Thursday, October 11, 2007

Oscar-winning Actress Returns To Ojai

Mary Steenburgen says move back to Ojai made sense, even if just part-time

By Nao Braverman
bell of Arkansas and Academy Award-winning actress, moved to Ojai in the early 1980s to escape the anonymity of Hollywood.
Born to Nell, a school board secretary, and Maurice Steenburgen, a freight-train conductor, she set out to New York to study acting, and worked her way into the theater industry. But it was more than her big brown eyes and smokey Southern drawl that landed her several roles in hollywood. Her classic beauty may have played a role in casting her as in “Back to the Future III” as a quaint western lady, who won the affections of mad scientist, Doc. But she also had a knack for finding the subtle humor in every character and putting it to its best use.
Such is evident in her role as an eccentric and frustrated amateur singer in “The Butcher’s Wife” and her Academy Award-winning role in “Melvin and Howard.” There, playing Melvin’s poor and discontented housewife, who nurtures an inconsolable passion for dancing in Las Vegas, she made her big break.
Having been raised in a warm, close-knit Southern town, Steenburgen found, several years into her career, that she yearned for a more intimate community once again, most importantly for her two children, Lilly and Charlie McDowell.
“Ojai made sense to me, in comparison to L.A. where your comings and goings were anonymous,” she said. “I wanted Lilly and Charlie to have a community of people.”
And that is exactly what Ojai provided for her and her children who made lifelong friendships during their 12 years living in the East End, the last of which they commuted between the small town and their home in West Los Angeles.
But with her children grown and her husband, Ted Danson, working often in the city, Steenburgen decided to go back to Los Angeles, and sold their place.
Then, about two years ago, she and Danson decided to buy a home in the East End again, suddenly realizing that it fit the life they wanted to carve out for themselves.
“I have so many friends there,” she said. “I love the land, the people, and the community spirit. I love how people are trying to keep it protected. I’m proud of the community that has kept its heart and integrity, away from big chains, and prides itself on environmental awareness. I also realized that Ted wanted the same thing.”
Though work has been busier than ever, which is never considered a bad thing in Steenburgen’s field, she and Danson always make time to host charity events and donate money to causes they feel strongly about, namely environmental issues such as the American Oceans Campaign, and benefits for Oak Grove School.
Always generous friends, the comedic couple even hosted Larry David, producer of Seinfeld, and the notoriously off-beat sketch comedy show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” for a summer getaway. Though certainly a most entertaining lodger, she and Danson almost regretted taking him in, she jokes, because after the smallest household event, David would pull out his little spiral-bound notebook and start writing it into his improvised sketch comedy act.
“Half the show has been making fun of Ted,” she laughed. Not to leave Steenburgen out, she also made appearance on David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” last weekend, dodging lascivious advances by a limo driver. David, later in the show, playing himself as usual, planned to be buried in a graveyard next to Danson and Steenburgen, before he and Danson start bickering.
“That’s just his version of me,” Steenburgen laughed. “It’s not me, and It’s not the mansion I live in, that appeared on show.”
She recently finished filming ‘Numb,’” where she plays a psychiatrist to the protagonist played by Matthew Perry who suffers from depersonalization disorder. Once again in a role with a comic twist, her character is strangely turned on by the patient’s condition and has an affair with him. The film was awarded and sold out at the Ojai Film Festival over last weekend.
After spending a day in Ojai to attend the film’s West Coast premiere, she is off to shoot her upcoming film “Step Brothers” by Judd Apatow, the writer and director of “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.”
On an aberrantly clear day in Los Angeles she and Danson often dream of being in their small-town get-away in the valley.
“We tell each other things like ‘I wonder what it’s like in Ojai today, I bet it’s so pretty and green in Ojai,’”she said.

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