Metcalf flutters at 'Lady Bird' Oscar thought

AP
Laurie Metcalf has won three Emmys and a Tony Award in her nearly 40-year year career, but the veteran stage and screen actress still feels uncomfortable in front of a camera.
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Laurie Metcalf has won three Emmys and a Tony Award in her nearly 40-year career and “Lady Bird” is her first film in a decade.

Laurie Metcalf has won three Emmys and a Tony Award in her nearly 40-year year career, but the veteran stage and screen actress still feels uncomfortable in front of a camera.

“Even after all those years on ‘Roseanne,’ I have a real fear of cameras. They make me inhibited,” Metcalf, 62, said on a recent afternoon in Los Angeles. “I think ‘Why don’t I know where to put my hands?’ All of a sudden the spotlight is right on you and every pore on your face in high definition and you think, ‘Oh this is all I can think about.’ I can’t just turn it off. You’d think after all these years I’d be used to it!”

Metcalf has figured out ways to work around the phobia, but this year she’s also found herself even more out of her element with the nominations and awards attention being given to her work in “Lady Bird.” Not only is it her first film in a decade, but it’s the first time she’s had a serious shot at getting an Oscar nomination (she’s already gotten supporting actress nods from the Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globes and Independent Spirit Awards).

In the film, Metcalf plays the mother, Marion, to a 17-year-old girl, Christine (Saoirse Ronan), who has begun systematically rejecting everything her mother has given her — from her hair (which she has died pink) to her name (she demands that everyone call her Lady Bird). Marion, meanwhile, under stresses from work and a general dissatisfaction with how their lives have turned out, is trying (sometimes poorly) to navigate this moment of teenage selfishness and motivate her daughter.

The story is loosely based on writer and director Greta Gerwig’s own life growing up in Sacramento. And much like real life, a single scene can turn on a dime. For a moment, Lady Bird and Marion are connecting and all of a sudden they’re fighting again, or vice versa.

“They’re misinterpreting each other. They’re looking for buttons to push. They’re passive aggressive,” Metcalf said. “We know that Marion and Lady Bird have a strong relationship, but it’s just dysfunctional at this particular moment that we’re watching. But it hasn’t always been like that and they’ll grow out of it.”

Metcalf laughs that she still feels like she hasn’t had that much experience in film and says she relied on others to “steer” her through the movie. And yet one of her most memorable scenes in the film is one where she is entirely alone, circling the Sacramento airport and having an emotional change of heart during the loop. It’s the kind of scene that looms on a production schedule for an actor.

“Greta said she wanted to do it in one take and that scared me,” Metcalf said. “I thought ‘I’ve driven around this airport and that’s a long way. I don’t know if I can be interesting for that long!’”

The indie has earned US$26.3 million in its nearly seven weeks in theaters as it continues to expand across the country.

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