Great Dame: Joan Allen

Photo: Nick Wall/WireImage

Joan Allen, an actress whose trademark steely pathos has sparkled in movies ranging from Pleasantville to Nixon, takes on cross-cultural romance in Yes, playing an Irish-American scientist in love with a Lebanese chef. Emma Rosenblum spoke to her about comic relief, Eminem versus Shakespeare, and what Anthony Hopkins taught her about playing drunk.

So why’d you decide to do Yes?
Sally Potter started writing a short version of this movie on September 12, 2001. I liked the film because it really wasn’t judgmental. Nobody was the bad guy.

The movie has a theatrical feel, and you have a background in theater. Did you enjoy speaking in verse?
Well, I’ve never done verse. I’ve never done Shakespeare; just a teeny bit of Shaw, and a little Chekhov, years ago. When I first got the script, I was intimidated, but Sally said, “Think more Eminem than Shakespeare.” That relaxed me.

And the film also has a refreshing view of sex—as a fun, pleasurable thing, for both the man and the woman.
Well, particularly for older women, because we’re not, you know, supposed to be having sex anymore.

As an “older woman,” do you find that your roles are limited?
I’ve had great parts. But it’s not like there are twenty Yes’s out there that I say no to. There’s one, and you go, “Yes, I’ll take it.”

Ideally, what would you like to do next?
Oh, more comedy. I had so much fun doing The Upside of Anger.

Your character was always drunk. Was that difficult to play?
I’ve observed quite a few drunk people in my life, and a few times, when I’ve been tipsy, I’ve tried to be aware of what I was doing. I remember when I was doing Nixon, and there was a scene when Pat was drunk, and I was very nervous; I even contemplated bringing, like, a third of a bottle of wine to the set. But, you know, that’s sort of cheating. Anthony Hopkins was a big help. He gave me some really great tips, as he’s had some [pause] life experience with that, and some acting experience as well, and he told me that actually bringing something to the set to drink never works.

And you got to make people laugh.
Oh, it was very gratifying. The first time I saw Upside with a big audience, and they laughed at the stuff I did, I got teary. It was one of the best nights of my life. One time I was in this store, and the woman behind the counter said, “You’re that actress who cries all the time, right?”

But Yes isn’t very funny …
Well, there are a few parts that are funny. Like when the aunt has that whole running monologue in the hospital.

But then she dies. That’s not very funny.
No, I guess it’s not. But scenes like that are getting harder to do the older I get. I don’t know, maybe I don’t want to cry as much anymore.

Sony Pictures Classics

Great Dame: Joan Allen