Friday, August 16, 2013


The absolute highlight of the John Cassavetes retrospective last month at BAM was Lelia Goldoni's surprise Q&A after the screening of Shadows. Of all the Q&A's I've been to in my lifetime so far I've never seen someone so eager to answer questions and talk about a film they've been associated with for such a long time (just last month I attended a screening of Only God Forgives, also at BAM, where director Nicholas Winding Refn already seemed tired of answering questions about a film that's only a few months old). But Shadows is such an important film and continues to find new audiences every few years so there's always something new to talk about.

Lelia Goldoni was kind enough to take the time out to answer some questions regarding not only Shadows and her relationship with all things Cassavetes, but her work with Martin Scorsese as well as her relationships with other various actors & filmmakers. 

Anyone who reads this site should know that Cassavetes is a PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite, so this interview is quite special to me. 


PINNLAND EMPIRE: I find it great that after five decades you still seem so energetic and eager to discuss ShadowsDo you ever have moments where you get tired or jaded talking about your experience making that film?

LELIA GOLDONI: No I have never gotten tired or bored. And your question made me wonder "why", so here is what I came up with - One factor is that after 50 years I am still here! And a new audience is present to get something out of it. The times have changed so much of what were the issues in the old days. So in many ways it seems new to me as well as the audience.

PE: Filmmaker Shirley Clarke loaned some camera equipment to John Cassavetes so he could make Shadows - Did you ever meet her or have any kind of a relationship with her? Did she ever hang around or help out during the filming of Shadows?

LG: No, I did not meet her at the time. We met about 20 years ago and talked & gossiped about everyone. It was great.

Lelia Goldoni in Shadows (1959)

PE: At the Shadows screening at BAM you talked about the difficulties you faced getting cast in films due to issues of racial ambiguity & discrimination (casting agents didn't know if you were white or a really light skin black person). Do you know if this is something your Shadows co-star; Ben Caruthers faced as well?

LG: In 1963 I went to England and the English thought I was lying [about her ethnicity]. But they thought it was kinky. I worked a lot of TV movie plays. I left England in 1973 and came back to LA.

Ben & I got married before the film was released and he got a couple of jobs in TV in LA. There was no question about his ethnicity. We got divorced around the time the film was re-released so I did not hear about any problems he may have had. 

PE: Does it surprise you that even still today your ethnicity is a topic of discussion? If one were to Google search your name on the Internet, “ethnicity” is one of the keywords that comes up with your name...
(FYI - Lelia Goldoni is Italian-American)

LG: I just looked up my name and ethnicity but did not take the time away from finishing this to read on. Wow...

PE: What was your experience like working with a young Martin Scorsese on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore? 

LG: Like all women in Marty's films I only worked with him one time. He seemed very tense but loved what he was doing.

PE: Since John Cassavetes was a mentor to Martin and you were one of Cassavetes' most notable actors, did Martin look out for you and take extra care of you during the filming of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore?

LG: For years I thought he did not like my work but I finally saw that no female ever worked for him a second time.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)

PE: Between Ellen Burstyn's performance & Diane Ladd's performance - do you feel Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is an unsung film for strong/independent women?
I only ask this question because I rarely ever here this movie brought up on the subject of strong female roles in cinema.

LG: I thought it was a wonderful script and have been otherwise occupied to have noticed what you say. I am surprised that the film did not get more attention in the era that you are speaking of. But it was acknowledged as a terrific piece of work for Ellen, Diane and even me. I was nominated for a BAFTA for best supporting actress along with Diane. She won - bigger part.

PE: Given that you co-starred in a film like Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, do you ever get annoyed or frustrated when Martin Scorsese is only acknowledged, by the general public, for his mafia and gangster-related films?
(This doesn't happen as much anymore today but it’s still a generalization/stigma that he faces)

LG: He kept making them [mafia movies]. So you have to look at him for the choice. I don't think he was forced in to those films.

Martin Scorsese & John Cassavetes

PE: The Day Of The Locust, another film you appeared in, has a very strange feel and shows a darker side of Los Angeles during the 1920's. Did you read the book to prepare for your role in that film? 

LG: I read the book in high school. It was on the "NO NO NO" list, and I could not remember Mary Dove [the character Goldoni portrays in the film] 
While reading the book in preparation I found out why - She is only mentioned one time without any real information.
Working on the film I made some very good friends; Waldo Salt, Bill Atherton and I knew Schlesinger (the director) & Donald Sutherland from London.
Sutherland and I worked in a TV production of Rose Tattoo. I played the daughter and he played a traveling salesman. 

PE: Do you have any interesting stories while making The Day Of The Locust?

LG: There are lots of interesting stories but I am not comfortable talking about them.

PE: Another thing you talked about at the BAM Q&A was your love for New York City and your joy being back here – Can you tell the readers what projects you’re involved in now that you're in NYC?

LG: New York is the world. Every corner of this planet is in New York and we pretty much all get along. Taking buses and subways I have conversations with all the people. I just mentioned, in a way, that we are in an invitational party having cocktails and talking about the world, its conditions, what could be done and who we are.
I have spent the last year meeting people and seeing how the town operates. It is soooo different from LA. Thank God. 
So the project that is looming, with the fascinating company; Hoi Paloi and its director Alec Duffy, is three short Beckett plays and I am working with an actress and writer to restructure the play; Who's Looking After The Baby.

PE: What are the last 5 films you've seen?

LG: Margin Call - Loved it. Argo - Loved Alan Arkin & John Goodman. Liked the film. Silver Linings Playbook - I liked it a lot. De Niro was very good. Lincoln & Les Miserables.
I've been going to the theater more to get a feel for what it is like here in New York. A Canadian director asked me to do a film when the script is finished. So I think I'll be working again...

PE: Are there any current filmmakers or actors working right now that you’re a big fan of?

LG: Stanley Tucci - I think he is a really great actor. He brings something out of the individual's inner life with every role he plays. He doesn't need costumes to make it happen. His role as the child rapist [The Lovely Bones] was shattering work. I wanted him dead. He makes you forget it is fiction.

Seymour Cassel, Minnie & Moskowitz 

PE: Finally, without embarrassing him too much, do you have any cool/funny stories about Seymour Cassel? 

LG: He is an extraordinary person. His outgoing appearance is gruff and aggressive but he is a person who has a heart of gold. He has suggested that producers use me in films and I got a couple of small jobs. I needed money for my medical insurance so those roles always help. Underneath his foul language is a giant heart of gold. My story is too small to define him.


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