Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 9, 2020

Look-back: Interview with Estelle Parsons

Estelle Parsons, 2009

This interview was originally published in November, 2009. At that time Estelle Parsons was preparing for her role in “August: Osage County.”  Ms. Parsons is now age 92 and very much with us in 2020.

Massachusetts native and Academy Award winning actress Estelle Parsons starred in the Bushnell’s production of “August: Osage County,” November 17 – 22, 2009

Q: After appearing in the show for almost a year on Broadway, why were you eager to go on the road with this play?
A: I haven’t had much opportunity to tour, because I was always bringing up kids. But I’ve always loved the idea of touring: I have this old dream of being in vaudeville. And there are all kinds of different audiences out there. I learned that from doing summer stock. Audiences are always a learning opportunity.

Q: Actors say that each audience has a certain personality. Do you find to be true?
A: Absolutely, particularly with this play, where the audience is so dynamic and vocal in every way – moaning, groaning, laughing, crying. The audience is really the third essential part. They’re not just sitting on their hands listening. They’re incredible and they’re always different, and as we go from city to city.

Q: Did you audition?
A: I did. I always prefer to audition, because very often when you’re saying the words out loud, you really can tell whether you want to do a play or not. I thought, “Let me work on this for awhile, and see if this is something I really want to be up there doing.” The more I worked on it, the more I loved it. And then when I auditioned, it just came alive, like whoosh.

Q: What do you think your character?
A: I think she’s a wonderful person who went astray. I have sympathy for her. It’s hard to know what’s underneath all that. I think she is basically a colder person than I am, and it’s been very exciting to work on that. I think she was a very smart, sensitive woman who was deeply abused as a child, and bears the scars. Who knows what would happen to people if they didn’t have the background they have.

Q: How did the role come about in Bonnie and Clyde?
A: In 1966, I was doing Berkshire Theatre Festival. I had seen Arthur Penn’s movies, and I wanted to work for him. I managed to get an interview with him for The Skin of Our Teeth, and he hired me. Working with him, I suddenly knew that I was in the right profession. I was [almost] 40. But I used to think, “Maybe I should have kept on at law school, or maybe I should try something else.” Working for Arthur Penn, I realized that I was in the right place. Then he asked me to do Bonnie and Clyde. I was just about join a rep company. The day after he asked me to read, I got a call telling me that funding for the rep had fallen through. I called Arthur and I read the script, and I thought, “Why is he offering this to me?” But the more I read it; I realized it was an incredible part.

Q: Did the Academy Award affect your career? 
A: It did in that I could have had a lot of movie success, which I wasn’t really interested in. Looking back on it, I think that’s kind of too bad. I did a few movies when I was on vacation from a theatre job. I don’t think I ever chose a movie job over a theatre job. I love to entertain people.