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The Saint comes marching in 

Eva Marie Saint wins this year’s King Vidor Award

click to enlarge YESTERDAY AND TODAY:  Eva Marie Saint, this year’s King Vidor Memorial Award winner, has enjoyed a 50-year film career and is still going strong, with two new films coming out next year. She’ll receive her award Oct. 23 at the Fremont during a screening of her 1962 film classic, "All Fall Down." - PHOTOS COURTESY OF GOOGLE IMAGES AND EVA MARIE SAINT, RESPECTIVELY
  • PHOTOS COURTESY OF GOOGLE IMAGES AND EVA MARIE SAINT, RESPECTIVELY
  • YESTERDAY AND TODAY: Eva Marie Saint, this year’s King Vidor Memorial Award winner, has enjoyed a 50-year film career and is still going strong, with two new films coming out next year. She’ll receive her award Oct. 23 at the Fremont during a screening of her 1962 film classic, "All Fall Down."

#Is there a classier and more gracious Hollywood star than Eva Marie Saint? Not by a long shot! A leading lady in film classics such as “On the Waterfront,� “A Hatful of Rain,� “North by Northwest,� “Exodus,� “All Fall Down,� “The Sandpiper,� “The Russians Are Coming,� and “The Stalking Moon,� Ms. Saint went on to play supporting roles in “Nothing in Common,� “I Dreamed of Africa,� and many others.

Now 80 years old, the still-powerful performer will appear in two new films next year, “Because of Winn-Dixie,� a new film about a young girl who brings a town together by director Wayne Wang (“The Joy Luck Club,� “Anywhere But Here�), due in February; and “Don’t Come Knockin’,� a Wim Wenders-directed film co-written and starring Sam Shepard, about an aging cowboy star who walks away from the set of his latest movie and heads out on a journey of self-discovery.

Ms. Saint, who will receive the King Vidor Memorial Award Saturday, Oct. 23, during a 7 p.m. screening of her 1962 film “All Fall Down,� spoke to New Times by phone.

New Times You’ve worked extensively in film, television, and stage. Do you have a preference?

Eva Marie Saint No, not really. On the stage — and this sounds like a cliché — you do have that audience, which is very rare experience, a wonderful two-way experience for the audience and the actor. I also love film and television, but theater has an edge.

New Times Is film and TV different from stage work?

Eva Marie Saint Good question, but I don’t think so. I studied at Actors Studio, where we learned to work on a role, research, find certain things you can use in your character. I gather ideas from many sources; I use my mom in a lot of my characters.

Of course, onstage you must project, though nowadays they have those crazy mikes, which I prefer not to use — I have a strong voice already. As far as preparing, it’s about the same.

In a film, I learn the whole script as if it were a play. You never know what order you’ll shoot in, but I find it helpful to know and understand the whole story.

New Times Many of your films were gritty and ahead of their time, such as “On the Waterfront� and “A Hatful of Rain,� a surprisingly frank drama about drug addiction from 1957. Did you feel you were taking serious risks at the time?

Eva Marie Saint No, because I think working in the Actors Studio, everything was black-and-white then. I enjoyed those dark films. For “Rain,� that film was written partly on our dining room table, which now belongs to our son. Working on that film was always dear to me. When I made “North by Northwest,� Hitch [director Alfred Hitchcock] said to me, “Eva, after this glamorous role, I don’t want you to go back to the kitchen sink,� meaning to go back to those housewife roles. In “On the Waterfront,� “All Fall Down,� and “A Hatful of Rain,� I played very unglamorous women, but Hitch said, “Women get dressed up to go see a movie, and they want to see their leading lady and go, ‘Oh, how can I get my hair done like that?’ They don’t want to see their leading lady look like they [themselves] were dressed an hour ago at home.� Hitch said, “Promise me, Evie.� But I said, “Hitch, I can’t promise that because I love those roles written by all those wonderful writers.� That was my beginning. They were stories about the human condition.

