It’s fitting that Patricia Heaton’s new movie is called Moms’ Night Out — not just because it opens on Mother’s Day weekend, but also because, between The Middle and Everybody Loves Raymond, Heaton has become one of the most iconic moms on TV today.
Having just produced and acted in a movie of her own, we thought we’d ask Heaton what her favorite films are. Getting the list down to just five was a task she described as “harder than having a c-section,” so seven will have to do.
Every aspect of the movie is excellent. There isn’t one wrong move — from the script, to the acting, to the music. It’s such a beautiful human story about an individual struggle set against the corrupt unions screwing over the dock workers. So, you have this social background for the situation, and then you have the personal human journey of the brother of one of these union mobsters, who has to sort of turn on his own people. Marlon Brando pretty much rocked the cinema with this new style of acting, and you can never go back to Cary Grant. As wonderful as Cary Grant is, Marlon Brando changed the game. Karl Malden has one of the greatest movie monologues of all time as the priest in the docks, encouraging everyone to take a stand. He was like the first Norma Rae. I have the soundtrack on my iPod. I love great movie soundtracks, and I consider that one of those.
What would you be doing while listening to movie scores on your iPod? You wouldn’t be working out to the On the Waterfront soundtrack, right?
No, usually sitting in traffic in L.A. and trying to escape.
Ordinary People (Robert Redford, 1980; 92% Tomatometer)
To Kill a Mockingbird is way up there, but that’s also like an On the Waterfront kind of classic movie, also with a personal journey set against a bigger social issue — racism — but I’m going to go instead with Ordinary People, directed by Robert Redford with Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton who won an Oscar — one of the youngest Oscar winners I think — Donald Sutherland, and Judd Hirsch playing the psychiatrist. [Editor’s note: Hutton was 20 when he won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 1981 and still holds the record as the youngest winner in that category today.]
I have seen that movie a million times. One of the worst parts was I saw it when I was really depressed in New York and it was running on a loop on like HBO or something and I just remember not being able to get out of my bathrobe and watching Ordinary People over and over again.
I actually was at the Mark Twain Awards in Washington — the comedy awards for Neil Simon — and Robert Redford happened to be there because he worked with Neil Simon and so did I. And so I was able to tell him that Ordinary People was one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s a perfect movie. That too has wonderful music. It’s based on a book and it’s often very difficult to translate books to film and especially with such an internal struggle. Mary Tyler Moore [gives] one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen of a very tightly-wound woman who’s trying to keep a good face on things. She’s just painfully tortured in that movie and it’s a hard role to do because she comes off as very weird and cold to Timothy Hutton, the surviving son — his brother had died in a boating accident and Timothy Hutton survived. For me, I know a movie is timeless when I can show it to my kids and they are enraptured by it — they’re glued to it and they’re following every plot point — and I knew when I showed Ordinary People to my kids, they would love it… The art direction in that [holds up] too. Mary Tyler Moore’s wardrobe you could wear today. It’s so classic and beautiful, and the house that they live in — it’s great. And the movie is just so moving and powerful.
Charles Laughton plays an English butler whose British lord loses him in a poker game to a cowboy from Red Gap, Washington. Ruggles is the butler, a manservant, and he’s forced to move to America, and this cowboy doesn’t [Heaton goes into cowboy twang] feel comfortable having a manservant because it’s ‘Merica and every man is his own man and we have freedom. He tries to help Ruggles become a free man and Ruggles’ family’s whole tradition was being menservants to people. He finds it very hard to embrace American freedom. It has really funny, terrific, and moving performances, and not very many people watch it — or have even seen it or heard of it. I make my boys watch it every Thanksgiving. I’m like, “Boys, it’s that tiiiime!” and they’re like, “Noooooooo, not Ruggles.” but I think they’ll come to appreciate it.
That’ll be on their favorite films lists…someday.
Someday. Also, it’s a real treat for actors to watch. It has very broad characters, but they are so finely drawn that you go with it. What’s great about this is that they’re arch performances, but they’re really grounded in their weird reality. It’s authentic. It really works. You go with it. There are other ones that are probably more familiar to your readers, but it’s one of my favorite all-time movies and I’d like to throw it in because maybe someone who hasn’t seen it will take a chance on it.
How did you discover that movie? It sounds hilarious.
I think I just saw it years ago on AMC or the local public station. I think it was on a PBS thing and I just happened upon it, and I was so blown away. It’s one of the movies I like to give to writers on shows as Christmas gifts because they’ve never heard of it, and they all find it delightful.
