Rene Russo on ‘Just Getting Started’, Reteaming with Director Ron Shelton, and More

Written and directed by Ron Shelton, the comedy Just Getting Started follows Duke (Morgan Freeman), the manager with a mysterious past who is making the luxury Palm Springs resort known as Villa Capri a fun, non-stop party place for its residents. But when ex-military man Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) shows up and makes eyes at the newly arrived Suzie (Rene Russo), it triggers a competition between the two men that has both hilarious and dangerous consequences.

At the film’s press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actress Rene Russo, who talked about why she likes working with filmmaker Ron Shelton (Tin Cup, Bull Durham), what sets his brand of comedy apart, what she most enjoyed about this character, working with Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones, and her dog co-star. She also talked about what she looks for in a project and character, why she enjoys working with her husband, filmmaker Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), and whether she’d ever consider doing a TV series.

Collider:  You’ve talked about how Ron Shelton understands women and the female psyche, so he writes great female characters. What do you like about the way that he writes for women, and what did you enjoy about this specific character?

RENE RUSSO:  I think he writes really strong women, but he always gives them a flavor. I think he likes just a little bit of unpredictability. They’re totally together, but I love that he says they’re either hanging by a thread, or there’s a problem they’re trying to get through, so you get to see them get through it. It’s always exciting because it’s not one-dimensional. I love that about Ron. He’s so good. He’s such a good romantic comedy writer, and I love that he writes complicated women. We’re not always all together. We go through hard times, where we don’t know if we’re going to be able to do it, and that’s part of the fun of watching his characters. He’s wonderful. I love him!

What do you think it is that sets his brand of comedy apart from other filmmakers?

RUSSO:  He’s easy breezy. It’s not self-conscious. I think he loves actors. You’ve got Tommy Lee and Morgan, who are just so natural. His comedy doesn’t seem forced to me. He cast two kings. It was so interesting to watch these men somehow become like children. I was looking at Morgan thinking, “Oh, my god, I’m watching you, as an 8-year-old!” That’s not easy to do, and that’s what he wanted. I think he cast the parts perfectly. Without being mean and nasty, it can be great and it can be funny. There’s all kinds of comedy, but he still manages to keep it in the ‘40s tradition of romantic comedy and the banter, which I love.

This is a woman who starts off seeming one way, before we learn who she really is and what she’s doing. What did you most enjoy about getting to play that duality?

RUSSO:  It’s fun that she started out thinking, “I’m going to come and investigate these unsavory business practices and get to the bottom of it.” Her ass is on the line with her job. She knows that she’s messed up a few times and she has to get it together, but these total children have somehow changed her mind and brought the kid out in her, in some ways. Suzie just unravels, and that was fun.

What was it like to work with both Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones, and how different are they from each other?

RUSSO:  They’re completely different, but they were both funny. Tommy’s funny was interior funny. Morgan’s funny was broad comedy that was just bigger. They were perfectly matched, in that way. They held their own. They’re both so strong. They’re equally as strong. I had no idea that that was what was gonna happen. When you get two actors together, you don’t know what the chemistry is gonna be. As I was watching them, I thought, “Oh, they have really good chemistry together.” I thought their chemistry was really good.

Was it ever hard not to crack up when you were watching them together?

RUSSO:  Honestly, at one point, I was so into watching the scene that it was like I was at the movie theater, and I completely missed my line. I lost myself. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me. Maybe that’s age, I don’t know.

What do you most enjoy about doing comedy?

RUSSO:  It’s harder. It’s a livelier set, so off camera, it’s fun. It depends on who you’re working with, but this was fun. I love romantic comedies. I just prefer it. What Tommy and Morgan did was hard to do, and I always wonder why more comedies aren’t nominated. I’ve always felt dramatic roles are easier. It depends. There are really complex dramatic roles that are super hard, but it’s harder to get a comedic beat right than it is to cry. I just marvel at the fact that people are not given their due in comedies.

Were there any mishaps with your dog co-star?

RUSSO:  Thank god, no! There was only one scene where it was difficult for Romeo to get into the truck. They had to throw me in, and then the dog had to jump in. Because it was really high up off the ground, the poor dog couldn’t get up there. That was the only day there was trouble with the dog. Other than that, it was good.

At this point in your career, what gets you excited about a project and character, and what makes you go, “You know, this isn’t for me”?

RUSSO:  If it’s a watered down version of something I’ve already done, then that’s not exciting to me ‘cause I’ve already done it. I’ve worked with Ron before and it was a similar character, but it’s Ron, so that’s different. But a lot of parts that come in, I’m like, “I’ve done that, and I’ve done it better than this character that’s been written.” I just can’t bear that. As an actress, you get up early, you’re in hair and make-up for three hours, you’re in your trailer so bored that you want to kill yourself, and then when you get up and they go, “Action!” and “Cut!,” that time between is great, but then you go back to your trailer and wait for an hour. And I’m not complaining. I know it sounds like I am. I’m blessed to have this job. I really love it. If it’s a really good script, then it’s worth getting up for.

You worked with your husband, Dan Gilroy, on Nightcrawler, and you’re set to re-team with him and Jake Gyllenhaal for a film set in the art world. What do you like about working with him, as a director, and his approach to filmmaking?

RUSSO:  Dan is magical. Ideas come to him and he comes at things in an odd angle. Dan is the kindest person. He will know everybody’s name, on set. But there’s a dark side that I don’t see a lot, that comes out in his work, like this next picture he’s going to do. That’s fun! Plus, it’s great because, if you’re married to the director, any issues that you have, you have at home, before you go on the set. I would read it and go, “Danny, this is great,” or “Do you think she’d really do this here?” We’d talk about it a little bit, but for the most part, I don’t have a lot to add. A couple times, he’s said no and I’ve come around, and a couple times, he’s come around. We don’t fight on set. We fight at home, before we get to set. Actually, that’s not true. Really, it’s not true. The last couple of things that he’s done for me, I don’t think I changed a word. Within those words, you can do a lot of different things with it, so that’s my job. I don’t think we changed a word in Nightcrawler.

When are you going to shoot that?

RUSSO:  We shoot it in March.

How does that compare to his previous films?

RUSSO:  It’s more Nightcrawler-ish. It’s set in the contemporary art world, and I think it has more of a Nightcrawler vibe, but it’s something completely different. He comes up with these wild ideas. He’s an idea person, and they just come to him. He’ll go, “What do you think about this?” And I’m like, “Really?! You’re gonna do that?! Okay!” And then, he writes it and makes something out of it. He likes directing okay, but he really loves writing. That’s what’s closest to his heart. He loves to be in a room and write. That’s where he gets creative. The directing is because he wants to get the movie made, the way it is on the page. I don’t think he loves the process of directing like he does writing.

A lot of really great actors have been doing really interesting TV projects. Have you thought about doing a TV project and finding a really cool character that you could play for a longer period of time?

RUSSO:  Honestly, I don’t think I could work that hard. I don’t. If it was [a short season], that could be good. Maybe I could do it. But honestly, that’s a lot of work. I’ve worked my whole life, and I don’t mind it, but TV is tough and that schedule is brutal, so I don’t know. I guess it would have to be spectacular.

Just Getting Started is now playing in theaters.

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