Olympia Dukakis, Finding Clarity 'Away From Her' In a new film about love and Alzheimer's, the disease that claimed her mother, the Oscar-winning actress co-stars as a hard-edged woman who has "kind of given up on life" — until she meets a man caught in a crisis of his own.

Olympia Dukakis, Finding Clarity 'Away From Her'

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This WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Olympia Dukakis won an Oscar in 1987 for playing the sharp-tongued mother in "Moonstruck." She's also starred in "Steel Magnolias" and the PBS series, "Tales of the City."

In her latest film, "Away From Her," Ms. Dukakis plays a woman whose husband lives in a nursing home. He's mostly mute and confined to a wheelchair. But as so much in his life narrows, he finds himself entering a new relationship. Julie Christie also stars in the film, which is based on Alice Munro's short story, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." Here's a scene with Olympia Dukakis and Gordon Pinsent. Their respective spouses are in the same nursing home.

(Soundbite of movie "Away From Her")

Mr. GORDON PINSENT (Actor): (As Grant) That's a great looking coffeemaker. I always meant to get one of those.

Ms. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS (Actress): (As Marian) They gave it to us - my son and his wife. They live in (unintelligible). They send us more stuff than we can handle. It wouldn't hurt if they spent the money to come see us instead.

Mr. PINSENT: (As Gordon) I suppose they're busy with their own lives.

Ms. DUKAKIS: (As Marian) Not so busy they couldn't go to Hawaii last year.

Mr. PINSENT: (As Gordon) People do get lonely especially when they're deprived of seeing someone they care about.

SIMON: Olympia Dukakis joins us from our studios in New York City. Thank you so much for being with us.

Ms. DUKAKIS: Oh, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this wonderful movie.

SIMON: Well, what attracted to the role?

Ms. DUKAKIS: Oh, the writing, Sarah Polley, the director, and the cast, Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Michael Murphy. I mean, really, it's a wonderful cast.

SIMON: We should explain that at the heart of the film is Alzheimer's and the effect that they can have in a family, particularly a long-standing relationship. It's certainly volunteered in the press material that you don't know this just as an outsider.

Ms. DUKAKIS: But, you know, what's really at the heart of this film is a love story within the context of life and aging, et cetera, and Alzheimer's is certainly there. But, you know, Sarah has said that we care much more about the first year or two of a relationship than we do about what happens as life happens and how people then find each other and how their love is expressed and Alzheimer's is part of that.

And I know about that - my mother had Alzheimer's. And it was a very frightening, and initially, I was very much in denial about it. I just well, she's just getting older. It took some very dramatic episodes for me to finally realize that this is a serious thing and we didn't have round-the-clock people and eventually we had to put her in a facility because she needed constant attention.

SIMON: How would you describe your character in this film, Marian?

Ms. DUKAKIS: Well, I think when the film begins she is tired. She has, kind of, given up on life and the idea that there might be happiness or intimacy for her. And she is taking care of her husband. She can't afford to put him in the facility for longer than a couple of weeks, which she does so that she can go on a well-earned vacation.

She could only do that if she sold her house but then she would have nothing left. And then there was a short story, interestingly enough. It was called "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." So I think the sense that some hours, we live with subject to these occurrences that we have no control over that can create seemingly havoc - on the other hand, opportunity.

SIMON: I've inevitably talked to some families affected by Alzheimer's over the years and stories we've done. And I'm struck by a couple of people who have said to me: Of course, it's wicked. It's cruel. It's tragic, but you know, for the person who has it, it is not without its gifts.

Ms. DUKAKIS: This is true. They are pulled out of the hurly-burly of life, and there's such a deep inner reality that's going on. I was almost going to say journey because with my mother, I wondered why she was still with us. It was as if there were things she needed to go. I don't know whether it's my putting the best face on it and my - but she seemed very connected to a lot of issues that I knew had troubled her throughout her life that she didn't give time to, a credence to, and now here she was preoccupied with them.

And it's almost - I almost had the feeling that she has lived as long as she needed to, kind of, maybe resolve is too happy a word. Some acceptance is, maybe, I'm projecting, I don't know. But there was some exchange that was happening and I felt that about her.

And even towards the very end when she no longer knew me for a year or so and I went to visit her and I walked in, and there's that window that happened. She said, oh, Olympia, I've been looking everywhere for you. I couldn't believe it. This was after almost two years of not knowing me at all. And I - we talked as honestly, in that 20 minutes, as I have talked to any human being, saying two things that we had felt about each other. I did not expect to go into all these here this morning.

SIMON: Yeah. I'm glad you did. Thank you.


SIMON: A few other questions that I had.

Ms. DUKAKIS: Yeah.

SIMON: A few years ago, there was a story that someone had filched your Oscar statue.

Ms. DUKAKIS: That's true. I blabbered about it. I was asked to - where do I keep it, so I said where it was. In three days there was somebody who broke in and took only the Oscar and then tried to sell it back to me.

SIMON: How was that done? Did you get a…

Ms. DUKAKIS: Oh, well, he just called on the phone and actually spoke to one of my sons who then got very involved with the police, trying to set up some kind of entrapment, and it didn't happen. But then we bought one from the Academy. I think it costs about $78 or something.

SIMON: And here…

Ms. DUKAKIS: That tells you the truth, doesn't it? There's the truth.

SIMON: Seventy-eight dollars, (unintelligible).

Ms. DUKAKIS: Right. It's all in the mind…

SIMON: You ought to do a little better than that.

Ms. DUKAKIS: …how valuable it is. You know what the great revenge was, though? We had a friend who had an insurance company and he insisted that my husband insure it and we got $10,000 for it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You got $10,000 for a $78 scrap of metal.

Ms. DUKAKIS: Exactly. On the market that's what it was worth.

SIMON: Ms. Dukakis, a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.

Ms. DUKAKIS: Thanks so much.

SIMON: Olympia Dukakis speaking with us from New York. Her newest film, "Away from Her," comes out next month. And to see Olympia Dukakis in a scene from that film, you can come to our Web site, npr.org.

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