Blythe Danner Gets Her Swag On at Sundance


Two topics dominate any current discussion of film: the Oscars and Sundance. In a moment of conformity, we have decided to address both of these topics via an interview with Blythe Danner.

Danner, while not an Oscar winner herself, is the mother of infamous Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow. She also plays Melanie Lynskey‘s mother in Hello, I Must be Going, the film that opened Sundance’s U.S. Narrative competition. Danner first made a name for herself in the theater, but has attained mainstream recognition through her more recent filmwork, in which she has played a multitude of mothers—be it a WASPy mother (Meet the Parents), an impossibly overbearing mother (Up All Night), a WASPy and impossibly overbearing mother (What’s Your Number) or her own daughter’s mother (Plath). Not a particularly positive indicator of the Hollywood roles available to women over 60.

We caught Danner in between Sundance screenings and hopping on a plane to discuss swag, her first film at Sundance and how she feels about her maternal typecasting.

EMMA BROWN: Can you tell me a little bit about the part that you play in Hello, I Must be Going?

BLYTHE DANNER: I play what a lot of people would say is a mean mother. My daughter, played by Melanie Lynskey, has come back to live with me and my husband. She has gone through a very bad divorce, so she’s very depressed and is not doing anything and around the house, and I have a very short fuse, unfortunately. My husband, played by  John Rubenstein in this film, who’s wonderful, as is Melanie, is so understanding with her, and I think I’m just not at all sympathetic. But [my character Ruth] is a three-dimensional woman, she’s got lots of really funny dialogue; it’s really hilarious. I feel grateful to have this role because she runs the gamut of emotions, and I don’t really get a chance to play women like that. The response we’ve gotten so far has been great.

BROWN: You’ve played a lot of overbearing mothers, and it’s a role that could so easily turn into a caricature; how do you keep find meaning in these roles and keep yourself interested in your characters?

DANNER: Well, I can’t always pick and choose, but I try very hard to take the roles where they are a bit more human. Sometimes there’s a hilarious thing that comes along and it might not be the most interesting character,  but I’m just delighted to be able to do something. [laughs] I’m not an actor who can constantly pick and choose, I try to get the best of what’s there. That’s why I’m so grateful for this role because as I say, she’s a complicated person.

BROWN: How did you become attached to this project?

DANNER: I was offered it and I said, “Absolutely. I’m on board.”

BROWN: Did anything surprise you while filming it?

DANNER: I guess how easily it’s come together. We finished shooting just a few months ago, I think it must hold a record for editing and completing and appearing in a festival. I never heard of a movie that’s come together that quickly.

BROWN: You opened the festival, how was that?

DANNER: It was great! I didn’t realized what a big deal it was to be in competition and open the festival. Clearly they have high regards for the movie, as they should have. Melanie’s terrific and we have a great young actor, Christopher Abbott. Our writer and director [Sarah Koskoff and Todd Louiso] are married and there’s just such an ease; their cooperation, their union, has just made this whole thing so smooth. They’ve worked together on this for a long time before we all came on board.

BROWN: We’re you aware of Melanie’s work before you started filming together?

DANNER: Yes, I knew Melanie from Two and a Half Men and some other things she’s done. She’s absolutely heartbreaking in the movie; her and Christopher [Abbott], we knew the first day that it would be wonderful because they just hit it off immediately.

BROWN: Is this your first film at Sundance?

DANNER: Yes, it is my first film. I’ve been here before for my children’s films, but this is my first film [at Sundance] so it’s particularly exciting.

BROWN: Did your children have any insider advice to give you?

DANNER: Just “Have a good time.” It’s a very easy place to have a good time, it’s snowing and very beautiful and there’s lots of great “swag” as they call it [laughs], which I’m hoping to give away, I’m not going to keep it all, spread it around a little bit in this economical time of hardship that lots of people are in.

BROWN: Are you looking forward to seeing anything in particular while at Sundance?

DANNER: I’m just swamped [with press] and I have to leave today, so I haven’t been able to see anything else. [But] I really urge people to see Rashida Jones’ film [Celeste and Jesse Forever], I’ve seen that, not here but I saw it another time, and it’s absolutely wonderful.

BROWN: What is your next project?

DANNER: I’m in a film called The Lucky One, adapted from a Nicholas Sparks book, it’s with Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling and then I’m doing a new play by a young playwright up in Williamstown this summer.