‘You’re acting!’ is what they said. It was a challenge to play somebody like that, to see the comic possibilities in playing someone who’s retreating. I read the script early on, but I had to put it down because right away I knew I wanted the part too bad. I knew the studio would want other people before me. You would not believe the list of people up for this part!
“Finally, I called up Nora, who’s a friend after ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ [which Ephron wrote and directed and in which Wilson also appears] and said, ‘I want to read for you.’ I went up to her apartment in New York, scrubbed my face, wore a dowdy dress, put my hair into a boring style, used a hanky — essentially became a nerdy old lady. Then it took the studio two months to approve me! But I understand how it all works — I haven’t had a lead in a movie since I did ‘Volunteers’ with Tom. I’m just so happy to be working.”
Unlike most other actors, Wilson and her very-working husband feel grateful for their careers.
“I met Tom on his fourth movie, so who knew? It’s so insane what’s happened to him, even in the last year. I owe a lot to him as just an amazing example of a person in this business who conducts himself with the utmost integrity and class and humor. And of not letting things get to you. We’ve been up, we’ve been down, now we’re on top of this little wave that we’re riding — but we also know that changes, too. So you just enjoy it while it’s happening.”
It’s hard to believe that as a professional actress, she’s not even a tad jealous of her husband, who won an Oscar last year for “Philadelphia” and who’s up for a Golden Globe next Saturday and is a likely Oscar nominee for “Forest Gump.”
“No, I don’t think that,” she says, not even insulted at the suggestion. “I just don’t operate that way. We do know that if you’re a man, there are just more opportunities — that’s just a fact. I’m about to start another movie, ‘The Gaslight Addition,’ with Demi Moore, Melanie Griffith and Rosie O’Donnell. And believe me, even when I’m not working, I’m doing a lot. When Tom was shooting ‘League of Their Own,’ I learned how to ride English. While he was shooting ‘Gump,’ I began cooking low-fat, and started running. Now I run four miles a day — and I couldn’t believe I lost 15 pounds! Now I can wear anything to the Golden Globes!”