From ditzy blond to seriously funny, Goldie Hawn talks career, grand-parenting and what it took to get her back on screen.
Fifteen years. That's how long Goldie Hawn had been out of the game. She had not made a movie since she and Susan Sarandon played former groupies on a nostalgia trip in The Banger Sisters, back in 2002. In the meantime, she had published her memoir, Goldie: A Lotus Growing in the Mud. She had written a self-help book, 10 Mindful Minutes. Through her Hawn Foundation, she had created an international program called MindUP, which was imparting meditation techniques to a million schoolchildren in eight countries. And she was relishing her role as grandparent to five kids. Her mind was miles away from Hollywood. "I was immersed in a new life, with people who were changing the world," says Hawn, speaking by phone from Los Angeles. "I was endlessly stimulated and inspired. So did I ever wish I was making a movie? No. Never." Besides, the movie roles for women her age had no appeal. As far as she was concerned, her days of playing the bubbleheaded blond in fish-out-of-water comedies were long gone.
Until Amy Schumer asked if she would play her mother.
Hawn recalls their first awkward encounter. "I met Amy on an airplane, and she went, 'Oh, I have got this script, blah, blah, blah.' We sat down, and she said, 'I know you didn't recognize me.' I said, 'I actually didn't recognize you.'" A few months later, their paths crossed again at an awards gala in London. Schumer marched over to Hawn's table, where she was seated with daughter Kate Hudson and made her pitch: "I met you before and I have this movie and I really want you to do it!" Dutifully, Hawn looked into the project, noted that a major studio was behind it and checked out its 40-year-old director, Jonathan Levine, who had made comedies about spinal cancer and zombies (50-50, Warm Bodies). But it was Schumer who brought her on board. "She was the one who pushed this through," says Hawn. "It was her wish. And I was happy to be part of her wish."
And so a 71-year-old grandma took a break from changing the world one child at a time to share top billing with Hollywood's hottest gross-out comedy star. The movie, which opens in May on Mother's Day weekend, is Snatched, a mother-daughter vacation farce that takes a dysfunctional duo from rowdy hijinks at a South American beach resort to being kidnapped by bandits in a jungle hellhole ... in other words, a fish-out-of-water comedy.
Hawn doesn't seem in any rush to promote it. I was hoping to hear wild tales of doing tequila shots with Schumer after cavorting on location in Hawaii. The film's trailer certainly packs a wallop—scenes of Hawn slathering Schumer with a whole bottle of suntan lotion, and Schumer getting caught in a men's washroom refreshing her crotch at the sink. But in the course of our interview, Hawn doesn't dish. Instead, she talks about shooting a comedy as if it were quantum physics, with Schumer as a star pupil at the head of the class.
As a movie star accustomed to people assuming she's as ditzy as her characters, Hawn soon recognized the brain behind Schumer's rude bravado. "She's got her style, she's got her delivery," she says, almost dismissively. "Then I met her and saw she's a really smart, good girl. And very much a family person. I saw how much fun it would be to work with somebody who really gets it. And she did not disappoint. She looks at comedy as seriously as I do. She looks at a way to fix things. Because comedy is hard. You have to know where the joke is, how to get to the joke. It's a science project. It's a mathematical equation."
That takes me back to watching Goldie with my family 50 years ago on the TV show that made her famous, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. I remember her in front of a blackboard with a pointer explaining time zones, as if there were nothing funnier than a dumb blond doing a science lecture. Hawn would make a fine art of flubbing her lines and batting her eyes as she turned every sketch into a comedy of errors—when she wasn't go-go dancing in a bikini and body paint. In the era of three-channel TV, Laugh-in was a No. 1 show, watched by one in four Americans. And Goldie Hawn its sparkplug. Cast as a post-modern cliché from the Swinging '60s, she was America's free-spirited sweetheart, romancing an age of innocence that had already passed.
First-wave feminists condemned her Laugh-in character as a bimbo stereotype, but she knew exactly what she was doing. Goldie (who deserved to be a one-named star as much as Cher or Madonna) was the wide-eyed naïf who could steal a scene with a pickpocket's sleight of hand or melt hearts with a coy bite of her lower lip. She re-engineered the cliché of the secretly smart dumb blond and parlayed it into a stellar film career. Goldie was Marilyn Monroe recast as Peter Pan. Instead of dying young as a narcotic martyr to wasted glamour, she became Hollywood's ageless flower child, now pushing her girlish insouciance into her 70s. Along the way, she subverted the giddy stereotype in popular fables of female empowerment such as Private Benjamin and The First Wives Club. And after weathering two divorces, she's found stability in her 34-year unmarried partnership with actor Kurt Russell, along with their extended family of four grown children and the five grandkids. Reshaping her mind and body like a never-ending school project, she looks preternaturally young, still the hippie princess with long golden tresses. And still a star.
Goldie belongs to a select constellation of Hollywood actresses. Even after a 15-year hiatus, she's one of the few women of her generation who can still command a leading role in a studio picture—along with Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton and (possibly) Helen Mirren. But unlike those five A-list peers, who boast a collective total of 40 Oscar nominations and eight wins, she has never been considered a "serious" actor. In her 50-year career, she has picked up only one Academy Award, winning Best Supporting Actress for her first significant film role, as a lovelorn ingenue in Cactus Flower (1969). After that, over the course of another 25 movies, she received just one more nomination, for 1981's Private Benjamin, which remains her biggest hit.
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