I want to throw a shout-out to — I can’t decide. It’s between Woody Allen or Mel Brooks.
How do you choose?
You can’t. Bullets Over Broadway, The Producers, Annie Hall, Young Frankenstein. It’s really, really difficult. One of the movies I think is wonderful is one of the more serious ones… Crimes and Misdemeanors. One of the greatest. That whole era in the 1980s of the movies he was making was terrific. It’s hard to pick between any of those. That’s a whole category; I don’t know how to pull one out of there… And then I have three I don’t know which to pick between — and they’re very, very different — Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, All the President’s Men, or The Wizard of Oz.
One of the reasons I say Wizard of Oz is because I had to watch it a hundred times because my boys really loved it growing up, and they would just love to get into bed and watch The Wizard of Oz. I watched it over and over and the more I watched it — you know, sometimes when your kid is hooked on something, you want to put a gun in your mouth for the umpeenth time they’ve watched Barney or Dora the Explorer — but the more I watched The Wizard of Oz, the greater it got. Then, for me, it also has the association of time with my children, so I think that’s part of the reason I have that on my list.
Talk about a movie that holds up! How does Wizard of Oz do that so well?
It has these wonderful actors in it and Judy Garland was such a gifted person. But there’s nothing else like it, and the songs were wonderful. I think when it came out, it wasn’t a great success, but it became a success over time. I think people didn’t know what to make of it, but it’s such a lovely fairy tale… When I was watching it growing up, you only saw it once a year. That only came on on Thanksgiving. It was a big TV event.
That, and I think The Incredible Mr. Limpet with Don Knotts used to come on Thanksgiving too.
Yes! That’s right! But I remember being so frightened of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, but it was so good that I could not not watch it. Walking up the stairs up to bed at night, after I watched the movie in the dark? I could barely do it. I had to run and get into bed. It took days to get over it. She was really, really frightening. It was a really well-done movie.
Did you ever see Wicked?
I love Wicked. I have friends who are producers of that show, Mike and Matt Rego and Hank Unger. It’s such a great retelling of that story. I didn’t expect anything because sometimes musicals can be sorta burdensome. I remember going to it, thinking, ‘It’s three hours long, my friends are producers on it, and I just gotta go, I have no idea what it’s about,’ and I was thrilled through the whole thing. Loved it.
Romeo and Juliet is on my list because I saw it when I was at a very formative age. I think I was 14 or 15, and at that age, girls are very dramatic about romance and they’re just starting to get those feelings, and love is very painful and very important. It’s overwhelming and you have these huge crushes, and so Romeo and Juliet is all about that huge first love. And you couldn’t have found two more beautiful teenagers than Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting… and that was the first time I had ever seen Michael York and he was stunning — he was stunning.
The costumes were gorgeous. Zeffirelli was a beautiful artist. He designed theater and opera and sets, so it was just beautiful. I think why I love Italy so much now is because of that movie, and it made me fall in love with Shakespeare. That’s one of the first times that Shakespeare became not just some dusty old English thing that you had to study in school, but it became really alive. You know what else did that really well? Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet… So, Romeo and Juliet was my first introduction. I walked around pretending I was Olivia Hussey. I had my long dark hair parted in the middle, and we had these, like, hippie baby-doll blouses that had the empire waist, so I would wear that all the time and I’d sorta stare at myself in the mirror. Of course, there was nobody in Cleveland, OH who looked anything like Leonard Whiting, so it was all in my head.
And then there’s All the President’s Men.
Are you cheating? Are you picking more than five?
I’m sort of getting around to it.
What’s amazing about All the President’s Men is that the only thing that happens in the whole movie is people make phone calls. There are no computers so they can’t look anything up — they’re looking up stuff in the Yellow Pages and they’re using, like, rotary phones. It’s Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford who are brilliant in it. They’re so natural. So, they’re making phone calls, they’re looking through files, and they’re having meetings in their newspaper’s editor’s office. That’s all that happens in the movie, and it’s as exciting as any big blockbuster movie. I mean, it’s really a huge accomplishment.
It shows that it doesn’t matter what something’s about if you do it well.
If you do it well — well-written, well-acted and well-directed. Absolutely.
That’s a really funny observation about the phone calls.
You can’t look anything up on the computer! They had typewriters! Typewriters! It’s a wonder any crime ever got solved.
