A Chat with Carla Gugino (“The Mighty Macs”)

Bullz-Eye: We met very briefly in person when you were at the TCA tour for the “Californication” panel.

Carla Gugino: Yes! Very good…and a totally different project! [Laughs.]

BE: To say the least. So how did you find your way into “The Mighty Macs”? Was the script pitched directly to you?

CG: Yeah, you know, my wonderful agent – his name’s Mike Nilon – he’s actually from Philly, so he kind of knew the story and said, “There’s this filmmaker, Tim Chambers, who wrote and is gonna direct this, and he’s really interested in meeting with you for the role of Cathy Rush.” And I was doing a play…I was doing “Suddenly Last Summer” off Broadway with Blythe Danner at that time, so Tim came to see the play and took me out to dinner afterwards, and he basically told me the story. And, of course, then I read the script, and we went on from there. But he was so passionate about this story and had done such extensive research and was just really galvanized to tell it. And I think that’s the thing for me: it’s always about looking for a person with a vision at the helm, and a character that I have not gotten to play yet. That sort of scares me in a great way. [Laughs.] And in this particular case, you know, Cathy’s a pretty phenomenal woman – she’s still alive and thriving – so to do justice to her story felt daunting in the most fantastic way.

BE: I know that she had been on the set while you were filming. I know that not everyone necessarily likes to meet the person they’re going to be playing, but did you relish the opportunity to be around her and kind of get a feel for her as a person?

CG: Yeah, you know, I have to say that I…I felt really  blessed to have her there. I think the thing is…it’s probably difficult if you have a real person around you if they’re really holding on to a particular way that they want you to play them or think you’re going to play them. But in terms of research, I think it’s a such a gift to have the real person around. And for me…I mean, it was never going to be about me imitating Cathy very much, just because I feel like when you do an imitation of a real person, that ends up being what people are looking at: how good or not is that imitation? In this particular case, what I really wanted to portray was her essence and the way that she was able to lead these girls into really unknown terrain at that time. So that was sort of the most important thing that I focused on, and I think that was the most important thing to her, too. So we really had a nice place to meet on that.

BE: So what was your background in basketball going into the film?

CG: You know what? Very little. [Laughs.] Just as an enjoyable experience. Like, I love watching it, and I got to sit on the floor of a Lakers game when I shot my first scene in “Entourage.” And that was basically about it for me. And that was also what was really daunting and really exciting. I came out of the movie certainly much more knowledgeable about basketball, because for me, I wanted to understand every play I was drawing out, I wanted to understand the game in a way that I would as a coach. So that was definitely challenging, and also very exciting. But it’s interesting, you know, because I guess in a way – and I don’t even know that I’ve said this before, but I’m realizing it as I’m speaking to you right now – it’s kind of a metaphor for this movie. This movie, bizarrely but in a great way, kind of has something for everybody…but not in that general way of [In a sing-song voice] “Oh, there’s something for everybody!” But, truly, if you love basketball, it’s a really cool and amazing story about how this tiny little Catholic girls college and its coach made it to the nationals and changed the face of women’s sports forever. If you are a religious person, it’s also amazing to see the support of and the state that these nuns at this school ultimately had in championing this team, and the fact that the team always felt that there was a sixth player. Sister Sunday sort of personifies that in this movie. And if you’re just a person who wants to see a really inspiring story right now about the fact that in the midst of…I mean, we live in a tough world, and it’s hard times right now, and I think it’s also important to have a story that’s not only incredibly entertaining but also makes you walk out of the theater making you feel better about your life, yourself, and humanity.

BE: You made a comment a minute ago about how “The Mighty Macs” is a decidedly different sort of project from “Californication.” This definitely wouldn’t be defined as one of your sexiest roles, per se. Do you relish the opportunity to mix it up and show different sides of yourself?

CG: For sure. I mean, for me, it’s always been about that. It’s really about…you know, I’m so thrilled that this is a G-rated family movie that everybody can go to, because that story is so appropriate for that. And I love that “Californication” is made for adults. It’s a totally different kind of humor and a different kind of…yeah, it’s a much sexier show and all those things. And then I’m about to go do an Athol Fugard play on Broadway with Rosemary Harris and Jim Dale, which is a decidedly different thing. So to me, aside from the people that I love, acting really is the love of my wife. I want to be able to play everything and be able to disappear into roles and have people accept and believe me in those. I’m much more interested in that than my image as an actor. So it is thrilling to be able to mix it up, and I’m appreciative that I get to do that.

