Golden Girl: Goldie Hawn Goes From Ditzy To Seriously Funny
This month (Nov. 21) Goldie Hawn turns 72 years young! From ditzy blond to seriously funny, Goldie talks career, grandparenting 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 bubble-headed 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.
Though they say dying is easy and comedy is hard, Goldie makes it look effortless. There’s no question she’s a superb actor, but she’s not the kind to disappear into a role or carve a performance into a monument to her own virtuosity. She’s always Goldie. And with a few exceptions (The Sugarland Express, Swing Shift), she has happily surrendered to her fate as a comedy star. “As time went on,” she says, “I was asked about being typecast. But the reality is this: one doesn’t have unrealistic expectations.” Flipping into the third person, she adds, “Looking at myself from 30,000 feet up, she was a funny girl. She was also dark and deep and did Shakespeare, but that’s not how people wanted to see her. They wanted to see her be funny. I wasn’t going out to show everybody what a great actress I am. I didn’t need that for my ego. The joy of sneaking into the back of the theatre and hearing people laugh might have been the greatest gift of all. Because I felt in some way I was doing service. So that’s the way I looked at it. It was my destiny.”
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Goldie Jeanne Hawn seems to have inherited her flair for showbiz and her practicality from her parents. Her father, a Presbyterian of German and English descent, was a bandleader; her mother, the Jewish daughter of Hungarian immigrants, owned a gift shop and a dance school. “My father,” she recalls, “always said, ‘Stick with reality. Goldie! You gotta know what’s real.’ And my mother was very, very practical.” Yet there’s a fairy-tale magic to Goldie’s creation story. Studying ballet from the age of three, she always wanted to be a dancer. She felt the thrill of performance for the first time as a terrified 10-year-old understudy, who was tapped to guide a partially blind prima ballerina, the legendary Alicia Alonso, onto the stage at a Ballet Russe performance of The Nutcracker. As Goldie recalls in her memoir, the moment she stepped from the wings, she was enraptured. Later, amid the applause, she made her first charming miscue—cradling a rose that had been thrown to the stage, she stepped out to take a bow with the show’s star.
From the get-go, Goldie flourished in the spotlight. She made her theatre debut at 15 as Juliet in a Shakespeare festival and fondly recalls breezing through reams of iambic pentameter without a hitch. Majoring in drama at university, Hawn dropped out to teach ballet, then danced professionally in a showgirl grind that took her from a Can Can revue at the World’s Fair to Andy Griffith’s Uptown-Downtown Show, a special on CBS. She also worked the clubs as a go-go girl, then hit rock bottom on stage in a New Jersey dive when she saw a man masturbating right in front of her.
It was not the only time she suffered gross sexual harassment. In her memoir, which is mostly full of sweetness and light, Hawn describes a vile encounter with the famous one-legged cartoonist Al Capp (creator of Li’l Abner), who lured her to his Manhattan apartment to audition for an NBC show. As Capp asks her to raise her skirt, she recalls in her memoir, “a shiver runs up and down my spine. When I let my eyes drift slowly back toward Mr. Capp, I see that my host has parted his silk robe to reveal a flaccid penis resting heavily against his wooden leg.”
The movie sank at the box office, but Hawn considers it possibly the finest work of her career. Nearly all the human drama takes place in a car, as the couple and the cop are trailed by a cavalcade of more than 100 police cars. As a gum-snapping white-trash desperado, Hawn gives a ferocious performance, cutting through her Southern-fried dialogue with scary intensity. “That was about as far from me as you could get,” she says, “The whole experience was like an aria. The choreography around it was amazing. And there was a tremendous amount of freedom. But they sold the movie with the wrong intention—with a big smile on my face, a gun and a teddy bear.”
The world wasn’t ready for Goldie, the avenging mother. But in 1980, they got what they wanted in the soft-core feminism of Private Benjamin, the story of a Jewish American princess who rocks the barracks, humiliates her dyke cartoon of a captain and leaves her philandering French fiancé at the altar, tossing her bridal veil to the wind. Hawn’s own marriage, to musician Bill Hudson, ended the year the movie came out. It had lasted four years—two less than her first marriage, to actor Gus Trikoni—and produced two children, Kate and Oliver Hudson. “Stardom and the baggage that came with it is what drove a wedge between us,” she says. But two years later, Hawn met her soulmate on the set of Swing Shift, a Second World War adultery drama. She starred as a young bride working in an airplane factory who cheats on her husband while he’s off fighting the Japanese, with Kurt Russell cast as her trumpet-playing paramour. It was as if Goldie had given herself an impossible challenge, to remain adorable as a scarlet woman. When the audience didn’t go for it, she blamed her director, Jonathan Demme. But Kurt was a keeper.
He and Goldie had a son, Wyatt Russell, in 1986. When Wyatt turned 16, so he could play junior hockey, the family moved from their Pacific Palisades home in Los Angeles to a Tudor-style house in North Vancouver. They also owned a cottage in Muskoka. But a few years later they moved back to L.A., selling the house and the cottage. “I thought I was a full-fledged Canadian,” Hawn sighs. “But I don’t have any Canadian blood any more.” Meanwhile, being a grandparent to Kate’s and Oliver’s kids has rejuvenated her, and she marvels at how it differs from being a parent. “When you have your children,” she says, “you don’t know that you can love each one in the same way with the same velocity. You just can’t believe the heart can take that much love. When you have grandchildren, you realize that there’s a part of your heart that hasn’t grown yet, and now that part has fulfilled me in a completely different way.”