Interview: Little Focker's Blythe Danner

I was really looking forward to making a joke about Teri Polo being the “Motherfocker” to Ben Stiller’s “The Godfocker” in this piece, but not only are the “fock” jokes completely overdone at this point, but Polo was a bit under the weather and couldn’t attend the Little Fockers press day. However, on the bright side, that did mean the press got the Byrnes family matriarch, Blythe Danner, all to ourselves.

In the third installment, Dina Byrnes is back and ready to do whatever is necessary in order to insure her husband Jack (Robert De Niro) and son-in-law Greg (Ben Stiller) play nice. She and Jack travel to Chicago where Greg and Pam are preparing for their twin’s birthday party. While they rush to set up for the bash, attempt to get the twins into the prestigious Early Human School and Greg tries to make an extra buck promoting the erectile dysfunction medication Sustengo, Dina is busy considering more of Roz Focker’s sexual advice.

Danner may have been unexpectedly flying solo during this press conference, but she certainly had no problem fielding all of our questions. In fact, she wanted more. Danner took the time to address everything from returning to the franchise to the pressure of showing off Dina’s more sexual side and much more. Take a look for yourself below.

What makes you most excited about doing another Focker movie? Is it seeing your friends and playing this character?

Blythe Danner: It’s feeling comfortable and knowing I’m going to have a nice paycheck. I think it’s the comfort zone because it always takes a while when you’ve joined a new cast to adapt to one another and, ‘How does that one work,’ and, ‘Gee, can I bee this kooky?’ It’s a very sensitive thing when you’re working with the other actors to find out first how they work. With this group when we first began, I’d known Ben [Stiller] a little bit since he was a little boy because his parents were friends, so I saw when he was first starting how brilliant he was. And Bob [De Niro], of course, is iconic and so I was a little intimidated, but he was very welcoming and all embracing. We immediately felt like a company. So that was when we were Focker virgins. [Laughs]

Can you tell us about that seduction scene?

That was fun. I was very nervous being an older lady putting on all that underwear, but in the film I think it’s very brief, so I don’t know that you see anything. I knew they would certainly not want to show too much because that’s a little unsightly at my age [laughs], but that was a lot of fun. Bob has this hilarious way of breaking up. He’s very quiet and he just kind of shakes, [imitates De Niro laughing], with this little expression on his face. I think he had a lot of fun on this one. He seemed to really let loose. There were some things that were cut out, which I was sorry about. I think they shot it, when Ben wakes up in the beginning of the film having a nightmare that Bob’s dressed in a wedding gown and all gussied up and comes towards him to kiss him and then he wakes up. I was so sorry it wasn’t in it because I’d love to see that. [Laughs]

This is a gift. Doing these is really a gift because they’re tremendous fun, they don’t demand a lot of us like the boys. Barbra [Streisand] and Dustin [Hoffman] in the second were also a gift; that was such a great infusion of energy having them there. And in this one Jessica Alba who could just eat with a spoon, she’s so beautiful and funny and spunky. And Laura [Dern] who I adore is a friend as well and Harvey Keitel. I wish Harvey even had more scenes because he’s so funny. I just feel fortunate to have had this because I work on a lot of independent films so this one is really like sort of being treated like queen for a day. They put you in your own beautiful camper, lovely food. Sometimes you dress behind a bathroom, on certain films.

[Your daughter], Gwyneth [Paltrow], is getting a lot of attention recently for her musical talent in Country Song. Where do you think that interest in singing came from?

My family was very musical. My brother is an opera singer, my parents both sang. My earliest memories of Gwyneth first singing is in bed when we would make up songs. The most I could do was harmonize like a third above and at two years old, she’d be doing sixths. I said, ‘Where in the world did that come from?’ She’d just make up songs. And then she would sort of jazz scat to Sesame Street [laughs]. I thought, ‘My gosh. We’ve got something here.’ But she’s always been musical. When she did Jefferson in Paris, the Merchant Ivory people sent over a harpsichord to her apartment. My husband and I gave her and her brother piano lessons when they were small, but she would just throw the music away and could only really play it by ear, which nobody in the family had ever done. That was extraordinary. They used her on the score of Jefferson in Paris because she’d become so proficient with playing harpsichord and didn’t read the music, just heard it. So that’s something that’s above and beyond anything the family could do.

