‘Paul’: A Conversation With Actress Blythe Danner


Getting immersed in a sci-fi adventure may be quite a stretch after the Fockers, but as veteran actress Blythe Danner details in this conversation about her new alien invasion movie Paul, she’s basically up for anything. Famously known as the mother of singing celeb Gwyneth Paltrow, Blythe compares and contrasts during this sitdown what’s funny or not about Brit versus Yank humor, and there would seem to be a whole lot more to it than simply apples and oranges. Additional topics on the table included garbage cleanups, geek culture, extraterrestrials for real, and Seth Rogen as Paul turning into a tennis ball on a stick.

Question: What got you into making this movie, with such a bunch of zany Brits like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost?

Blythe Danner: I went to New Mexico, and we shot in beautiful mountains all night. And I couldn’t get over their nerve, their passion and their humor. All night long, they would tell funny stories and improvise. I hate making general statements, but there is something about them.

And possibly more than American comedians, who I think have a hilarity, and I adore American comedians. But there’s also a darkness oftentimes that we hear about the comedians. They go through these tremendous highs and lows.

Maybe it’s because the Brits have been doing it for hundreds of years! Not to say anything negative about American comedians, but it’s just something different, I can’t put my finger on it. I’m not even sure that I have!

Question: What kinds of characters are you looking for these days?

Blythe Danner: Whatever comes my way. When you get to be my age, you’re so grateful to be hired still! And I’m delighted especially having a great variety of characters. And I went back to Fockers, which I have done so many times.

Question: How hard is it to be funny in a movie?

Blythe Danner: I don’t think I was the funny one, just everyone else around me, Justin Bateman and Nick. I just thought of myself being true to myself, and not trying to be funny. I think when I do that, I usually land on my face.

Question: What about co-starring with Seth Rogen’s green screen space alien?

Blythe Danner: I had to act to a tennis ball on a stick!

Question: In the movie, you get to knock out Sigourney Weaver. In your past experience, you both got to work on a Streetcar Named Desire together. What was it like working with her again?

Blythe Danner: It was great because in Streetcar, I was her big sister. I was very protective of her and I loved that line, ‘get away from her!’ It was a great relief, and a lot of fun. We did that twenty years ago, it’s amazing.

But that’s what astonishes me in this business, meeting people again that you’ve worked with long, long ago. There’s no way I dreamed I’d be doing that.

And just seeing her twenty years later in this role, that’s so wonderful about being in this business. You’re constantly surprised, and have to be up for anything.

Question: Talk about your environmental activism.

Blythe Danner: Well, my daughter Gwyneth is now thirty-eight. And when she was a little girl, we used to walk around with a sign saying, you’re polluting! And I was one of the people who started recycling in New York City.

And we brought Chris Reeve out here, our dear beloved Chris. And Los Angeles, Santa Monica helped start with many people the recycle pickup there. And started a lot of environmental groups. But I’m so happy to see younger generations too.

We were so frustrated, people would make fun of us. Like, you’re going to the what with your what? With a couple of tin cans, with our bottle. And my husband used to just shake his head and say, why are you going downtown with all of that, throw it out.

So I’m just so happy to see that happening with younger generations, and the young people. So I think we might have a chance to save the world now, especially with all of their input.

Question: Do you think that we’ve ever been visited by any extraterrestrial beings?

Blythe Danner: When you hear that there are, how many, billions of galaxies out there, how can you not think that there’s something out there. It’s something that I’m not obsessed with or think about all the time, but I certainly think that there could be.

Question: If you did catch sight of an alien, what would you say to him?

Blythe Danner: If he had a mouth on him, I would probably wash it out with soap! No, I would probably say, take me with you!

Question: The movie begins at Comic-Con. Are you into geek culture?

Blythe Danner: I’m interested in a lot of things, but not particularly Comic-Con!

Question: Your somewhat moody and unhinged character Tara, gets dumped by Paul. Can you describe a time when someone walked out of your life?

Blythe Danner: Well, I wouldn’t tell you! But in her case when he lands on her dog, I thought about bullying. And how it’s such an epidemic. I was thinking, that’s what happened in her case.

You know, she just kept to herself, and wouldn’t come out. And in school, I remember a time when people just weren’t kind.

Question: Speaking of performances, what was your reaction seeing Gwyneth perform at the Oscars, and how do you feel about her new country music career?

Blythe Danner: I love it! You know, she’s been singing since she’s been a baby. And we used to make up songs in bed from the time she was born. She’d be singing and I’d be singing in a harmony above, like a third. And she’d go off and do sixth and seventh.

And I’d be like, what? Where did she hear that? But she just always had this extraordinary ear for accents, and for languages. She’s fluent in Spanish, and so are my grandchildren. She just has a phenomenal ear, and she’s always been a great singer.

When they shot Jefferson In Paris, they gave her a concertina to practice on for music lessons. And she wouldn’t read the music, she’d just play. And she was so good, that they used her for the score. So I’m happy for her, because as an actor, my happiest times on stage were when I was singing and dancing.

For ten years, I did an Off-Broadway musical. And there’s something about it, there’s a tremendous relief. Your endorphins get going in a way that I think they don’t in any other way, with the movement and the joy of the sound.

So I feel that she has found a lot of joy in it, I think it’s something that is falling into place for her. But I don’t think she’s aggressively going for it. That’s not defining her. She’s just singing, and enjoying it.

Question: Will you ever sing with Gwyneth?

Blythe Danner: We sing a lot when we’re together with the kids. But we haven’t done it professionally.

Question: Any unusual memories of your other ventures into sci-fi?

Blythe Danner: Futureworld was a sequel to Westworld. And we have come very far! And I don’t know how it came to be. They should have never done that sequel. I actually had a clone. They had taken me to makeup, and without really telling me, plopped this cement on my head!

So had this clone mask made. Terrifying. That was not too good. I also had a little tiny part in the X-Files. But I didn’t get to do any of the thrilling stuff!

Question: What did you think of Steven’s cameo in Paul?

Blythe Danner: He’s a family friend, and my husband was a godfather to one of his children. He loved his perspective of doing it, I know. He was ticked, and really happy.