At 84, Rowlands dances back onscreen in 'Lessons'

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Don't get Gena Rowlands started on the bulk of film roles she gets offered these days: a lot of grumpy and ill-fated old women.

"I can say, for sure, I die," the actress noted, smiling. "But I have had some really great parts, too."

Indeed, the 84-year-old veteran's resume includes two Oscar nominations earned while working with her late husband, actor-director John Cassavetes __ first for their 1974 indie classic "A Woman Under the Influence" and again for the 1980 crime drama "Gloria."

A new generation of filmgoers was introduced to Rowlands as the elderly version of the Rachel McAdams character in the 2004 romantic-drama blockbuster "The Notebook," directed by Rowlands' son, Nick Cassavetes.

In "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," opening this weekend, Rowlands is Lily Harrison, a sharp-tongued septuagenarian who gets more than she bargained for after hiring a private dance instructor, portrayed by Cheyenne Jackson.

Rowlands said she wasn't much of a dancer at the start of shooting the film adaptation of the stage play, but learned enough to get by from Broadway veteran Jackson ("Xanadu").

And Rowlands returned the favor, offering her co-star advice about acting. Recalled Jackson: "We were talking about close-ups, and I had to do a monologue and was kind of in my head about it and she said, 'If you think it, the camera will see it.'"

Added Rowlands: "You know John Cassavetes did the same thing for me. I was stuck on one of the first pictures that he and I did together and I couldn't quite get it. I said, 'John, would you give me a hint about this?' He said, 'I wrote the script and I wrote it with you in mind. And you read it.' And he said, 'You do it. Now do it!' That's the best advice I ever had."

Rowland's award wins including four Emmys and two Golden Globes, and last week, she was honored with a handprint ceremony in front of Hollywood's Chinese Theatre.

Looking back on her career, Rowlands said, "I just think the really wonderful thing about acting is that you get to lead so many lives. You don't just have to get stuck with your own life, even if you like your own life. Every part you play opens part of the world to you, and you can't help but understand more things than when you started."