Interview: Kathy Bates on playing gay and blowing stuff up in ‘Tammy’

Kathy Bates plays one of Melissa McCarthy's tough-talking relatives in "Tammy." Credit: Getty Images
Kathy Bates plays one of Melissa McCarthy’s tough-talking relatives in “Tammy.”
Credit: Getty Images

Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates doesn’t suffer fools lightly — especially on a film set. Luckily she didn’t have to worry about that too much on the set of “Tammy,” working with a first-time director — Ben Falcone — who didn’t behave like a novice. But she was ready to speak up if need be.

I was curious how much you actually enjoy blowing stuff up in real life.

Well, I wish I could. There’s a few producers I’d like to blow up, that’s for sure. [Laughs] No, it was really fun to get that out of your system. It was fun to blow up the car — and have the fun without it being real, obviously. And I was very proud of myself that I was able to hit the jet ski with the tiki torch consistently. That was thanks to my “wife,” Sandra Oh, who encouraged me and gave me the idea that this was something I did when I was in college, that I was actually able to toss a javelin and do track back then.

You and Sandra Oh make a nice couple, actually.

I was happy that the gay relationship was really the most healthy relationship in the movie. When I went into it I thought, how do you play gay? Unless you’re going to make a caricature out of it. I mean, gay or straight, it’s a sexual preference or a gender, almost, the way you’re born, I feel, and so how are you going to play something like that? With Sandra, she really brought a lot to that relationship. It was such a comfortable relationship to have with her. I just respect her so much as an actress, and she’s a beautiful, beautiful person inside and out, so it was easy to pretend that we were in love and had been for many, many years.

I think sometimes it’s more difficult for lesbians now to be accepted. The men sort of were the vanguard, you know? Although I think still we’ve got a way to go on that because there are still unfortunately hate crimes that are going on, but I think because of women’s place in society in general, period, I think it’s been difficult for lesbians to become as accepted as gay men. But that’s just my opinion, I don’t know if I’m statistically right on that or not.

I don’t know if there’s a measure for that.

Yes, I don’t think there’s a measure of that, you’re exactly right. I wanted to make it clear in [the film] that we worked for everything we had, that it didn’t come just like this. Back then it was very difficult to be accepted as a gay woman.

Sandra Oh and Kathy Bates play wives in the Melissa McCarthy film "Tammy." Credit: Michael Tackett
Sandra Oh and Kathy Bates play wives in the Melissa McCarthy film “Tammy.”
Credit: Michael Tackett

Being an actress as well as a director yourself, how do you find actor-directors compare other types of directors directors?

I’ve always felt — and this comes from years of experience but also working at Sundance at the film labs — that there are many, many talented young writer-directors, and they always ask how to talk to actors because their focus has been on technical aspects of the camera. I think that a lot of time young, inexperienced directors will take the scene from the top and they’ll go over and over and over again until they get the performance that they want, and they think it’s just going to happen by chance, that it’s like taking a running you-know-what at a doughnut. It’s just catch as catch can and it’s wearing on the actors, but that’s how they learn. It’s part of their process, and as an old lion I get to nip them every now and again. [Laughs]

That can be a difficult position to take on a set.

And I think it’s harder when you’re working with other actors who aren’t as experienced — and I’m finding this more and more, being an old lion. They’re young pups coming in, and it’s really not your place to direct them. So you really hope in those instances that you have a strong director who understands actors and can point young pups in the right direction. And I’ve heard from other lions in the business that if something isn’t right they just say very nicely, “This isn’t working, this is unacceptable” and “Don’t yell at me, I’ll be in my trailer. When you’re ready to work I’ll come out.” It’s not playing diva or anything, it’s just saying that it’s not acceptable, it’s not appropriate behavior. You do have to pick your battles and you have to say, “I’m ready to work, let’s not discuss anything. I’m here to work, let’s just do it.”

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick


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