Five Favorite Films with Betty White
The iconic television star discusses her favorite films, working on Golden Girls, and the art of the conversation.
In The Proposal we get to see you in a really fun role; Grandma Annie is sort of a naughty grandmother.
Betty White: Well, she's not naughty, she's just a very strong lady who wants to get these two people together. She's the only one in the beginning who sees the good side of Margaret (Sandra Bullock) in the film. We had such fun doing it... from a personal standpoint, you don't get parts like that very often, at this age, and we had such a good time. When I heard Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds were going to do it, and the chemistry was just such fun, it was like going to a party.
You can tell by watching the film that the whole cast has good chemistry.
BW: Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson --- well, Craig is the funniest man on two feet. I had seen him on Coach, but I'd never thought of him as that funny. We finally got to the point -- we just hit each other funny --- so we couldn't ever lock eyes. We'd be talking to each other and I'd have to look past him, and he'd have to look past me, because if we'd ever caught each others' eye we'd just break up, and we couldn't explain it! It was just silly, but it was fun.
Speaking of fun, I think members of my generation know you best for your role as Rose on the long-running sitcom The Golden Girls, which coincidentally all of the journalists were just watching here while waiting to speak with you.
BW: You're kidding! You haven't heard enough of us yet, God bless your heart! The Golden Girls was such good writing, it holds up. I think so many of these things go right back to the writing; Golden Girls is a classic example of that, that and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. We were like four points on a compass. Our characters were all so different but we had plenty to do in every show. The writers would throw a situation in the middle of the table and the audience would wait to see how each character reacted to it. Made it fun to do.
I loved the show growing up. That and Mama's Family, too. But your career started way before those shows; you did radio and even hosted your own television show...
BW: Oh, there were five "Betty White" shows altogether! I started five and a half hours a day, six days a week, ad-libbing with no script. That's like going to television college, because whatever happens, happens on camera! You've got to handle it. So I've always been grateful for that.
Back then, how difficult was it as a female performer to get to that level in Hollywood?
BW: What was really hard was that on my first series, Life with Elizabeth, I was also the producer. And for a woman to be in the production side of it was very unusual. But again, it was a great experience -- and sheer blind luck. [Laughs]
Also, I had an NBC half-hour talk show in 1954 where I'd sing a couple of songs and then interview a couple of people. When you've been in the business for 60 years, you've done a little bit of everything! I did commentary on the Rose Parade for 20 years. It's just been a lovely go. But I didn't do movies, I was always in television. Just in the last five years I've done movies, and it's a whole different ball game. With television, you do it, you go home and watch it, and it's done. With movies, you go and you work, and then it disappears, and then a year later it comes back after it's edited and you talk about it!
Given your experience as an on-the-fly interviewer, what advice could you give me from your days on that five and a half hour interview show?
BW: I'm a baboon to give advice to anybody, Jennifer. [Smiles] But I think the biggest problem sometimes that you have in being interviewed is that people will ask you a question, but they're so busy thinking about the next question that they never hear what you say. The good interviewers do what you've done, what Jack Parr and Johnny Carson did -- Jack Parr maybe even better than Johnny; they'll listen to the answer, and find something in the answer. They won't go where they were going to go next; they'll follow that through and go down a whole other alley. And that's when an interview gets interesting -- both for the people involved and the audience.
Of course; it's more conversational, more natural.
BW: That's right. As happens in a conversation!
And that makes a lot more sense for a live, on-air interview, for an audience to be able to watch a conversation unfold.
BW: But now with TV shows they do a "pre-interview." Somebody will call, and they'll ask you all the questions that you used to answer on the show, and when you get to the actual interview the host will go down those questions. So all the spontaneity is gone. When I was doing my talk show, I wouldn't talk to the people before the show, because otherwise they'd leave their interview out in the hall! It was more fun that way.