by Tony Reverditto
November 6, 2019
Before Game of Thrones, there was The Lion in Winter
It’s Christmas 1183, and King Henry II plans to announce his successor to the throne. Henry has three sons in the Plantagenet family and wants his boy, Prince John, to take over. Henry’s wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, has another notion. She believes their son, Prince Richard, should be king. As the family and numerous conspirators gather for the holiday, each tries to make the indecisive king choose their option.
James Goldman’s 1966 dramedy play, The Lion in Winter, is a free-for-all stage classic with sibling rivalries, scheming, adultery, even dungeons.
In 1968, the film version starred Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn. The movie received a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Hepburn won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Actress, and O’Toole got a Golden Globe for Best Actor. The script is so intriguing that in 2003, a made-for-television remake was produced, starring Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close.
Laguna Playhouse has revived the classic script to close out 2019 with a cast that includes some big-name stars: Frances Fisher and Gregory Harrison in the title roles. The Rage Monthly caught up with Fisher to learn about her upcoming role in The Lion in Winter.
Born in Milford on Sea on the south coast of England, the daughter of American parents, Fisher’s itinerant childhood living in the UK, Colombia, Canada, France, Brazil, Turkey, Italy, Iowa and Texas undoubtedly provided fodder for her thespian career. She started her acting career at the Barter Theatre in Virginia and has starred in over 30 theatrical productions.
Fisher has been seen in such films Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Can She Bake a Cherry Pie, Babyfever, Patty Hearst, Female Perversions, the Academy Award-winning Unforgiven, True Crime, The Big Tease, The Rising Place, Blue Car, Pink Cadillac, The Kingdom, House of Sand and Fog, and Wild America. She is perhaps best known for her performance as Kate Winslet’s mother in Titanic, which garnered Fisher a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Ensemble Cast while the film went on to receive 11 Academy Awards.
On the small screen, Fisher has appeared in many made-for-television movies including Mrs. Harris, Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter (in which she starred as Lucille Ball), The Audrey Hepburn Story, Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, Hallmark Channel’s Unleashing Mr. Darcy and The Seven Year Hitch. She has also had recurring roles in TV series such as The Shield, Eureka, Torchwood: Miracle Day, The Killing and Masters of Sex. Additionally, Fisher has had guest starring roles in primetime series including Law & Order, The Mentalist, Two and a Half Men, Sons of Anarchy, Grey’s Anatomy, CSI and Castle as well as daytime dramas. Most recently, Fisher had a guest role on FX’s Fargo and a role in Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren.
Congratulations on your amazing career in film and television. Let’s start with Titanic. It has been 22 years since it was released and is one of the top-grossing films of all time. Did you think while you were filming that it would be as successful as it was?
No, no one did. No film had had that kind of success before. It was a surprise to all of us.
How long did filming go on before completion?
The flashback took six months and the modern-day segments were a couple of weeks in Nova Scotia.
It seems like it would have taken so much longer. Do you think roles like that have prepared you to play Queen Eleanor?
Well, Ruth Dewitt Bukater was a completely different person than Eleanor of Aquitaine, but my study of mid-Atlantic accent has come in handy because that is what our director wants. Every character is different, obviously, and you have to do your research and preparation independent of anything else that you have ever done.
You have done quite a bit of film and television. You played Lucille Ball in Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter. What was it like to channel the queen of comedy?
It was mostly behind the scenes. It was more the story of her life, although there were some scenes from the sitcom. Fortunately, there was a lot available to research because she was a real person and it was quite interesting.
I loved you as another of your many characters that we love to hate, Violet Darcy in Hallmark’s Unleashing Mr. Darcy and the sequel, Marrying Mr. Darcy. Of course, your character redeemed herself. How does Queen Eleanor redeem herself in The Lion in Winter?
I don’t think she has anything to redeem herself from; she’s acting out of the wisdom from a mother’s heart making the best choice to keep her kingdom intact despite conflicting opinions of others in the matter.
Spoken like a true mother’s intuition regarding one of her children. When you compare film to stage, the memorization process is altogether different. Why did you want to take on this particular role and challenge at this point in your career?
When one gets the opportunity to work with the wonderful director Sheldon Epps and alongside Gregory Harrison in a play that is so iconic, so inspiring, so multi-layered, one takes it. The window of opportunity was perfect in my schedule and I thought, Will I get this chance again? So I said I am taking it now. Plus, I love it in Laguna, the theatre, the beach, the sunsets, the ocean . . . it’s beautiful.
You recently co-starred with your daughter, Francesca Eastwood, in JT Mollner’s Outlaws and Angels. Was this your first time working together and what was it like?
Well, we didn’t actually get to appear on screen together. She was the star of the film and I just played a small role in it. The first time we were ever on screen together, she played my daughter in The Star Spell of Henrietta. She was about 8 months old at the time and the director decided that I could have a third daughter. Francesca was a baby in arms when I went into the meeting and he said why don’t we put her in the movie, too. So, that is a special memory.
Finally, after The Lion in Winter, do you have anything that we can look forward to?
On the personal side of things, it is going to be Thanksgiving and Christmas and I am looking forward to spending that time with my family. Watchman just came out on HBO. It premiered on October 20 in the 9 p.m. the Game of Thrones time slot. Then I have two Netflix films and I am in post-production right now. One is called Holidate and I play Emma Roberts’ mother with a wonderful cast. I just completed another film, a sci-fi thriller called Awake, in which Gina Rodriguez is the leading lady and I play her mother-in-law.