BE: On the topic of “Californication,” how did you find your way into the series? Did David Duchovny approach you and ask you to be involved?

CG: No, actually, you know, David and I had a lot of mutual friends, but we’d hadn’t met before that. The creator of the show, Tom Kapinos…I just got a call from my agent, saying, “there’s a role that they would really love you to play in that season. Would you sit down and talk to him?” And he kind of pitched me what the character was like, and I…was only able to read the first episode was in, maybe the first two, but I really liked where they were going with it. And he said, “I really want someone really formidable, because he’s going to have kind of a different relationship with her than he has with any other woman besides Natascha McElhone’s character.” And she’s obviously such a strong and beautiful woman that they really needed a great kind of full woman to embody that role. Basically, everything I said that was important to me for the role, he absolutely incorporated it into the part. So it was an amazing experience. I really loved working with all of those guys.

BE: Talking about various projects you’ve done over the years, you actually started in sitcom work, which “Californication” is, at least to a certain extent, an extension of that. Do you have any particular anecdotes from those days that still stick with you that were particularly educational?

CG: Well, it was amazing, you know, to work with Michael J. Fox (on “Spin City”), who’s so brilliant in that medium. So that was, in and of itself, fantastic. You know, I think it’s interesting, because I think sitcoms are such a cool kind of hybrid of television or film meets theater, because you do have a live audience, and you really are working with that comic timing in a very specific way because of that. So I don’t even know that I have any anecdotes, other than that doing “Spin City” was just such an amazing kind of thing, because I met my best friend, Connie Britton, on that show. So that was a huge thing. And then also I was able to, as a very young person, live in New York and film an amazing sitcom there. I never really saw myself in a sitcom, and then I really had such a great time doing it. I find myself in a lot of dramatic fare, which I love, but I also do love doing comedy. So that’s always a great opportunity when I’m able to do that.

BE: Would you say there’s a favorite project over the years that you’ve done that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

CG: Oh, gosh, a lot of them. [Laughs.] Let’s see… I mean, honestly, it happens so often, because so often you make movies that sort of go under the radar. I did a movie called “Judas Kiss” quite a number of years back, with Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Hal Holbrook, and Simon Baker. That movie did really well around the world, but it just didn’t really get a lot of play in this country. “Miami Rhapsody,” which was David Frankel’s first movie, that’s another one. It was with Sarah Jessica Parker and Antonio Banderas – that’s where Antonio and I met – and Mia Farrow, Paul Mazursky, and Jeremy Piven. That’s also where Jeremy and I first met. That movie could’ve been a huge runaway comedy hit, and it has a real cult following. People who have seen it love that movie, but not that many people have seen it, relatively speaking. So throughout time there’s a lot of that. I think that as an actor you just kind of get used to it. You kind of give your gift, you give whatever you give, and you move forward, because the rest of it’s out of your control.

BE: As far as your TV work that’s kind of underrated, I’m a huge fan of “Threshold,” but I really wish they’d release “Karen Sisco” on DVD.

CG: I know! You know, it’s so funny, “Karen Sisco,” I have to say…well, first of all, thank you for “Threshold,” too, but with “Karen Sisco,” what’s really fun is that, right now, I’m working on “Justified,” and that’s our old “Karen Sisco” team, and it’s also Elmore Leonard, so that’s a really fun world to revisit. I have a really soft spot for “Karen Sisco” as well, and…interestingly enough, if you’re an Elmore Leonard fan, you can get this on iTunes,  but Joseph Gordon Levitt directed a short film which I produced with him that Elmore is also in support of. It’s with Eric Stoltz and myself, it’s called “Sparks,” and it’s based on a short story Elmore wrote called “Sparks.” You can get it on iTunes, and it’s only about 15 or 20 minutes long, but it’s a really cool short film. But, yeah, “Karen Sisco,” we only did 10 episodes, but people still always come up to be about that show. Because of the timing and because of all sorts of networks and studios behind the scenes, it just didn’t have as long a life as it should have. But it was certainly a special show.


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