I know we’re probably done, but I just have to say Tootsie is so wonderful and farcical… Feature comedy is very difficult to do. Tootsie took a crazy, ludicrous situation and made it utterly believable. You really believe Dustin Hoffman and the trials he had as a woman.
Next, Heaton talks about her new movie Moms’ Night Out, and why pain is so funny.
With Moms’ Night Out, there’s a script that when we first got it, my husband David Hunt and I weren’t sure about producing it and acting in it. When we came on as producers, we got to get our hands in there and massage our characters and fill them out a little bit more. As an actor, you want to have something that your character is struggling with — something they have to overcome. So, we were able to add that in. Really, comedies are usually about pain. If you look at Tootsie, that was about an actor who can’t get a job; he’s in great pain. And then he falls in love with someone and he can’t reveal who he is, so he’s in constant struggle — and that’s what make it so funny.
For Moms’ Night Out, all our characters are struggling. Sarah Drew, who plays Ally, is a mother of three young children, toddlers, and she’s overwhelmed and trying to be perfect. Probably, if I were to say what this movie is about, it’s really a love letter to mothers. As Salvador Dali said, you shouldn’t fear perfection because you’ll never achieve it. I think we need to throw out this idea of perfection — the perfect home, the perfect wardrobe, the perfect children who are speaking French and playing the violin and they’re math geniuses or whatever — and we have to let go of perfection and substitute it for appreciation. Live in the moment and appreciate the gift that children are, as tough as that job is. It’s the toughest job in the world being a mom.
Moms’ Night Out is a great way to celebrate Mother’s Day because it really is a celebration of mothers — different mothers too. I play a pastor’s wife and I have a teenage daughter and my character’s whole issue is also this idea of always having to have a perfect facade. When I did some research about pastors’ wives, the number-one word they used to describe themselves is “lonely.”
RT: That’s so sad.
Patricia Heaton: I know, but doesn’t it make total sense? Everyone can come to them with their problems — and they do — but they can’t really go to members of the congregation and say, “My husband’s driving me crazy” because he’s the pastor. They have to keep their failings to themselves because they’re trying to keep up an appearance, and they have to make sure, because their husbands are the leaders, that they protect them… It sounds like a serious drama, but I’ve always found that the best way to tackle subjects like that is through comedy. Classic comedy is like you’re massaging a person’s soul so that they’re relaxed and having a good time, and then they’re more open to going with the characters and going on their journey with them.
RT: As far as Moms’ Night Out goes, I know that when moms get to go out, it’s a very big deal.
Patricia Heaton: My husband a few years ago said, “What do you want to do for your birthday?” assuming I’d say something like, ‘Let’s go out to dinner,’ and I said, “I want to go away for the weekend with my girlfriends” and he was so offended. But especially when you’re all moms of younger kids, it’s really hard to get away. For the last seven years, five of my friends and I have gone away. It started out going locally — we’d drive up to Santa Barbara or out to the desert — and then one year, I was doing a play in New York, so everybody flew to New York. And then for my 50th birthday, we all went to Hawaii to Maui, so I have not just Moms’ Night Out, I have Girls’ Weekend Away. Maybe that’ll be the sequel.
RT: One of the things about the movie is that it starts out great for the moms, but it’s just awful for the dads.
Patricia Heaton: I think that’s one of the reasons we have a hard time. We tend to complain about our husbands not pitching in, and yet we’re very reluctant to hand anything over to them because we don’t like the way they do things. You ask any woman and they’ll say, “It’s true. I wish he would help me, but only if he helps me in my exact way to my specifications and follow all my rules.”
RT: He’ll do it wrong.
Patricia Heaton: He’ll do it wrong. That’s right. And so Moms’ Night Out is really just a huge celebration [of mothers]. And it’s also something that you can feel comfortable bringing your own mother too.
RT: Yeah, that’s a big selling point.
Patricia Heaton: Yes, and it’s really funny.
RT: One of the things that made me laugh was seeing Trace Adkins. He’s, like, twice everyone else’s size. He looks like a giant.
Patricia Heaton: He’s amazing. He’s very intimidating because he’s a man of very few words — and the few words he does speak are in this huge, deep country voice. But he’s just the sweetest teddy bear ever.
RT: Who knew he was a comedic actor? That was a surprise for me.
Patricia Heaton: He’s wonderful! I just had a feeling. When we came on board, he was already attached and I thought, ‘That’s perfect. I know he’s going to be great in this. I just know.’ And he was.
Moms’ Night Out opens this weekend in theaters.
Click here for more Five Favorite Films.