Academy Award winner Cloris Leachman has been making people laugh with her hilarious turn as the 84-year-old grandmother with Alzheimer's, Maw Maw, on the Fox sitcom Raising Hope for the past few years. Before that, however, Leachman had already amassed a great resume of work including performances in films like Kiss Me Deadly, The Last Picture Show, Young Frankenstein, and The Iron Giant.
Leachman's latest project is one that genre fans should really enjoy. She plays Gladys in Tom Mattera and Dave Mazzoni's indie psychological thriller based on true events, The Fields, which tells the story of a young boy (Joshua Ormond) and his family as they're terrorized by a mysterious presence emerging from the cornfields around their small farm. The film also stars Tara Reid and Joshua Ormond and it's an accomplished slow burn that horror fans should definitely seek out when it opens in Los Angeles on April 17 and arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on April 24.
I recently had the chance to sit down with the legendary screen actress to discuss her role in The Fields, her memories of the cult classic TV movie Dying Room Only, and her lengthy career.
I just recently had a mini-marathon of Cloris Leachman movies. I'm a little creeped out because I just finished watching you as The Witch in the 1987 Hansel and Gretel.
Oh! Did you like it?
I loved it.
I loved doing that. I thought it was wonderful. It's pretty funny because we shot it in a huge, gigantic four or five story building right on the Mediterranean in Israel. (Laughter) We were supposed to shoot it in Romania, I think, in the Black Forest, but the two guys who produced it owned this huge thing. They'd fix ships in it. Huge, roaring motors going on all the time. They thought it would be cheaper to shoot it in Israel so instead of a Black Forest we had Eucalyptus trees. (Laughter) A lovely eucalyptus forest. (Laughter)
My favorite film you were in that I just recently watched again - it's my favorite performance of yours of all time - is Dying Room Only.
Oh, I'm glad you saw that! Isn't that good?
It's great, and I'm excited because Warner Bros. finally released it on DVD as part of their Warner Archive Collection.
You're kidding! Wow. Oh my goodness, that's wonderful.
You look like a teenager in the movie!
I loved doing that and I adore the bad guy in the film that played with me - Ned Beatty. I had to come back after looking in the bathroom for my husband and he's not there. I come back and I sit down at the table and Ned Beatty just walked right over and sat down at the table with me. He wasn't supposed to do that. It wasn't in the script. That's the kind of thing we did all through it. It's scarier that way.
It's a very creepy film and it was an insanely physical performance for you. How difficult and isolating was that? Do you remember?
I was embarrassed because my ass... I was running and from the rear my ass kept sticking up. (Laughter)
(Laughter) Well, by the end you were sweaty and filthy. It looked like you were exhausted. Was it as hot out there as it looks in the movie?
No. Nothing's the way it looks. It's worse!
The guys in the diner were so mean to you. Did they stay like that the entire time? It was so believable. They looked like they were just mean guys.
No, they're wonderful. I love them. I played with Ned Beatty again later in my career. He was Cap'n Andy and I was Parthy, his wife in Show Boat. It was a ten million dollar stage production. It was beautiful. I went with it for five years.
The Fields is nice slow burn of a horror film. It was based on true events. Had you done any additional research into the events around the film?
It's a different take on the Manson era than people are used to seeing.
Yeah, very interesting. I thought it was very well written and I loved doing it. I'd like a lot of people to see it.
It seemed like you got a lot of room to do your thing. Was there a lot of improvisation or was it mostly in the script already?
Well, pretty much the story was all there and then you block it and do what you do. It's pretty much scripted. You don't change lines or anything. I think I did something in the bedroom with the little boy. I sang him a song that wasn't in the script.
I was going to ask you about that because at the end of the song you passed gas and Josh cracks up. Did you really do that or was that movie magic because it certainly seemed like he wasn't expecting it. (Laughter)
I think he wasn't. (Laughter)
Some of your profanity in the movie is hilarious.
Isn't that fun? We cut out a lot! I had more! (Laughter)
(Laughter) Yeah, it really helps to break up the tension and it seemed to have Josh cracking up all the time.
Well that's good. (Laughter) I just loved making the movie. It seemed so real and we were out there alone in that house. It was very real. It was very ominous and, just being so alone, we weren't distracted by anything. It seemed awfully real.
You had some amazing sets, especially the abandoned amusement park and the milk factory.
Yeah, I think so too. And wonderful actors. Weren't they good?
Yeah, I thought that your chemistry with your husband in particular was fantastic. And Tara Reid, who has been such a polarizing figure over the past decade or so.
I loved that. That was really fun. And Tara did wonderfully. We just adored each other. And how did you like my sister?
She was great. It was amazing to see the shorthand between you guys where you could just figure out what she was saying.
Yeah, I loved doing that. And it's true, you know? When you're close with somebody you just know, or you want them to think you understand so you won't embarrass them.
Being on an independent film like this, it seemed like (based on all the bonus features on the Blu-ray) it was a really fun, laid back set. Was that more fun for you than being on something that's more of a big budget feature?
It's all fun for me. I love it all. Really I do. Being in Jim Brooks' film Spanglish was a huge, big budget film and I had a wonderful time on that. It's very personal, you know. You're working with people closely and a directly closely and a crew. You don't experience it differently particularly. There just may be more people around, but you're doing your work.
You can see Cloris Leachman in The Fields, which premieres in Los Angeles on April 17 followed by a Blu-ray and DVD release on April 24.