Shirley MacLaine’s life is punctuated by a mix of explosive talent, razor-sharp wit and seasoned wisdom.
At 78, she has graced the entertainment industry for more than six decades in a career that spans the era of classic Billy Wilder comedies and the Rat Pack to the wildly popular PBS television drama “Downton Abbey” – and beyond.
Known for some seriously lofty performances, including her unforgettable rendition of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” in “Sweet Charity” and her Oscar-winning portrayal of a fiercely protective mother in “Terms of Endearment,” this amazing actress, dancer, author and outspoken New Age spiritualist continues to capture our attention and hearts.
In addition to appearing in more than 50 films, MacLaine has penned 13 books, including “I’m Over All That: And Other Confessions,” a witty and fearless collection
of small observations and big-picture questions (“How peaceful it is to not have to look particularly pretty anymore or to wear a size 6”), as well as “Sage-ing While Age-ing,” in which she confronts the realities and rewards of growing older, reflecting on the greater understanding of her own life experiences and place in the universe.
When her internal explorations began to take a spiritual and metaphysical turn in the 1980s, MacLaine garnered the reputation for being “quirky” based upon her open discussions about UFOs and reincarnation. Undaunted by the naysayers, she went on to publish more books on a variety of spiritual subjects and in 2002 inaugurated her own website, where followers can find information regarding horoscopes, numerology and meditation, and shop for nutritional supplements, aromatherapy and handmade jewelry.
Over the holidays, MacLaine returned to her home in Santa Fe, N.M., from New Orleans, where she is currently filming “Elsa and Fred” with Christopher Plummer and George Segal.
“It’s kind of a senior love story,” says MacLaine, “which I think so many people today are craving.”
And craving we are, especially when the storyline allows her acerbic tone and sassy attitude to shine through, Shirley-style.
For one evening only, on February 23, MacLaine will bring her iconic brand of straightforward speak and open-minded intelligence to Overland Park, where, in the intimate setting of Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College, she will share memories of her Hollywood movies and personal experiences in show biz.
“I love being on the stage, where I can be myself,” muses MacLaine. “So what I do is just talk about whatever occurs to me. I show some film clips, and then I’ll stop and tell stories about little things that I remember and answer everyone’s questions. Each time I make an appearance like this it is unique and different, and it is so much fun.”
Despite her busy schedule (she currently has eight movies in pre- or post-production for 2013), MacLaine hosts more than 15
similar onstage appearances around the country each year.
This already hefty schedule tilted the “over the top” meter when she recently joined the cast of “Downton Abbey” for their highly anticipated third season, a well-timed opportunity that will surely bring her phenomenal talent to the forefront of yet another generation of loyal fans. In this role, she crosses the pond to play the matriarch Martha Levinson, a widowed American heiress and mother of Cora Crawley, countess of Grantham.
“Martha is basically a woman from America who comes to the UK and is proposing change instead of all this adoration of class,” says MacLaine, who admits that one of her favorite things about Martha’s character was the speeches she gave on that subject. “In addition to announcing to everyone at ‘Downton’ that they shouldn’t look to her bank account for financial help, Martha pleads with the Dowager countess (played by the actress Maggie Smith) to become more flexible regarding change.”
As to whether a fourth season is in her future, MacLaine states that she would love to, but that it depends on a lot of things.
“Let’s not put the cart before the horse, as they say,” cautions MacLaine. “Let’s make it a surprise.”
But whether or not she returns to “Downton,” this powerhouse actress shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
“I really enjoy the television shows and the characters that I play in movies, but my first love is the live stage,” MacLaine says. “I love to learn from the live audience. I think of life itself now as a wonderful play that I’ve written for myself, and so my purpose is to have the utmost fun playing my part.”