Christine Ebersole earned her second Tony Award playing Little Edie in Grey Gardens, about the “original isolationists,” as she says. While Ebersole stays at home, her new film Driveways will be released May 7 via video-on-demand. A delicate story by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, the movie stars Hong Chau as Kathy, a single mom who travels with her young son Cody to clean out her sister’s house after her passing. Meanwhile, Cody warms to the Korean war vet next door, Del (played by Brian Dennehy), and begins to come out of his shell in the town where neighbors, like Linda (played by Ebersole), pop by and kids roam freely around the block.
Here, Ebersole reflects on the movie, playing the well-intentioned neighbor, how she’s coping during the coronavirus pandemic, and her memories of fellow theatre actor Dennehy.
This movie is such a delicate and intimate story. What attracted you to it in the first place?
Christine Ebersole: I feel the same way, and I was fortunate enough to get an offer. It kind of goes in different phases or different paths because there's a period where I'll be doing stage or a period where I’ll be doing concerts. There were a period where I'll be doing a film or a period where I'll be doing television. It moves in and out of those different categories.
We meet you in a scene where you’re the friendly neighbor looking in, but you're received with suspicion. But it reminded me of where I grew up in the suburbs where everyone, as the title implies, was just out in their driveways.
I think one of the things that have separated people, I think it's the Internet. Certainly when I was growing up, everybody was out in the street, everybody was out on their bikes. You knew every single neighbor, and you were in every single neighbor's house. There's several things, but one of them has been with the Internet. It’s made people more isolated, I think. When I was a child, it was like, “Be home by dinner.”
The movie has become that much more moving because of Brian Dennehy and his performance. Do you have a special memory of him you hold onto now that he’s passed?
We did a movie together called Acceptable Risk back in the day. He just reminded me of family. He just feels that kind of a guy [who’s] no bullshit and straightforward, really funny, very engaging. It was nice to share a beer with him He just was a no-nonsense kind of guy and I really appreciate that kind of a person.
We've been thinking a lot about Grey Gardens in this moment of isolation and quarantine. Have you been thinking back on Edie and the show at all?
Her being the original isolationist, yes. I think one of the things that sort of affected me in a positive way has emerged. The regulation of having to wear masks, she would think that everybody looks like they're cleaning toilets. The mask and the gloves. All you need is a bucket for a purse. She would not go for that, and I think that's really affected me in a positive way because I find it very degrading to wear those masks so I've sort of adapted a way of managing scarves and slips and headbands and tiaras and things like that to make some preservation of dignity when I go out in public.
What are your days like right now?
I'm here in Beverly Hills, with my daughter, Mae Mae. I was in Maplewood after they shut down production of [my TV show] Bob Hearts Abishola. This isolation… We're created by God as social beings. That's why we go to theatre and go to concerts and go to church. I try to keep it as normal as possible; the thing that really has been helping me is riding my bicycle to breathe oxygen into my bloodstream. It's the breath of life, you know? That's very important for keeping healthy, building your immune system and all that.
Do you have any advice for people who might be struggling in this moment?
Really my belief in God has absolutely kept me sane. Reading the Bible and knowing that God is in charge. … That gives me a lot of peace.
How are you keeping creative right now?
The greatest thing to me is I made a little garden in the back. I have a bird feeder where the birds come and a bird bath and a wonderful, beautiful little garden. Just a tiny, tiny little space to be in tune with nature.