Gena Rowlands Is Still Surprised by the Acting Life

Gena Rowlands still going strong
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Gena Rowlands occupies an interesting position relative to her fellow Governors’ Award honorees. She and husband-collaborator John Cassavetes were true American independent film pioneers, establishing a genre in which the personal vision of a Spike Lee could thrive.

Yet for 60 years she’s been a mainstay on television (three Primetime Emmys) and in Hollywood movies, a major player in the showbiz arena where Debbie Reynolds is a reigning legend.

To Rowlands, it’s all part of “the great surprise” of the acting life.

“Working this long? I didn’t even think I’d be living this long,” she confesses in the roaring, throaty laugh instantly familiar from “Faces” and her Oscar-nominated chef-d’oeuvre “A Woman Under the Influence.”

She made a near-effortless transition from Broadway ingenue to grande dame. “A lot of women, when they can’t keep doing young romantic roles, don’t want to consider character parts and quit sooner. But I just looked at the scripts and kept seeing what I’d like to do, and never worried about it.”

Asked whether she prefers light roles to neurotic ones, she chuckles: “Guess.”
(“Not the miserable, suicidal ones,” she clarifies.) Whether manhandled by brutes in her husband’s movies, or caught up in addiction playing Betty Ford, Rowlands exudes unmistakable joie de vivre. You can’t help but enjoy being in her company, however she suffers.

“Oh, honey,” she tells her granddaughter in mainstream hit “Hope Floats,” “my cup runneth over.” Any of her characters could say the same.

Having starred in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” last year at age 84, Rowlands says that’s it. “I’m definitely retired,” she insists. “I don’t think I can go on to 100 or anything.” (Never mind her actress mom kept working almost to her death at age 95.) But surely she couldn’t turn down another really good part?
“Well, I’d have to read the script …” and out pours that unfor- gettable laugh.

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  1. Carolyn S. Lirette says:

    I’m a young lady of 77 years old, and not very literate enough to express all that I think and feel. I just watched one of my all time favorite movies, “Gloria” with one of my all time favorite actresses, Gena Rowlands, and was compelled to finally do some research about her. She is so beautiful and talented. I have always loved her because she is so real, and not one of those who thinks they are God’s gift to men, that have to be sexy, and/or phony with their acting. Like all of her fans, I assume they feel like I do, in wanting a chance to meet her in person, on their bucket list.

    I’m glad that I finally took the time to write this note about Ms. Rowlands, because it’s something that one feels they need to express. Someone of her caliber in the entertainment field, must receive a multitude of correspondence and attention, and wouldn’t have time to view them all. So I want to thank the person who handles these messages, and know that I appreciate your time and effort on my behalf.

    An adoring fan,
    Carolyn S. Lirette

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