News Column

Cucalorus - Shirley Knight relishes 'Redwood Highway' role

November 16, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 16--She's stood among the ranks of the Ya-Ya sisterhood, graced more than one Oscar ballot and even taken a stroll down Wisteria Lane. But this weekend, it's the Port City that will be on actress Shirley Knight's mind as she attends the Cucalorus Film Festival to promote her new film "Redwood Highway."

In the film, Knight plays an aging woman named Marie who decides, against popular opinion, that she is going to hike 80 miles up the Oregon coast to witness her granddaughter's wedding. Exerting her own independence and can-do spirit, Marie finds herself and a few colorful people along the journey.

"I really love my character in the film. I love her feistiness and her determination to do what she wants to do and not be told what to do as an older woman," Knight said Wednesday, the day before hopping on a Wilmington-bound flight. "I also thought that it was nice that this role was written for an older woman, and that I was the person they wanted."

Knight will attend the film's screening 4:15 p.m. Saturday at Thalian Hall. Immediately following, Knight and director Gary Lundgren will participate in an extended Q&A about the making of and inspiration for the film, which Knight said was shot on-location in the "unbelievably beautiful" Oregon countryside.

Knight is no stranger to the Wilmington area, having previously starred in local productions of the 1996 TV movie "Stolen Memories: Secrets from the Garden," opposite Mary Tyler Moore and Linda Lavin, and 2002's "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," opposite Sandra Bullock and Ellen Burstyn.

"I have worked in Wilmington on several films and every time, it is awfully nice. It is not all that great when it's hot," Knight said, laughing. "But apart from that, it is a wonderful town."

Knight's critically praised role in "Redwood Highway" is just the latest acclaim bestowed upon the veteran actress. Stepping in the bright lights of Hollywood for the first time in 1959, she enjoyed a gracious welcome: earning supporting actress Academy Awards nominations for her both first two feature films, "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" and "Sweet Bird of Youth."

Although she didn't take home either Oscar, she would go on to claim three Emmy Awards, five more Emmy nominations and the Venice Film Festival's prestigious Volpi Cup award for her leading role in 1967's "Dutchman." In 1969, famed director Francis Ford Coppola caught wind of what the work the actress was doing and wrote a movie specifically with her in mind called "The Rain People," costarring James Caan and Robert Duvall.

While lighting up the silver screen, Knight has made a name for herself in the theater world, earning a Tony Award in 1976 for her featured role in "Kennedy's Children."

This year alone, Knight she has starred in three plays, including a staging of Tennessee Williams' final work, "In Masks Outrageous and Austere."

When talking about her time in the theater, Knight is upfront about why she feels taking to the stage is something all actors must do to master their craft.

"You never progress as an actor if you don't do theater. In the cinema and television, you seldom get to finish your role. It is just not that kind of animal," she said. "So the only way you get to go through the process of acting is by doing theater."

And while, in recent years, Knight has been offered mostly supporting roles in films like "As Good As It Gets," it is in the theater where she still shines as the leading leady. .

"I only do leading roles in the theater. I never do supporting roles because it would just be too boring for me," Knight said.

Working on a television show for an extended period of time has also never been of much interest to Knight.

"I have never really wanted to do series because I think I would get bored playing the same role five, 10 or 20 years," she said. "I was offered shows like 'Dallas' and 'Knots Landing' for years. But to play the same part would drive me nuts. I like variety."

And "Redwood Highway" is definitely something the new for the actress, who said has enjoyed screening the film for festival audiences.

"At one festival, it was standing room only and they gave us a standing ovation after it was over. They were thrilled with it," Knight said. "That is just wonderful, because what often happens is that you like it but you don't know how the audience is going to respond to it."

Heading into Cucalorus, Knight said that she is looking forward to how people in North Carolina react.

"It is going to be wonderful. I hope everyone likes the movie" she said.

Hunter Ingram: 343-2327

On Twitter: @WilmOnFilm

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(c)2013 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

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