"Most often, I land up taking up the roles that I most detest" : Christine Lahti

On 4 July, at 9:45 pm, Hallmark will air The Book Of Ruth. In the film a young woman takes a journey back in time by looking at those who shaped the contours of her life.

When the film starts, the police have been called to her family's rural Illinois home at the scene of a violent crime. Ruth's sad story is one of a teenage girl under the influence of her bitter, jealous, and neglectful mother Mayleen played by Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Christine Lahti.

Indian audiences will be familiar with Lahti from her role as Dr. Kate Austin in the drama series Chicago Hope. Through email, Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with Lahti who spoke about her role, career as well as the factors that drive her to succeed.


What aspects of the character's personality were you drawn towards?

The Book of Ruth is based on the Jan Hamilton's novel. While reading the novel, what excited me about Maylene was that she was a classic sort of villain.

What was exciting was to really go beneath the surface and see what makes a person insulting, mean and abusive… especially to ones own child.

You know what's weird is that we all parent the way we were parented. Sometimes I find myself saying just the things I hated to hear my mother say.


Do you have a favourite scene from The Book of Ruth?

Several actually. However all the shots where I was really bitter and rude to my daughter were very challenging and I completely enjoyed doing them.

"Acting was not really a career choice that I had to make"

In the film Ruth's mother keeps telling her that she is not as smart, as pretty, or as talented as others. Was that a perception you had to cope with early in your career?

No, it has nothing to do with my career. Sure I faced the troubles and challenges that most actors and actresses face until they get noticed, but I was always confident of myself and my capabilities. And no… I never thought I was not smart, pretty or talented.


What factors led to your decision to choose acting as a profession?

It was not really a career choice that I had to make. It was something I knew right from the beginning. I had to be an actress… period.

I had the passion to become one, since I was a young girl and was always active in theatre and other forms of stage work. I loved the stage and then grew to love the camera.


In the beginning, you struggled even to get commercials as an actor in New York. How were you able to pull yourself through in those difficult times?

Those days were really bad. I would take up any small job on the sets, just so that I could hang around with the hope of getting noticed.

I was a fighter and very determined. There was no way I was going to back out without winning.



Your first major role came working opposite Al Pacino in And Justice for All. What did you learn from working with such a consummate professional?

Well I run short of words here. There's tons to learnt from him.

"Theatre is more exciting in the sense that you can actually see the audience in the eye"

A lot has been written about the passion you have for the work you do. What is it about the acting craft that drives you so hard?

I most often land up taking up the roles that I most detest. When I am first offered the role… I go like… "No way I'm doing this one" and finally it is that very same role that I land up playing.

I like to take up something that is challenging. I like to stretch myself. After doing so many different roles, if you don't stretch yourself, there's no excitement left.


Do you have reservations about award shows? It is often seen that actors compete like athletes whether it is for the Oscar or The Golden Globe.

None at all. In fact I think these are very good. Its nice to be recognized and receive accolades for the work that you have done.

Competition is very good… as long as its healthy. It's what makes one strive to be better. At the end of the day… like they say "let the best man win" and that's what the awards reflect.


You have expressed negative feelings about the horror film Hideaway. Was the script the film's main problem or did you feel miscast?

I think the book was far superior to the movie. I would not like to say anything more.


Of television, film and the theatre which medium gives you the most satisfaction as a performer and why?

I am an actress and acting is my passion… period! But if I have to choose one among them, then it has to be theatre. Theatre is more exciting in the sense that you can actually see the audience in the eye. You know there are no takes and retakes. You have one chance to do your job… and you better do it well!


Why are roles for actresses over a certain age limited in scope? Basically they get reduced to playing the mother, which is probably why I haven't see someone like Michelle Pfeiffer for quite a while.

While I too share your opinion, I believe the industry is opening now. Movie makers are now finding roles that are more apt to older actresses. They see the talent and they want to put it to best use.


Would you say that Chicago Hope marked a turning point in your career?

I don't think it was the turning point in my career. But it was definitely a role that was well noticed and appreciated.



Why is Hollywood so sexist?

Overall, it is moving towards a more unbiased industry. But I guess there's still a long way to go. I think all industries are sexist in nature and I don't think the film industry is any different.



Finally, is there a difference between being a famous movie star and a great actor?

Don't the two of them go hand in hand? Its only when you are a great actor and are recognised for your good work that you become famous. Unless you are in the news for the wrong reasons!


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