New Times You’ve been credited with bringing “real acting� to film at a time when melodrama was still the norm. Did you know you were at the cutting edge of acting, or were you doing it the only way you knew how?

Eva Marie Saint The only way I knew how. I studied at Actors Studio with people like Rod Steiger, Paul Newman, and others. I always loved the old movies, and I’ve never been critical of the acting, but when I came along, I did it my way, and that was the Actors Studio way. [Editor’s note: The Actors Studio was founded by Lee Strasberg, proponent of Method Acting.]

New Times You’re also credited with being a very down-to-earth, normal person. The public perceives many Hollywood stars as, well, crazy nutters! How have you managed to remain unscathed by celebrity?

Eva Marie Saint I think part of that is, I came from a very loving family. My dad was a Quaker and my mom was a schoolteacher. My dad was very hard working; he’d work six days out of seven. My mother made everything my sister and I wore.

When I went off to college I was very, very shy. In high school, I wasn’t interested in acting, but as I look back, I was a performer. I played violin with the orchestra, sang in the choir, performed modern dance. I also played hockey. I was a team player, and I never thought of myself as being on my own.

I began college studying to be a third grade schoolteacher, but during my second year someone dared me to try out for a play, and I did on a bet. Well, I just loved being part of that whole scene with other actors, being on the stage. Something happened!

I was a Delta Gamma, and I lived at the house with a wonderful house father, Eldon T. Smith, and house mother, his wife Betty. He was in charge of speech and drama, and that summer of my sophomore year I went home to my family in Queens, New York and I sat down and wrote Dr. Smith a letter saying I would love to change my major from education to theater. Right now on my desk as I sit in Los Angeles, I have a place where I keep Dr. Smith’s reply. He had met my folks and said I had a loving family, that he thought I could take rejection, that I had my feet on the ground. He said that education was a noble profession, but that he had faith in me.

Well, I sat down with my folks to talk to them about it, and they said, “Honey, whatever you want to do, just do your very best.� My folks were ahead of their time. They could have said, “What’s your real job going to be?�

My dear father was hardworking but didn’t have the means to send us to an Eastern school, but Bowling Green [State University in Ohio] was a wonderful place, small enough for a very shy young girl to blossom there. I was the May Queen, a Sweater Pike Dream Girl — I got to experience so much. And when I got to New York I took Dr. Smith’s suggestion and started doing commercials. [Suddenly Ms. Saint begins singing a jingle, then laughs.] I promised myself that I’d be able to pay my own rent after a year, and I did.

I lived in a tiny one-room apartment. One room with a kitchen and bath in it! Can you imagine? I took it slow. So many young actors today want overnight success. I always wanted to be married and have a family, and as I started getting good roles and becoming more successful, I thought how wonderful it would be to share this with someone.

Now I’ve been married for 53 years to Jeffrey Hayden, a director. I never dated actors. I thought it was too close to home. Whatever needs an actor has, I thought it would be catastrophic to be married to someone with the same needs. As I look back, those were pretty glorious days full of struggle — exciting and exhilarating.

New Times The list of leading men you starred opposite reads like a who’s who of Hollywood’s elite: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Cliff, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Richard Burton, Warren Beatty, James Garner, Jason Robards, George C. Scott, Burt Lancaster, Tom Hanks. Did you have a favorite? Any negative experiences?

Eva Marie Saint They were all so exciting. Paul Newman is so dear and his eyes really are that blue and wonderful. He’s such a generous person, all the money he’s given. All the proceeds from all the products. I always tell him his face is smiling out of my cupboards. Cary Grant was what everybody thought he was: larger than life. And Marlon was dear in those days and beautiful and one of the best actors we’ve ever had. I know I sound like a Pollyanna, but I can’t recall anything negative about these men. They were all wonderful.

New Times What about directors? I mean, you got to work with Hitchcock! How was that?

