Olympia Dukakis storms Atlanta in ‘Cloudburst’

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Olympia Dukakis characters are often forces of nature. The legendary actress talks about her latest unforgettable role as half of a lesbian couple in the new “Cloudburst,” an Out On Film centerpiece screening on Saturday.

The Oscar-winning matriarch in “Moonstruck.” The irrepressible Clairee Belcher in “Steel Magnolias.” Anna Madrigal in “Tales of the City.” In “Cloudburst,” she adds to the list as hard-drinking, cowboy hat-wearing Stella, who has been with Dot (Brenda Fricker) faithfully for 31 years in Maine.

Dot’s granddaughter decides to put her into a nursing home, and the decision doesn’t go over well with the feisty Stella, who takes Dot from the home and hits the road to get married legally. The chemistry Dukakis and fellow Oscar winner Fricker (“My Left Foot”) have in the film is potent. They made one other movie together in the past, and Dukakis says casting Fricker was her idea.

“We bonded on that set and that helped,” Dukakis says. “Thom [Fitzgerald, “Cloudburst” director] says he suggested her for the part, but I did!”

Fitzgerald (“The Hanging Garden,” “The Event”) wrote the part of Stella with Dukakis in mind. He worked with her twice before, and Dukakis thinks he probably saw her rebelliousness in Stella.

“I also like to have a wild time, from time to time,” the actress admits.

Although the film deals with Stella and Dot’s desire to get married, Dukakis says it’s first and foremost a love story.

“The politicization is very indirect,” she says. “These two women love each other. It’s the story of two human beings in love. They want to work out a life with each other.”

Dukakis has been adamant in her defense of legalizing marriage for LGBT couples. She has watched “Cloudburst” twice so far, once with a straight audience in New Jersey and then with a LGBT one in Toronto. She says that LGBT audiences are very aware of the circumstances facing gay couples who aren’t legally married, but straight audiences don’t necessarily know that.

The actress also touts a strong LGBT fan base and says she is well aware of and appreciative of them. She first took notice when she took on the role of transgender “house mom” Anna Madrigal in Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City.” She has great memories of that miniseries and says she occasionally runs into co-star Laura Linney and sees Maupin every time she goes to San Francisco.

“Whenever we win some kind of award, we always ask that each other presents it to us,” she says.

Speaking of roles gay audiences love, Dukakis notes that when she made “Steel Magnolias,” she had no premonition that it would develop the cult status it has.

“I know people who watch it over and over,” she laughs. “When we made that movie, we had no idea what it would become.”

Dukakis visited Atlanta for the Democratic Convention in 1988 when her brother Michael ran for president, and then a year later for the premiere of “Steel Magnolias.’

These days, when she is out and about, the actress is not only recognized, she says, but people actually yell her own movie lines at her. It’s not uncommon for her to hear “I love you more than my luggage” from “Steel Magnolias” or “Who died?” and “Your life’s going down the toilet” from “Moonstruck” as she nonchalantly walks down the street.

Ever the good sport, she loves it. You’ll love “Cloudburst.”

“Cloudburst” screens Saturday, Oct. 6 as part of Out On Film. It’s just one of the Best Gay Things to Do in Atlanta this Weekend.

Columnist Jim Farmer is festival director for Out On Film


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