How would you describe yourself as a mother-in-law in real life?

I don’t give my advice unless it’s asked for. [Laughs] I have a very dear son-in-law and an incredible daughter-in-law, so I’m really blessed. I have another son and another daughter. I think you just have to be very careful. You want to be around as much as you hope they want you around and the way to do that is just to be all embracing. They’re such peripatetic full lives and I feel very fortunate that I’m a part of them.

In the film you play a proud grandmother, so what’s it like being a grandmother in real life?

It’s what they say; you don’t have the responsibility, but you have all the joy and it’s wonderful. I guess I’m amazed at they’re wisdom. My daughter is extraordinary with them. She’s a much more patient mother than I was and she pulled back in the way that I pulled back, but I had never had the career she had when I pulled back. I always said to her, ‘Don’t leave until you’ve really made your mark so you can relax and then come back as you want to.’ And she did; she won her Oscar and that was thrilling, but when she had children she just was completely devoted to that and listens to them and talks to them. They never have temper tantrums because she just knows how to sweep them aside and talk to them and they listen. She’s very rational. [Laughs] I just admire it. I don’t know how she does it really. They’re very wise little ones. I’ve been trying to sell an apartment I’ve had in California and little Mosey who was just three at the point said to me, ‘Lalo, do you have three houses?’ He was thinking of the New York apartment and I was building the little solar thermal house; I’ve been involved in the environment for longer than Gwyneth’s alive and they call me “Lalo.” So, I said, ‘I guess I do Mosey,’ and he said, ‘Lalo, you don’t need three houses, do you?’ It was just wild. They’re very wise and very dear; they’re sweet kids, they’re not spoiled kids.

Do you see this movie as a roadmap for marriages to help get through some of the rough spots along the way?

Yeah, it’s too bad Teri isn’t here to talk about that. She was saying, I think what happens after you’re in a marriage for a while and you have children and there’s not that much time for one another, your whole focus is the children. I remember when the children were going off, I actually worried what [my husband and I] would talk about. I thought, ‘Gee, our wholes lives have been them and now what would we talk about?’ Of course, when they left, we realized why we’d gotten together in the first place and that we really did like one another a lot. [Laughs] What I like about this film too is that they’re two married couples. There are the Fockers and the Byrnes and they’re both married, which is a rarity. I’m finding myself just sort of assuming when I meet people and they talk about their families and you want to say, ‘Are your parents together?’ So many aren’t anymore. My husband was very special and very funny and outspoken and he would have a black and blue every so often because under the table, I’d say, ‘Don’t say that!’ Sort of what Dina does to Jack.

What’s your ideal project at this point? What do you really want to do? Something with Gwyneth, a musical, comedy, TV …

Any of the above! We played Sylvia together; she was so brilliant as Sylvia Plath. I played her mother in that. We’ve been up to Williamstown; with Chris Walken we played Chekhov’s The Seagull and we did another new play up there. I’m up for anything, especially stage I love. I hope that she’ll be doing more on stage, too. I know she would like to.

I’d love to see the two of you sing together.

That would be fun! I’d like that. We were always harmonizing in our family. My son too has a wonderful voice and they’d be in the back singing “Stand By Me” and all these songs. So, yeah, luckily I’ve been working quite a bit. I’ve got a few things coming out; I’ve got a film with Anna Faris and one with Simon Pegg and some of the kids from Saturday Night Live. The wonderful thing is that they need grandmothers now, so I feel my career’s not completely dead. And we hope more of these will come along if you all like them enough.

Perri Nemiroff

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.