Eva Marie Saint Oh, he was such a wonderful character! He wasn’t really a director for actors like Elia Kazan or Otto Preminger, but he loved film. As he was making it, he was cutting it, so there wasn’t much to cut after filming. He knew what he wanted and he was a perfectionist. He always wore a jacket and tie, and he made his crew do the same. He loved actors, and you had the feeling when you were on his set he felt you were the only one to play that part.

Oh, wasn’t that terrible about Janet Leigh? [She died two weeks ago.] It’s true, you know. She never took a shower after “Psycho.� That not just publicity.

New Times I didn’t know that. Hitchcock was so ahead of his time, wasn’t he. He had the “Rape of the Sabines� painting on the wall of Norman Bates’ room. He was so good with mise-en-scene. And he took risks! I mean, he showed a toilet in “Psycho,� very taboo at the time.

Eva Marie Saint I know, and now they show people sitting on them! When I see that I just want to walk out of the theater. I think, “Why would a leading lady do that?� There are other ways to communicate. No, Hitch was very subtle. When I first saw “North by Northwest,� how as Cary and I embrace Hitch cuts to the train going through the tunnel, I said to my husband, “Well, that’s a little Freudian, don’t you think?� He said, “Honey, I think you got it.�

New Times Many older female actors complain that Hollywood roles are few and far between. What’s your take on how Hollywood treats its aging female stars?

Eva Marie Saint Well, it’s not like Europe and the wonderful way they feel about older men and women, how they continue to respect them; but you can’t get bitter.

I have two new films under my belt. One by Wayne Wang, who directed “The Joy Luck Club.� He’s a wonderful director, and the film was shot entirely in Louisiana. It’s called “Because of Winn-Dixie,� about a little girl who brings some townspeople together. [Breaking into a spot-on Southern drawl, Ms. Saint continues] I play Miss Franny, the librarian.

Then I did “Don’t Come Knockin’� with Sam Shepard. Wim Wenders directed it. I think the last film they collaborated on was “Paris, Texas.� It was a wonderful experience. I’ve always been an admirer of Sam Shepard’s writing. I play Sam’s mother, and when we started I said, “But Sam, I don’t feel like your mother.� He hugged me and said, “Well, we’ll work on that Eva Maria.� It’s a dark story that also stars Jessica Lange and Tim Roth. It’s set in Butte, Montana, and I haven’t seen my son for years.

I find these types of roles to be juicy, interesting ones. You know, Cary Grant wanted to stop his career when he was at the top, still the sexy guy. He didn’t want to be thought of as the father or grandfather, unlike Hank Fonda, a very dear friend, who brought all those wonderful experiences to films like “On Golden Pond.� I chose to do what Hank Fonda and Jessica Tandy did. There may not be many roles for older women, but I’ve been very fortunate. I have no complaints.

New Times Speaking of your long career, it now spans 50 years, and you continue working. Now you’re getting the King Vidor Memorial Award. Are you trying to beat his record for the longest career in film ever?

Eva Marie Saint What’s his record?

New Times Something like 70 years!

Eva Marie Saint Oh my! He was a wonderful man. I met him years ago. We sat and had lunch. He was such an incredible man with wonderful stories. Oh this is making me very excited to get up to San Louie Obispo! I love it there. We also have a house in Santa Barbara, and we’ll frequently drive up and have lunch at Novo on their back patio. It’s wonderful. And I just discovered Porch Home and Garden just up the street.

New Times You’ve been honored so many times: an Oscar, four Emmy nominations and an Emmy award, Drama Critics Award, Outer-Circle Critic Award, the L.A. Dramalogue Award; you even have a theater named after you at Bowling Green State University. After so many laurels, does the King Vidor Memorial Award from the little San Luis Obispo International Film Festival really matter?

Eva Marie Saint Oh yes! First of all, I met him and knew him and admired him so much. And second of all, I love your town. ³

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