Julie Hagerty Talks Working With ‘Airplane!’ Costar Leslie Nielsen: He Was ‘Deliciously Wicked’
At 64, Julie Hagerty is as funny and adorable as when she became an overnight star nearly 40 years ago in the disaster movie spoof Airplane! These days, she’s enchanting audiences with her latest role as Mrs. Claus in the Disney+ movie Noelle — and as a supportive mother-in-law in the acclaimed Netflix comedy-drama Marriage Story.
“It was beyond any of my expectations,” she says of the film. The same is true about her own 20-year marriage story to her second husband, insurance exec Richard Kagan, 73. What’s their secret? “Just keep talking and being kind and loving one another,” Julie exclusively shares with Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “Laughter is also really important — my husband makes me laugh really hard. We have dessert first if we want to. It’s really fun!”
Closer caught up with the actress to talk about her early modeling career, dealing with sudden fame, the truth behind Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss’ feud on the set of What About Bob? and why she feels “like I’m having my childhood in reverse!”
Scroll below to read our exclusive Q & A with Julie!
Marriage Story is just wonderful. How did you get the role?
[Director] Noah Baumbach called my agent, I met with him, and I got the part! I’m really genuinely thrilled and honored to be in this movie; it’s an extraordinary film. I got to play Scarlett Johansson and Merritt Wever’s mother, Adam Driver was my son-in-law, and all these wonderful people are in this movie — Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, Wallace Shawn and Laura Dern, hello! Scarlett and Laura are both as beautiful and brilliant as they are kind and lovely.
It sounds amazing. And how did you like playing Mrs. Claus in Noelle?
I felt a huge responsibility. She’s such an iconic character! I’ve been so lucky this year, I gotta tell ya. [Director] Marc Lawrence invited me to play Mrs. Claus and I was over the moon. My wardrobe is stunning. Everything was handmade, and it was another great cast: Bill Hader, Billy Eichner, Anna Kendrick, Shirley MacLaine…
You grew up around Cincinnati. How did you get from there to Hollywood?
My dad was a musician on a local TV show called The Paul Dixon Show. Both of my brothers were musicians, and my oldest brother was also an actor. I was my grandmother’s greatest disappointment — she would look at me and go, “She’s just not musical.” [Laughs] I left for New York at 16 and started modeling until my brother opened an off-off-off-Broadway theater, where I started really being able to act.
You did commercials and were cut from All That Jazz before you landed Airplane!
I was doing my first play. A casting person at Paramount, Gretchen Rennell, saw it and invited me to audition for — I still call them The Boys — David and Jerry [Zucker] and Jim Abrahams. Then I screen-tested with Bob Hays and we both got the parts. There were more people on the set than I’d ever performed in front of because the theater was so small! But it was an amazing experience, and Bob and I are still friends. He’s the nicest guy.
Any funny moments on the set?
Leslie Nielsen had this machine that made the noise of people having gas. When some executives would come down to say hello, he’d make that noise and go, “Julie!” And you would just die. [Laughs] He was deliciously wicked. It was so fun, because I was working with all of my childhood TV idols and they guided me if I was blocking someone’s light. I didn’t even know what a mark was!
What was overnight success like?
I came back to New York and I was babysitting for money until the movie came out. I went to the opening on a pair of crutches, because the baby broke a little glass and I stepped on it and had stitches on my foot. I was living in my girlfriend’s grandmother’s alcove then. We were sharing the apartment illegally because the rent was so low, but if the sink broke we had to do the dishes in the tub! So you’re in this big movie and then this, but it keeps everything in a very good perspective.
How was it to film Lost in America, another classic comedy?
I just love Albert [Brooks] — he’s the funniest guy on earth, even in between takes. You have to run away so you’re not laughing all the time!
Richard Dreyfuss recently talked about Bill Murray throwing an ashtray at him on the set of What About Bob? True?
Oh yeah, Richard wasn’t making that up. Everything he said I know for a fact was true. I think what you saw on-screen, there was actually a lot of that happening.
You’ve been working for decades but seem to take breaks. Do you prefer that?
To be honest, I pretty much take work when I can get it! You don’t know when it’s going to come along again. One of my favorites was [director] Peter Bogdanovich [on Noises Off] — we spent so many weeks rehearsing, we could have gone on tour. John Ritter did all those pratfalls himself!
You’re known for comedy but you’ve done dramas. Are you more serious or funny?
I’m kind of shy … not as shy as I used to be. If I get to know you, I’ll talk a lot. If I don’t, I won’t. I don’t know if that makes sense!
What do you do with your free time?
I have three horses and I ride two. When I’m not working, I get up at 5:30 [a.m.] every day and spend the day at the barn. I didn’t start riding until late in my life so I’m not very good, but I do tiny jumps! I love being around the horses and I love my trainer. I also have a great group of girlfriends who have different careers or are homemakers. We have a ball riding together.
Any great life lessons you’ve learned?
Forgiveness is really important. To be in the moment, to be honest with people, to be kind. I think that gets you through the day. It’s easier to look at the glass full too.
How’d you describe this time?
I am grateful. I’m 64 and still working. I have wonderful friends, life is full and I am just knocked out with happiness!
Any thoughts of retiring?
No, I like to work. I feel like I’m having my childhood in reverse, because I left home young and started working, so it’s really neat to have my horses and friends and then work with these amazing people. I just don’t think it gets any better!
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