That sounds like a very exciting time and one of the most exciting images in your book for me, as a complete film geek, was of you on an out of control black horse running through Federico Fellini’s set at Cinecitta studios in Rome. That is forever burned into my memory. What an indelible meeting of the minds… what did you learn from him?
(laughing) Well, of course, everyone loves his work. Who could not love his work? 8 ½ ?! But also, he taught me how to make sauces, Italian cooking. He was sincere. I made him fried chicken. He was just such a prolific film maker and there were films being made all over the world, en masse, not just in America, but over in Roma at Cinecitta and in India, in Bombay, in Hong Kong, that all showed the power of cinema. And when you can put a political agenda in cinema, which in the films that I did, so many political agendas were addressed, it’s exhausting, but he thought of a way. We learned that people want to see beautiful cars, handsome men, handsome women. He would say that the world was not, that everyone in the world is and he could capture beauty in anything and in anyone. I thought I was horrifically dressed and my hair… (laughing) He thought I was the most stunning fantasy up on this horse, no make-up, just moi. There I was. He taught me about beauty and the simplicity of beauty.
So from one auteur to the next, I have to ask about Quentin Tarantino and Jackie Brown. I was fascinated by the detail in your book about the process of making the film and the process of creating the character. The whole journey was amazing. What elements of Jackie were most like you and which were most unlike you?
I think that the dominant character, is the will for self-survival. Handling the gun when Ordell [Samuel L. Jackson] comes to her apartment to kill her, her element of cool. The seamless cool. And Quentin had rehearsed Sam and I. He had taken three days to light that set, so we had to hit our marks, he didn’t want us to drop a line. It was a fifteen minute, lengthy scene and it wanted it slow, like a dance. And he said ‘the main thing is that I don’t want anyone to see you take the gun out of the purse and put it in the back of your skirt.Now, how do you do this?’ [I said] ‘I don’t know!’ (laughing) Oh God, another rehearsal please! (laughing)
All day, by myself. And I did! I rehearsed it as if it was something that was so effortless and something that I had done before, because you didn’t know if Jackie had been around firearms before. I had to bring this level of comfort to her. I don’t smoke, Jackie smoked. The gun, I’m familiar with firearms, I don’t flinch, I’m not afraid. A lot of people are afraid of a firearm and won’t touch it. And then the fact that she has this will, this steel will, especially against Michael Keaton, who was so intense to work with; brilliant, just brilliant. I just brought a level of my survival skills and that means to be calm and to use my senses and when you live in a rural area, there is predation around me and you know that you don’t go for a walk after dark. Or as your walking, you don’t walk around with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Or a hot dog. (laughing) You’ll be eaten. There’s just certain elements of awareness that I brought to the character that gave her subtext.
So we’ve talked about racism and sexism, but I wonder what kind of ageism you see in the business right now?
Oh, there’s a lot of ageism because everyone is definitely afraid of aging. The fear of aging and dying is so prevalent that people are off-balance when they should be embracing it like other cultures do. I don’t define myself by my age but my energy. The men I am attracted to are in their 40s and they don’t even know what I am! They’re like ‘God, you look like you’re in your 40s and then whoa! They don’t realize that I am much older than they are! (laughing) After a while, it really doesn’t matter. What I see is that people do have a fear, they’re really afraid of losing the beauty. They love it so much they don’t want to move forward, which is unhealthy. They don’t want to balance their lives, which is unhealthy.
When you look at other countries, and their cinema, and their standards of beauty, you see women and they don’t dye their hair, they look fabulous, they’re sexy, it comes from within. If you’re superficial on the outside, you’ll never get to know the instrinsic, the innate wonderfulness of someone’s inner beauty. In this climate, its very shallow, if you will. Is it Madison Avenue? Is it advertising? Are they selling youth by the gallon because people are afraid of aging? Therefore you have 12-year-olds getting facelifts and nose jobs and breast augmentation, and the parents taking them and not wanting to see their children age because then they’re reminded that they’re aging.
So, those are the real valid issues and if they balance it, it will be great, but if there’s an imbalance… I still want to see a “Golden Girl” on television, today’s Golden Girls. Remember The Golden Girls with Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White? Estelle Getty was brilliant, she was the one that was very youthful in her spirit, but was the oldest one, she was the elder.
