She is Larry David’s wife in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Robin Williams’ long-suffering, “Little GTO”-singing spouse in “RV” and John C. McGinley’s long-estranged “Born Again” sister on “Scrubs.”
But one thing funnywoman and Florida native Cheryl Hines has never played is Southern. Until now.
Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Adrienne Shelly, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith
(Fox Searchlight Pictures; US theatrical: 2 May 2007 (Limited release); 2007)
“Waitress” has Hines as a big-haired, drawling, tight-jeans Southern waitress. The Hollywood comic, who spends “so much of my time, out here (in Hollywood) trying not to let that show,” finally had the role to let the grits out.
“My grandmother used to live in Frostproof (Fla.),” Hines says. “Tiny little town. But there was a woman there named Fran who always had her hair done and frosty blue eye shadow and red, red lipstick. Very sassy, too.
“And I always thought, `Why the hair and the makeup? You’re in Frostproof !’
“But I loved being around her. She was Frostproof’s version of glamour. Becky (Hines’ character in “Waitress”) is my tribute to her.”
Hines, 41, grew up in Tallahassee, got the acting bug in college and joined The Groundlings comedy troupe in Los Angeles after graduating. Lisa Kudrow was a fellow cast member. Hines is married to the chairman of The Groundlings and says that Groundlings improv training is what has kept her working, on the largely-improvised “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” in the new poker tourney comedy “The Grand,” and even in scripted movies like “Waitress.”
“My manager sent me a copy of the script and said, `Now, don’t agree to this unless you really really love it. It’s going to be a very small independent film, so you won’t make much money. Just do it if you love it.’
“I thought about it, read the script again, and decided that I really really loved it. It’s a lot more like the character parts I’ve played in The Groundlings than anything else I’ve done in the movies or on TV.”
“Waitress” stars Keri Russell as Jenna, an unhappily married waitress and pie maker at a Southern diner, a woman who confides her misery to her two colleagues and best friends (fellow waitresses Becky and Dawn, played by Hines and Adrienne Shelley, the writer-director of the movie).
It’s a movie “filled with the kind of aggressively eccentric Southerners that both Yankees and Dixie chicks seem to believe populate all of Georgia and Alabama,” writes Michael Booth in The Denver Post, and a film in which everyone “speaks in smart deadpan-ese” (Ty Burr, The Boston Globe).
Hines, the native Southerner in the cast, drawls many of the best lines.
“I’m married to a drooling invalid, and Dawn eats TV dinners alone every night, and we both still don’t want to be you,” Becky tells Jenna.
“One of Adrienne’s concerns shooting the film is that she didn’t want to become `a scene from Alice,’” Hines says. “I mean, three waitresses, diner, the evil cook boss. She was really worried people would make too much of that comparison.”
They haven’t. “Waitress” is winning raves and being called this summer’s potential sleeper, 2007’s “Little Miss Sunshine.” But it’s also a movie with a touch of the bittersweet. Shelly, the woman who conceived it, was tragically murdered last fall in New York. Hines says everybody involved is still saddened by that, but proud of what Shelly managed to leave as “her legacy.”
“I loved the day we shot the wedding of her character,” Hines says, sounding a wistful. “She was dressed in a wedding gown. She’d do a take, and rustle rustle rustle in her big gown over to the monitors to watch the scene played back. And then she’d rustle back out and give notes to everybody. Picking up her skirt, running back and forth. Hilarious.
“She did a brilliant job directing the film, staying focused but having fun at the same time.”
That’s something Hines admires and wants to emulate. She’s producing a comedy pilot she wrote (but won’t star in) for E! She’s doing a voice for the upcoming animated film “Space Chimps” for her “RV” director, Barry Sonnenfeld.
And she’s always on the lookout for a game. Hines is a self-confessed “poker fiend.” She’s put her poker face on for episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and in a new film just now making the festival circuit, “The Grand.” Zak Penn rounded up Hollywood poker players and character actors from Woody Harrelson and Jason Alexander to Hines, brought them to Vegas, and improvised a movie around a Vegas poker tournament.
“I stayed in the Golden Nugget, downtown,” she says, laughing. “A suite decorated in the `70s, with these automatic blinds, the works. Really captures Las Vegas.
“When we aren’t on the set shooting, I’d go out playing poker. They’d call me on my cell and get me back on the set.”
Is she any good?
“The last table part of the tournament, Zak just put us in there with our money and let us play. `Let whoever wins, win.’ And let’s just say I took home a little something extra - a few hundred dollars worth - that night.”