By Jordan Riefe
We know Melanie Griffith from ’80s and ’90s films like “Something Wild” and “Nobody’s Fool,” but the curvaceous blond with the kewpie-doll voice is no stranger to the stage. She played Roxie Hart in the Broadway revival of “Chicago” in 2003 and starred opposite Scott Caan in his play “No Way Around But Through” at Burbank’s Falcon Theatre in 2012. Following stepson Jesse Johnson’s performance in last year’s production of “King of the Road” at Laguna Playhouse, this month Griffith bares all on the same stage as Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate.”
Based on the novel by Charles Webb and the classic movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, “The Graduate” premiered in London in 2000, where Kathleen Turner played Mrs. Robinson. And now, at age 60, it’s Griffith’s turn to take it off while trying to seduce Benjamin Braddock. “As long as I’m lit well, I’ll be fine,” the actress says, adding with a sigh. “I’m really fat and gone to hell.”
As the daughter of Tippi Hedren (Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”), Griffith grew up partly in Hollywood. Her break came in 1975 when she played a runaway nymphet in “Night Moves.” That role led to a string of seductresses and victims until Mike Nichols (who directed “The Graduate”) cast her in the career-defining “Working Girl,” which won her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe.
The A-list movies and A-list husbands are behind her now, but so is the cycle of addiction and rehab. These days, Griffith is single for the first time in her adult life after four marriages to three men, including Don Johnson, father of their daughter, “Fifty Shades of Grey” star Dakota Johnson, and actor Antonio Banderas, whom she divorced in 2015 after nearly 20 years together.
COAST: We haven’t seen you play an antagonist like Mrs. Robinson often in your career. What made you say yes to this?
Melanie Griffith: I really liked the whole idea of it, Mrs. Robinson. I’m 60. I figured might as well. Mrs. Robinson, she’s definitely age-appropriate. It just seems like it would be a lot of fun.
COAST: Do you remember the first time you saw “The Graduate”?
MG: I think I was too young to see “The Graduate” when it came out. I think I saw it more around when I did “Working Girl” because Mike Nichols directed it and I was more interested in the directing than in the acting or in the story even. I was interested in the story, but I think I’ve seen it a couple of times over the years. It’s such a good movie.
COAST: What do you recall about working with Nichols?
MG: I loved him. I loved him. Every single minute I got to be with him, I loved him. He was just an amazing director. He was an amazing human being.
COAST: The movie is such a product of its time. Is it as relevant today as it was when it came out in 1967?
MG: I think it’s relevant to today. It’s people trying to have relationships. It’s people being human and trying to find love.
COAST: I know there are some new scenes added to the play that weren’t in the movie.
MG: The play is kind of different. I like reading it better than the movie because it’s concise; it’s a play. It’s not like the movie in a lot of ways. The essence of it is like the movie, but I think it’s a little more intimate and you sort of understand the relationship a little better, and the needs of each character and why they do what they do. I don’t think it changes the end result. It’s kind of a more enjoyable ride, the play. I think the audience will feel more included in what the characters go through.
COAST: Your daughters are actors. I wonder if you run lines with them?
MG: With Dakota, not really. She’s a powerhouse. She doesn’t need me. Acting is a really personal thing. I don’t give them direction or tell them what to do or how to do it.
COAST: Following your divorce to Antonio Banderas, you said you were stuck. Can you elaborate on that?
MG: I was stuck in my marriage. So it’s been the past three years of me becoming unstuck, I guess you can say.
COAST: How does one become unstuck?
MG: It’s the first time I’ve been alone in my life. I’ve always had a man, and now I’m single for three years and I’m learning to be OK with myself, which is probably the best thing a person can do in life in order to be able to be really good with someone else. Hopefully that’s what it is, anyway, that’s what I’m thinking.
COAST: Now that you’re single again, might you take a tip from Mrs. Robinson and date a younger guy?
MG: I haven’t ever dated a younger guy, myself. But there are a lot of women that I know who … I guess you would call them cougars. I guess Mrs. Robinson is kind of the original out-there cougar. Not that that’s what I would go for, the character. I don’t know how you would do that.