Rene Russo talks about working with Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman on Just Getting Started
Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, and Rene Russo star in Just Getting Started, a new comedy from director/writer Ron Shelton (Bull Durham). The film opened in theaters this past weekend and is about Duke Diver (Freeman), the manager of the Villa Capri retirement community in Palm Springs. Duke is a very laid back manager who is put to the test when an ex-FBI agent named Leo played by Tommy Lee Jones shows up to the community and wants to purchase it. Rene Russo plays Suzie and is sent to Villa Capri to check-up on Duke and make sure that he is doing his job. Together, they all get involved in an elaborate plot that involves someone trying to kill Duke as a result of some hidden secrets from his previous life. I had the great opportunity to sit down with Rene Russo to discuss the film with her.
Scott Menzel: Hi, Rene, how are you doing today?
Rene Russo: Can I be honest with you? I’m not used to getting up early, and I got up two days early and I’m trying to change my schedule around, and I’m like, “Oh, my God.” That last 20 minutes I was like, “I’m feeling really dizzy,” so I had to literally stop and eat some eggs. But I’m good, I have nothing to complain about, I’m gonna sleep for a little while later. I’m gonna get a nice, long nap.
Scott Menzel: That sounds very nice. This is one of those movies where you watch it and feel like everyone who is a part of it is just having a ball.
Rene Russo: It is true, we really did. Working with these guys, I saw them turning into eight-year-olds before my eyes, it was really amazing. That’s not easy to do. Morgan Freeman, before my eyes, was an eight-year-old, I’m like, “Wow, You dug down deep for that. That’s not easy to pull that out,” and Tommy did the same thing in his Tommy way. Just watching the two of them.
There was one scene, in particular, actually a couple of scenes, where it was so interesting to me, it was funny, but it was so interesting that they were doing, that I literally thought I was watching the movie, and I totally forgot my line. I thought, “I can not believe you did that,” I was so intensely watching them going, “Oh, my God, they’ve turned into eight-year-olds,” that I’ve forgotten my line. And I said, “You don’t want to do that around Morgan and Tommy too many times,” they were intimidating.
Scott Menzel: I was gonna ask you, what was it like working with them?
Rene Russo: They’re like walking in the door with two kings, not one, but two. Like King George … I mean, seriously, these huge personalities, the presence is like overwhelming. I was intimidated working a little bit with Clint Eastwood, he’s the only other actor that I was like a little bit intimidated by but now I had two of them. And I’m just thinking, “I’ve got to be on my game here because sometimes I’m not always completely focused. I had to pull it together, especially if I’m tired. I’m just a dingbat, and they knew that. I think very quickly they knew that I was not working on all cylinders all of the time, but they were amazing and Tommy Lee, he’s like the most interesting person I’ve ever met.
Scott Menzel: Really? You don’t hear that about Tommy very often.
Rene Russo: He’s so complex. On the outside he’s like tough, you would not want to mess with Tommy Lee Jones, that’s the vibe you get; and I feel he’s got one of the kindest hearts. I don’t even know if he wants me to say this, but loveliest, softest, sensitive on the inside, and so it’s fascinating to me.
Scott Menzel: So he’s all exterior, but he’s like a Teddy bear inside?
Rene Russo: I think he’s both. You wouldn’t want to cross him, he’s tough ass, he’s a badass, but he has that other sort of side to him, which is really interesting. And Morgan’s like a suave bowler.
Scott Menzel: Oh, I totally see that.
Rene Russo: Morgan is like as charming as hell. He sings and he’s a huge flirt. The two of them were just a trip together. I thought they were really good together. What I was witnessing was like, “Wow,” I’d have no idea how that worked, but it was really good chemistry between the two of them.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, I really think they did a great job bouncing off one another, and their personalities worked. This is your second film with Ron. Did you always want to work with him again, or was to just something about the script that spoke to you?
Rene Russo: No. I did not have to open the script. I knew it was Ron and I said “Yes. Yeah, send it over.” And then he told me it was in August, and I went, “No, Ron, you don’t want me in August in the desert, because I have no inner cooling system at all, and I would faint and I would cost you a lot of money,” and I was heartbroken, I thought, “Ron, I’m sorry. I want to do it, but I can’t do it.” He goes, “We can’t push it.” I said, “I get that, but seriously, I can’t be in the desert.” So he goes, “What if we get you an ice truck?” I said, “You mean like a ice cream truck?,” and he was, “Yeah, something like that,” I said, “Ron, we could try it. I’m gonna do anything to work with you.”
Luckily, it was pushed a little bit and the weather was great. For some reason it was unusually cool. Thank God it worked out. You wouldn’t have to show me the script to work with Ron, because he writes so well for women. He gets women.
Scott Menzel: Yeah. You get to be a strong female character, even though everyone is ogling over you, like Morgan and Tommy being like “Oh, Suzie!”
Rene Russo: Exactly. She was trying to stay strong, I’m not sure if she was always that strong. She was kind of hanging on by a thread. I think her job was on the line, and she was like, “Oh, my God,” but it was fun working with those two. It was fun.
Scott Menzel: Just Getting Started reminded me of those buddy comedies from the ’80s and the 90’s where it feels like “Midnight Run meets Grumpy Old Men.”
Rene Russo: Yes, it’s “Grumpy Old Men Midnight Run.” That’s very funny. That’s cool.
