By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Shirley MacLaine quickly announces herself.
“Hi! This is Shirley. I hope I’m not 2 minutes late, but I am,” she says, followed by a hearty laugh.
MacLaine is personable, funny and honest. Fans can count on it when the Oscar-winning actress, dancer and best-selling author comes to the Chandler Center for the Arts for An Afternoon with Shirley MacLaine on Sunday, February 10. She will share a montage of memorable film moments and private revelations about her life, career and spiritual journey. The sister of actor Warren Beatty, MacLaine will open the stage to questions as well.
A longtime outspoken advocate for civil rights and liberties, women’s rights and spiritual understanding, MacLaine guarantees she’ll be honest.
“I love to know what the audience is interested in at these things,” MacLaine says via telephone from her ranch in New Mexico. “I love the spontaneity of it all. I don’t care to know anything in advance. Whatever anybody wants to talk about is fine with me.”
MacLaine started making these appearances about a year ago and has been pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
“They were more interested in my (spiritual and autobiographical) books than Hollywood,” she says, sounding exasperated. “I think people are looking for answers that are above and beyond what we learn in school. They look to the otherness of it all.
“I think they appreciate my honesty about the truth of other realities. I think they know I tell the truth, at least as I see it. It’s not like I’m making anything up. It tells me they’re in good stead, I think. I think they look at my life and I’m still really working and creative and all that. Maybe they think this stuff works.”
In light of the current political and social divide, MacLaine says she feels her honesty – and honesty in general – is what America needs.
“I think we’re going through an awful lot of study and self-investigation, really,” she adds. “Many relationships are breaking up about what’s going on in Washington. Nobody knows what to make of it. Maybe it’s a good idea to shake things up, but I think truth would be better than lies.”
Don’t get MacLaine wrong; she is still acting. She has three movies slated for 2019, she says, without providing too many details. One is Noelle, a Christmas comedy also starring Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader, slated for release around Thanksgiving.
“I do know I’m getting most of the good old people roles because I’m still working,” she says. “Everyone else is retired or gone or something. I’m kind of around and these parts are wonderful. There’s so much wisdom and time and experience and humor. It really works for me to have been around this long.”
MacLaine describes the filming process as familial. She enjoys the crew’s work ethic and creativity. “I love the whole idea of knowing these people really well,” she says. “We’re usually together for months; sometimes with these independent films it’s less because there’s less money. Everybody is learning what to do with creativity; at the same time, it demands efficiency.”
MacLaine is concerned about the movie industry’s state after the horrific wildfires that plagued California. She said many of the crew members lived in the area hit hardest by the disaster. The sheriff near MacLaine’s California home even told her to evacuate.
“He said, ‘You’re out of here. That’s it,’” she recalls. “I said, ‘Where am I going?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. Just go.’ I did. I haven’t been back since.
“It made my heart break,” she says after a long pause. “To drive through PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) with flames on either side of the car (was terrible). My dogs have learned how to open the back doors of my rented car. They wanted to go out and play in the fire. A trip down PCH that usually takes 45 minutes took four and a half hours.”
She hasn’t returned to her home because PCH is closed and the air is filled with smoke pollution. She likens the subsequent rain and mudslides to a crime.
“It’s so tragic for so many,” MacLaine says. “It’s climate change personified. When you have rain on top of that, and Jerry Brown, the governor, speaking the truth – ‘It’s just the beginning. We need to stick together’ – whoa, he’s right. Alright, what does this really mean?”
She’s looking forward to fans at the Chandler Center for the Arts lightening her mood with fun and interesting questions and comments.
“One of the things I enjoy most are these live shows,” she says. “I learn so much about what’s happening in the culture by doing these. It’s very stimulating for me. I love not knowing what the questions are going to be or what’s going to happen. I love the lack of planning.
“I like to know what it is they like about me, what it is they get from the books or the parts. Sometimes even I forget what I’ve done, but they don’t seem to. There’s a whole relationship going on between people who make theatricality real and the audience. Shakespeare was right. We’re all just strutting our stuff on our own little stages. We’re creating the writing, the wardrobe, the makeup, the attitude, the lines, the things we care about. We’re creating it all. People need to be reminded they are the creation of their own reality.”