Absolutely. I’m obsessed with that show, of course. I think that the show was actually really edgy, ahead of it’s time, even…
(laughing) It was, for it’s time, it was brilliant! If there were Golden Girls for this time, it would be fabulous. For the baby boomers, there should be another Golden Girls. Today’s Golden Girls, drive in Porsches, they drive their own planes, and have a lot more giddyup! I’ve pitched it several times and they look at me like ‘we’re looking at the 19- to 49-year-old boys’ [demographic] and I go (disappointed) ‘okkkkkkkk….’ (laughing)
I love your association with The L-Word and I also love what you say about the queer community’s struggle for equality. I think that anybody who has Pam Grier on their side is going to win the fight! It feels as though you have a deep, personal connection to justice and equality.What is the next step, in your opinion, in equality in same sex marriage and queer rights?
I think that no one wants to be forced into any decision, no one wants someone sitting and pontificating in front of them. I think the greates act of service was to show these wonderful stories about these [allegedly] “scary” people, humanizing them in story and having it matter. I had never had such a wonderful feeling before, not once, but on several occasions, people would come up to me—and these are varied genders, male and female, white and black—and would say to me that because of me, they watched the show and realized that they had tossed away, thrown away like a discarded soul, someone who was born into their family, who was gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender. They threw away people. And I said (takes a very serious tone) ‘have you ever put yourself in someone else’s shoes? Have you ever thought about you being in that position? What would you do? What would you think?’
And also, it’s greater than mankind who invents and writes Bibles and writes theories and writes things, but when it comes from a greater source, every human being, as in the teachings of Buddha, has a purpose on this planet. The world is a big puzzle and we’re little pieces that fit. When you come from another entity, a religious entity, that is on many occasions hypocritical with race and gender issues, people will follow those dogmas and crucify other human beings because of a teaching that is archaic and may not fit today. It makes you wonder… Sixty percent of Americans in this country don’t have a college education, that have no belief in evolution, that have such a strong belief in archaic issues that outside of this country… they look at us and say ‘who are those people?!’ They’re so abundant, then they say ‘we’re the number one most powerful, most educated people in the world’, but not anymore, obviously. We’re rated like number 18. Brazil has the same economy that we do today. We don’t have enough PhDs in our country to run our new technology, we have to buy them from other countries, India’s been good, they stay there and they make $15,000 as a PhD. Everyone believes in self-improvement to the max. They come over here and make a $100,000 as a PhD.
We don’t have enough PhDs in this country, which is sad. And we still have people saying (doing a spot-on backwoods religious zealot accent) ‘welllllll, ya know the Bible says…and ya know that’s wronnnnng... and a marriage is between a man and a womannnnn.’ So when you have people making up laws and issues for other human beings… Remember when women couldn’t vote or drive? You couldn’t marry a black person and in some states that’s still on the books? You couldn’t marry outside of your race? ‘You can’t because I say so?’ So when you have that thinking and you have that philosophy, and you have people passing it on and the other countries are flying past us… then you wonder. How do we go to them? You have shows, you have television shows, that just show people living their lives with great dignity and suspense and uncertainty and fun. And you show these people and you humanize them. I think that is one of the ways.
I think almost everybody knows someone who has had cancer but many fewer actually know someone who has beat it. What is the key piece of advice you can offer to people who are diagnosed with the disease?
Seek knowledge. Bill Moyer, does the documentary that I saw the night before I had to inform everyone the next day of, you know, [how] I’ve got a road ahead of me of therapy and wellness and surgery and uncertainty. He had visited these countries, witch doctors and shamans and the theories and therapies that were not Western and he observed this woman who had a cyst on her back and in China where you have two billion people… they don’t have a lot of hospitals, [even though] you know, they have two billion people. This woman had acupuncture, acupressure, and herbs and tea and they saw this tumor go to zero. She had no cancer in her body. That’s when I knew, that was a sign, Bill Moyers, Mind Over Matter and it is in book form and documentary on DVD. Balance, Eastern medicine, balance in life. I didn’t know if it would help but I certainly sought it.