Scott Menzel: What do you think films like that are still being made even if they aren’t happening too often?
Rene Russo: Well, because we’re all getting older. We’re all getting older and still want to work. I would suspect that’s part of it, and besides, I do think there is a market for older audiences going to the movies. This is what I hear, I don’t know for a fact, but I’ve heard that older people do go to the movies. And younger people like to watch it at home.
Scott Menzel: Unless it’s a blockbuster something like Spider-man or Star Wars.
Rene Russo: It’s crazy what’s happening with Netflix, and Amazon, and everything, but I still hear that people go. Senior citizens go down and get their discount and go to a matinée. Hopefully, they’ll come out. I don’t think the younger crowd is gonna understand that this is for them because the truth is you never change like you never really grow up. I may look older on the outside, but I’m your age.” Heads up to that, “I’m like your age.”
And I think people that are older if they have a chance to retire and golf, and they finished raising their families, and they don’t have to work at a stressful job; I would imagine, and it’s not for everyone, like it wouldn’t be for me personally, because I don’t want be around the drama of it, but I think a lot of people that are social, they must have a ball. They must have a lot of fun in these communities, and you can imagine, everything goes on as what would go on when you were young: sex, drinking, romance, competition, the whole thing.
Scott Menzel: No, I agree. Talking about the movie theaters, there’s a little theater that’s close to me, where I live in Sherman Oaks that plays indie films and is always filled with people in their 60s and 70s.
Rene Russo: That’s so cute because they have time to go.
Scott Menzel: I saw The Meyerowitz Stories at the theater because I prefer to watch movies in the theater, and all the old people were saying, “The critics said this was good, we’re gonna watch it.”
Rene Russo: Oh, my God, isn’t it sweet? That’s so sweet.
Scott Menzel: But then afterward hearing their reactions is always great. That was something I was gonna ask you. There is this conversation happening lately about critics vs audiences now. I feel like there is a disconnect. The Meyerowitz Stories is a good example because the older crowd at my showing basically all said “That wasn’t good, I didn’t like it. What are these critics talking about?”
Rene Russo: Is that what they said?
Scott Menzel: Yeah.
Rene Russo: That’s really funny. That’s why I usually go to a movie on my own most of the time, because there’s lots of movies that I do like that critics don’t like, and vice versa, there are movies that critics love and I’m like, “Wow, that was zappy. I did not get that.” But that’s very funny, you sitting in the theater with an audience and get to hear what they’re saying.
Scott Menzel: I go to film festivals and I see my colleagues put out reviews for a film like Breathe with Andrew Garfield. Most critics trashed it. Like, “It’s manipulative, blah blah blah” but then I’m in the premiere, watching people give the film a standing ovation and going nuts.
Rene Russo: Exactly. It’s really interesting. How critics sometimes don’t see the same things that audiences do and vice versa. Do you read the reviews of other reviewers before you do your review?
Scott Menzel: No, not usually.
Rene Russo: Yeah, I wouldn’t do that either, because I would be persuaded, and I don’t know if I want that to happen.
Scott Menzel: I feel like critics have a really hard time, kind of looking at a movie for what it is and who is it intended to. I’ll tell you right now, I’m gonna warn you right now, this movie is not going to get good reviews. (Fun fact, I was right, the film did not get good reviews)
Rene Russo: Okay, well thanks for the heads up.
Scott Menzel: It is probably gonna be like a 30 on Rotten Tomatoes. ( I was wrong, the score it is much lower than that)
Rene Russo: Oh, that’s exciting. Maybe old people will go and see it.
Scott Menzel: Probably. Hopefully, it will end up like Going In Style, which didn’t get very good reviews, but it did fairly well. People went to see it, there is an audience for it, but I think the older audiences take chances still on films with actors that they like. Younger audiences rely a lot on the Rotten Tomatoes score.
Rene Russo: Yeah, they do. Do the older generations even know about Rotten Tomatoes?
Scott Menzel: I don’t know. I think they are more like “Oh, Rene is in it. I’m going to see it.” Or, “Morgan Freeman is in it. I’m gonna go see it.”
Rene Russo: Oh, That’s sweet. That’s very cool. I do think you are right about that.
Scott Menzel: It’s been so lovely talking to you, I could talk to you for hours but I wanted to ask about the dog, just because I have a little Yorkie at home.
Rene Russo: You have a Yorkie?
Scott Menzel: Yes, We named him Teddy because he looks like a Teddy Bear.
Rene Russo: That’s sweet. He is a scene-stealer dog for sure, and that dog, in particular, was so sweet. And he was a good boy, there were only a couple of times that he had trouble getting up in a van but other than that he was good. He was really good. He was a sweetheart.
Scott Menzel: You probably can’t tell me that much, but I loved you in Nightcrawler, you were awesome and held your own against Jake who is such a powerhouse. Are you excited about working with Dan again? Can you tell me anything about the film?
Rene Russo: I can tell you that it is set in the contemporary art world. Yeah. I can tell you that much. He said, “You can’t say anything,” I was like, “Okay,” but it’s set in the contemporary art world.
Scott Menzel: Awesome, I’m looking forward to it. Well, thank you so much, you were such a pleasant, upbeat and fun interview.
Rene Russo: Thank you so much. It was so nice meeting you.
Scott Menzel: Nice to meet you too. Take care.
Just Getting Started is now playing in theaters everywhere.