Actress Piper Laurie is having one of the hottest years in her nearly seven-decade career. She stars with Matthew McConaughey and Bruce Dern in the bigscreen biopic White Boy Rick, and the indie drama Snapshots earned her top honors at film fests. But success is nothing new to the 86-year-old star.
Since her 1950 film debut opposite Ronald Reagan in Louisa, she’s earned three Oscar nominations: for The Hustler, Children of a Lesser God and, most memorably, as a maniacal mom with a tormented teen in Carrie. But those who remember her best from that role may be surprised to learn that she overcame an equally rough childhood, including an anxiety disorder that left her unable to communicate as a child.
“I’ve had a tough life sometimes, and a very rewarding one,” Piper exclusively shared with Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. Now she opens up about her rendezvous with Reagan, her relationships with daughter Anna and her co-stars, and why she’s “not frightened often by anything. Either I’ve been through it before, or I just know I will survive!” Scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A with Piper!
You’re starring in your first film in six years! What’s it like to have a comeback at 86?
There aren’t many things written for older people, so I’ve been very, very lucky. White Boy Rick was delightful. Bruce Dern and I play the grandparents of the title character and I play the mother of Matthew McConaughey, who is charming. [Drug dealing] is a heavy subject but I had a lot of fun.
Immediately after I was offered a much more substantial role in Snapshots. It was made for two cents, but I won four leading actress awards! My mother and father would scold me for bragging, but I’m proud of it.
And you got a 2017 lifetime achievement award?
Yes, I did, which is scary [laughs]. It certainly makes you aware of time, and it’s nice to be appreciated while you’re still alive.
You’ve worked with so many icons. Could you tell me a bit about your co-star in 1961’s The Hustler, Paul Newman?
He’s the best, a real mensch. I still think about him every day because I use his salad dressing. He’s always on my shopping list!
How about Rock Hudson [in 1952’s Has Anybody Seen My Gal]
We were pals and laughed a lot. He, another actor, and a friend took me to my first circus when I was 18! We did our screen test together at Universal and we were both so young.
And you won an Emmy working with James Garner in the 1986 TV movie Promise. What was he like?
You’re really picking out these lovely guys! He was terrific, and later on I asked him to do Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with me, but he hadn’t been on-stage in many years and it just scared him too much.
You seemed less enamored of Sissy Spacek on-screen in Carrie!
We didn’t have any off-camera interaction until it was over. My daughter, who was five, visited the set on the last day, and Sissy was enchanted. I’d like to think I inspired her to have her children. Then we got to work together again on [1995’s] The Grass Harp. Instead of playing her mother, I was her sister… and I was the nice one and she was the mean one. That was great fun!
Not many people make their film debut with a future president, but you did with Ronald Reagan in Louisa. How was he?
A lovely man. I wish I hadn’t written quite so much about our encounter in [my 2011 memoir] Learning to Live Out Loud.
Do you mean you regret writing about losing your virginity to him at age 18?
I could have told the story without such explicit detail. I was invited to the White House for a party when he was leaving office and I declined because it didn’t feel right.
Was he a good kisser, at least?
How about Tony Curtis?
He was a good kisser, too. I met him when I was 16 in acting class. We were pals, but when I was signed at the same studio he was at, he seemed a little shocked and not very welcoming. We were in four movies and never talked to each other except for the dialogue, and he used to write about how awful I was. It was craziness.
But in the end, did it all work out?
Well, if you mean he died and I’m still alive, then yes!
Were you happy with the way your career in Hollywood progressed?
Yes, yes. I’m also happy that I’ve had a lot of down time, because that’s precious to me. I don’t know how actors survive working one film after the other. I did when I was very young, but I was doing junk, so maybe that’s why it was so depressing!
What was it like to write your memoir?
My housekeeper thought I was going crazy, because I was at the computer laughing all the time! Like being made up as a Japanese man when I was doing Twin Peaks, and being forbidden to tell anybody what I was doing, even my family.
It’s amazing how much you accomplished after a tough childhood. Hard to revisit?
I recently heard from a successful architect who’d been at the same home I’d been in — it was just a storage place for kids who were sick. [But] I wasn’t sick. My sister had asthma and had a fever, and I was sent with her to keep her company. I was six and I stayed there until I was nine.
People there weren’t allowed to touch us or love us, and I didn’t see my parents for all of that time except once or twice. It really created who I am. But it was right after the Depression, and it would have been very hard for them to pay for this home with my sister’s illness and keep a young kid, too. Most of the time my father didn’t have a job — most men didn’t.
How did you overcome it all?
I think by working hard, wanting to create beauty in the world, and never accepting defeat! It is truly a miracle.
You were married to Pulitzer Prize– winning writer Joe Morgenstern from 1962 to 1982. Why didn’t you marry again?
I don’t think I was meant to be married. I have a very full life. I had a nice marriage to a brilliant man, and we’re still very good friends. I have a wonderful daughter and a great relationship with her.
Do you get to see Anna much?
Not as much as I would like. She’s in Oregon and has a fella she’s been living with there, a wonderful guy, but we do correspond a lot.
Any life lessons you can share?
I had an important learning experience [in the USO] during the Korean War. I’m still in touch with relatives of some of the boys I was with. I experienced death, courage, and became acutely aware of how beautiful and valuable life is.
For more on Piper Laurie pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!