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Illeana Douglas: Host of Turner Classic Movies’ Trailblazing Women in Film

Illeana Douglas: Host of Turner Classic Movies’ Trailblazing Women in Film

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Born with show business in her blood, Illeana Douglas has had quite the career. Being the granddaughter of screen legend Melvyn Douglas, Illeana grew up surrounded by the industry. She studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, and in 1987 started working for a publicist in New York – which led her to her first film role in Hello Again. Since then she’s been an actress, a standup comedian, a writer, a director and a producer – and while Illeana loves acting (and she notes she will always want to act), she loves to tell stories – hopefully comedic ones. Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has allowed her to combine that vision with her love of film as the host of TCM Spotlight: Trailblazing Women, a multi-year programming initiative that aims to shine a spotlight on the historical contributions of women working in the film industry. The conversation through this series also helps to raise awareness of the current underrepresentation of women in positions of power within the business, and to promote resources that empower women to participate more fully in the industry.

This year marks Illeana’s third year hosting the sieres. Every Tuesday and Thursday night in October, she will introduce the themes and films in the spotlight while joined each evening by a different co-host who will aid in sheding light on each of these important conversations.

Illeana’s own film credits include Cape Fear (1991), To Die For (1995), Grace of My Heart (1996), Picture Perfect (1997), Ghost World (2001) and The Late Bloomer (2016). She has also appeared on a number of television shows including Six Feet Under, Entourage, and Modern Family, and is also the executive producer and costar of the web series The Skinny which premiered in 2016.

What advice did you receive early in your career that you really took to heart and you feel like had a huge impact on you?

I was very lucky that early on in my career when I met Martin Scorsese, he really gave me a lot of confidence and really encouraged me to write and direct. I took my money from the movie I did, “Alive”, and I started making short films, and in those days it was film, so it was a little tougher. You just kind of make your mistakes, but you put one foot in front of the other and that movie, which was called the “Perfect Woman”, kind of took off, and then from that I had other opportunities to do writing and directing, and it led to doing a pilot for television.

But all along the way, what was challenging for me was, I could never exclusively write and direct, I had to make my living as an actress. That’s how I made my living, but I think women are really good at that, at balancing that. But I think that encouragement early on, that I knew I had a future as a writer and director, was great advice, because you can’t always act forever. I also admire somebody like Ruth Gordon, who started out as an actress, and then was writing, and then didn’t act until her 70s and came back and won an Academy Award.

I would think being involved in all the different areas of it makes you better at literally all the different areas of it, cause you understand all the different perspectives and what it takes.

Sometimes I think when you’re younger, you don’t know what your skill-set is, and even by asking you, “Well what is it you want to do?” You don’t necessarily know, and so again I think that opportunity he spotted right off the bat that I loved movies, and that I wanted to know about movies, and so he was inviting me to the set, and that was something I had replicated when I was younger with my grandfather, visiting him on sets, and once he started bringing me into the editing room, I really loved editing, and I began to feel myself, “Oh I have a natural inclination towards editing, because I love music, and because I’m a comedian I know about pacing.” So there was that aspect.

For years, I actually didn’t understand that I was a really good writer up until … It was like, “Well what if she says this, or what if she says this?” And no one ever stopped me from ad-libbing or doing improvisation, and it took years, and Garry Shandling, when I did the Larry Sanders Show, it took, again, I have to credit a man for saying, “You know you should really be a writer, you’re writing this whole thing.” So I don’t know if I would have thought of it on my own, it was because people that were more powerful than me had a belief in me. I think it’s important to be a mentor. When I see people that need a helping hand, the easiest thing to do is let them hang out, and they’ll probably gravitate towards what it is that they think they’re good at.

Illeana Douglas TCM

Hollywood is an industry that can really break your heart, beat you down, and make you feel unsure of yourself. How do you keep yourself invigorated, and motivated, and kind of reassure yourself when you do have moments of doubt?

Well I always try to stick with the principles of my past, which were that I went to acting school, and there was such an enthusiasm and a love of acting, of dance, of singing, and I always think that you have to put yourself in a mental state of being employed. Meaning, if the door opened, could you sing a song, could you do a dance, could you do a monologue, do you know the latest films, being ready and not waiting, not being Lana Turner sitting at the drugstore waiting to be discovered.

I feel confidence comes from being mentally and physically prepared. I don’t think it’s just a mental thing, like I go to dance class four days a week, I’m aware of the latest television shows, I mean I love old movies, I watch movies with commentary, so I ask myself … And this was something I did when I was 19 … It’s funny when you have no work, you have plenty of time all day to do affirmations and think about, “Make today great,” and I think somewhere along the way when you get successful, you stop doing all of those things, so therefore I think about every day, “What have I done today to further me on my journey of where I want to be?” Have I watched a movie, have I read something of a book, have I gone to dance class? And even if it’s something as simple as, “Did I really eat well today.” Again you’re using your entire body when you’re in show business, you have to have tools of being artist, but then you also have to have tools of being a good salesman.

I think all of those things keep you sharp and keep it fun. I think it’s very important to think it’s fun, it’s supposed to be fun. But people will say negative things to you. Listen, I had an experience recently that somebody said something very, very negative to me and I was sad about it for four days. But what was interesting is on the fourth day I was better. I was driving to dance class and I was like, “Oh, I’m over it.” So I think it’s good to be conscious of when something bad happens, how long does it take you to get over it? It can’t stop you in your tracks, but it’ll pass. Then you’ll look back and you’ll laugh about it, make fun of that person, make them a character in your movie or whatever.

What three pieces of advice would you offer to other females that are looking to pursue a career in Hollywood?

I always tell everyone … I wrote a book, a memoir, and I tell everyone, I think they should write a book, even if it is not published, because you learn. I think it is very important to know yourself in order to sell yourself, in order to get work, and so I think that by writing about yourself, it’s amazing the things that you’ll find out and you’re much more aware of what you’ve actually accomplished than you realize. So, writing I think is incredibly important.

Education, I think again, is an amazing tool because it gives you confidence, especially knowing films of the past. And then the third is I think again, having a support system of people. Show business is not a complaining job, it just isn’t, but yet, you need to let of steam. So, I think it’s having a great girlfriend, or whether it’s your parents, or a teacher, or a mentor, but I think you have to be vulnerable with someone so you can say, “Hey I’m going through these things.” And again, just to get you back on track. In show business, it’s supposed to be fun.

Catch Illeana Douglas on TCM this October as the host of TCM Spotlight: Trailblazing Women, and you can follow her online on Twitter at @Illeanarama.

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