Influence Peddling

It's not her role in the children's movie Paulie, in which she appeared with actor/comic Jay Mohr (see feature left), that is being used to showcase one of the truly great actresses of American film, Gena Rowlands, Monday night at Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Rather, it's her acclaimed turn in A Woman Under the Influence, the 1974 film directed by her late husband, John Cassavetes.

"I do like to go to a festival now and then when they're showing one of John's films," says the actress, by phone. "I know they're available on television, but I like to see them now and then up on the screen, the way they were supposed to be seen. And I love for young people to get to see them.

"I remember when we made A Woman Under the Influence" -- a harrowing study of a working-class housewife who's having an emotional breakdown -- "I said, 'Gosh, John, who's gonna come and see this? Certainly not the kids.' And he said, 'No, probably not.' But the funny thing was, after it came out, young people kept coming up to me and saying, 'That's my Mom.' And they seemed to find it sort of comforting somehow."

Rowlands has remained a busy and often brilliant actress in the years since her husband's death, taking on a wide variety of film and TV roles. "I like drama more than comedy," she admits. "To work in, that is -- I like to watch comedy, but it isn't my forte. I like a good drama about relationship. Playing a role like that is like being a private detective, you know, following the clues. And I tend to like stuff about families."

She starred, for instance, opposite Louis Gossett Jr. in last weekend's TV movie called The Color of Love. "It's set before the civil rights movement, before people thought one way or another about race, when they were just plain prejudiced, and it's about two people who discover they have this mutual grandchild. I like it because it's a story that says that love is stronger than anything."

Then she sighs, with the weary realism of a show-biz pro: "I suppose it will be trounced by the Millionaire show."

A Woman Under the Influence is screened at 7 p.m. Monday, March 27, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street, as part of SunBurst Resort Scottsdale Independent Film Fest. Star Gena Rowlands is scheduled to be present; a reception precedes the film at 5 p.m. at the SunBurst Resort, 4924 North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale, and is included in the ticket price. Tickets are $8, $6 for students with ID. For details call 480-994-2787.