Eva Marie Saint won’t look back
By Arthur Spiegelman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Veteran actress Eva Marie Saint
says the one thing she will not do is write her memoirs.
After all, she says she has more fun making things up about
people who don’t exist than writing about “me, me, me.”
At age 81, Saint has more than made her mark on the movies.
She won a best supporting actress Oscar for her first film
outing as the young woman who befriends a tortured Marlon
Brando in “On the Waterfront” and starred afterward in such
classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” and such
high-minded potboilers as Otto Preminger’s “Exodus.”
Her co-stars and directors are a who’s who of Hollywood
history: Brando, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Gregory
Peck, Richard Burton, Warren Beatty, Hitchcock, John
Frankenheimer, Fred Zinneman and Elia Kazan.
And now she has made a new film with one of Germany’s most
distinguished directors, Wim Wenders, one that she would rather
talk about than answer such questions as: “What was Brando
like?,” which she says is always the first thing she is asked.
Firmly, Saint says Brando was fine, a genius, an
unbelievable actor and then she carefully steers the
conversation to where she wants it to start — the role she has
in Wenders’ “Don’t Come Knocking,” the movie where she gets to
create an endearing character out of whole cloth.
It’s a film about a 60-year-old Western movie actor who
flees the set one day in a bid to run away from his life. He
suddenly visits the mother he has not seen in 30 years and
discovers the son and daughter he didn’t know he had.
Written by and starring playwright/actor Sam Shepard as
actor Howard Spence and filmed in Wenders’ spare style, the
movie contrasts the mythical West of cowboy heroes on horseback
with the real West’s empty streets, drab bars and ubiquitous
casinos filled with one-armed bandits.
Saint plays a character called “Howard’s mother,” but that
is where the fun begins, where she makes up things about people
who don’t exist.
The first thing she says she did was give “Howard’s mother”
the first name of Lola and then she gave Lola a past life so
that her acting would have a person to draw on. Since the movie
was filmed in Elko, Nevada, Saint bought all of Lola’s clothing
“The mother fascinated me. I have a son so I know that
motherly love is forever, but she is not a doting mother. She
had a child and she had a husband and she had to choose between
the two. She allied herself with the father and made a life for
herself. Now her son comes back and the first thing she does is
take him to the graveyard to see his father and the last thing
she does is give him the keys to his father’s car.”
“She is pushing him to take some responsibility,” she said,
adding, “The mother didn’t sit down and try to solve his
problem. She wasn’t playing the role of mother as therapist.
What do you do if you have a 60-year-old son who misbehaves?”
Of course none of the above is in the script but Saint is a
complete actor. The song she sings in the film is one she wrote
and she personally scrambles the eggs she cooks for Howard.
She is willing to do everything herself except write her
memoirs. “The most depressing thing is to go back and say me,
me and me. I wake up and keep moving, that’s what my mother
said to do.”
It was also the advise she received from her mentor, silent
film star Lillian Gish. “My first play was with Lillian Gish
and she didn’t like to talk about the old days. She said she
never liked to go back. She liked to think about today and
Today for Saint is helping to promote Wenders’ film which
is currently playing in some U.S. cities. Tomorrow for her will
be promoting “Superman Returns” a blockbuster action film set
to open next summer in which she plays Superman’s adopted
mother. She is sworn to secrecy about the film’s plot so she
cannot reveal the things she made up for that role.
USING THE GLOVE
To compensate, she does agree to discuss Brando and the
making of “On the Waterfront.” “I never worked with a director
like Elia Kazan before. He understood actors like no one else.
He knew more about me than I did.
“And he had us rehearse and rehearse scenes. During one
rehearsal, I dropped a glove and Brando picked it up and held
it and did a sexy thing with it. Gadge (Kazan’s nickname) saw
that and said let’s keep that in the movie because it bound my
character to Brando’s Terry Malloy.
“And that was the genius of Brando — any other actor would
have handed the glove back to me. He knew he could use it. He
was serious and funny and during the movie he always stayed in
You might say he invented the character. Much the way Eva
Marie Saint works.