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In 'Diane,' An Older Woman Faces Up To Her 'Unlived Life'

Mary Kay Place plays Diane in <em>Diane</em>, the debut feature film by director Kent Jones.
Courtesy of IFC Films
Mary Kay Place plays Diane in Diane, the debut feature film by director Kent Jones.

The title character in the new movie Diane is a woman trying to save her adult son from the drug addiction he denies.

Diane is played by Mary Kay Place, whose long career includes roles in TV series from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman to Big Love, and in movies including The Big Chill, Being John Malkovich and many more.

In the film Diane, Mary Kay Place is in every scene. It's a character study of an older woman confronting loss and bearing deep-seated guilt.

"She sees herself as a member of a large family, but sees those members dying away one by one, and feels probably that life is moving more quickly than she's living it," Place says in an interview. "But I think ultimately [she] sees and maybe even embraces her solitude. So it's sort of — I think she might have, for some people, a spiritual journey of some kind."

Dianeis the feature film debut from director Kent Jones. He designed the part for Mary Kay Place — and she immediately came on board.

"He said: 'This character you play really reminded me of my mother and her matriarchal family,'" Place says. "'And I've been wanting to write a screenplay about them.' And he said: 'I think you are the one that should play the lead role, Diane.' And I was just flabbergasted."

Interview Highlights

On Diane's sense of shame

This character's really an example of the unlived life. I mean, she tries to help her neighbors and her family and her son and everyone to sort of redeem herself from this guilt. And she doesn't really know who she is or what she wants. But she finally begins, in the movie, to ask herself: What do I need? What do I want? And a slight shift happens when she asks herself those questions.

On the scene where dances in a bar to a Leon Russell song

I'm a person who, when I have a few cocktails, really likes to get down and dance, if you know what I mean. So I said at one point in the range of events and emotional moods that she has during the bar scene, I see her dancing, and sort of going back to a particular time when there was more freedom in her life, emotionally and psychologically. And I have ... a Diane playlist of songs — of different songs that gave me moods. And I would dance in the living room just to loosen my body up and get energy out, you know, from the day's work, to that song ["Out in the Woods"] a lot. And I always wanted to drunkenly dance to it in the bar. And so we added that, and it was really fun to do. ...

It's not the greatest dancing, but she enjoys herself.

On the supposed lack of roles for older women in Hollywood, and if Place has enough work

Yes, and you know — I don't think that's really true anymore. I mean, it's shocking that because of Netflix, and all the different cable shows, and the amount of product that's being generated at this point, there are so many roles for older women. It's just absolutely amazing. I feel, you know, one has to live life as well as work all the time — because then you have no source for the work. Because a lot of these parts go deep — or some of them go deep — and ... this required a lot of preparation in advance. So I'm fairly satisfied. I feel I've had enough interesting parts in my life that have given the whole process of being an actor meaning. So I can't complain. I feel very, very fortunate.

Sophia Alvarez Boyd and Cindy Johnston produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.