Olympia Dukakis channels her rebellious spirit in 'Cloudburst'

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Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker in

In “Cloudburst,” Stella (Olympia Dukakis), a foul-mouthed, old-school dyke and her longtime partner Dottie (Brenda Fricker), a visually-impaired, doughy femme, are threatened with separation after Dottie takes a fall. Dottie’s granddaughter tricks her into signing a legal guardianship document and then proceeds to move Dottie into a long-term care facility. But Stella, who will not be deterred, busts Dottie out of the home.

As the couple heads to Canada to get married and gain some kind of legal rights, they pick up hitcher/hustler Prentice (Ryan Doucette). The three embark on a series of adventures that none anticipated.

“Cloudburst” is a sweet comedy with serious undertones, as well as a strong script and performances.

I spoke with Olympia Dukakis last month.

Gregg Shapiro: Stella, the character that you play in “Cloudburst,” has, shall we say, a way with words.

Olympia Dukakis: (Laughs) And gestures!

Have you ever played a character with such a vast vocabulary of profanity?

No. I’ve never played anyone so openly rebellious (laughs). Unfortunately, it’s a real part of my nature, so I kind of took to it like a fish to water.

Stella, who lives in Maine, is what I would describe as a classic northern New Englander. As a New Englander yourself, have you ever encountered anyone like Stella?

I’ve encountered people who have insisted on their own lifestyle even against what might be considered the grain, what might be considered the acceptable.

There is a kind of eccentricity that some people have in the New England area. They don’t succumb to what’s expected, but decide they’re going to have the life they want. That I’ve encountered. But I think that Stella, because of the time she came out and connected with her partner, Dottie, was a time when it was not as it is today. Stella took it on and was rebellious in that way. She was probably one of the few at the time – because she didn’t live in a so-to-speak community of people who could then be supportive of each other. 

Stella is obsessed with k.d. lang and her music. How do you, personally, feel about k.d. lang?

(Laughs) Oh, I love her songs. The movie actually takes its title from one of her songs. I don’t hear her songs so much now. I remember once I was in a restaurant and k.d. was there with a younger woman and I could see that there was kind of a thing between the two of them and they were very deep in conversation. I just went up and inserted myself and told her how much I enjoyed her music, and she was very sweet to me and made it clear to me that she wanted me to fuck off (laughs).

Where do you stand on the subject of same-sex marriage?

Stand on it? There’s no stand. Everyone should live and be the way they want! 

“Cloudburst” takes on the serious subject of aging queer people and how there is the potential of them being separated in their twilight years. 

Oh my God, it’s a painful, painful thing, which is something that Stella just refuses to accept. That’s why she abducts Dottie and takes her off. 

You previously worked with writer/director Thom Fitzgerald on “The Event.” What do you like about working with him?

He’s damn good, that’s what I like about working with him. I like the stories he tells, I like the way he shoots. He makes beautiful films. Just to look at them, they’re great. The stories are all varied and unique. I was in “The Event,” a story about a gay guy who wants to take himself out because he’s going into the last phases of AIDS, and he has a party. The mother is the one that actually helps him die. That’s an unusual story and a real heart-wrencher. And then “3 Needles.” I would do anything in a movie with Thom Fitzgerald. I told him I’ll play a small part, I don’t care. In “3 Needles” I played this small part of a nun.

Before appearing in “The Event,” you had already made a considerable impression on the LGBT community with your wonderful portrayal of Anna Madrigal in the “Tales of the City” series. Were you aware of an LGBT following before that?

Oh, no. Well, yes. “Steel Magnolias” to a certain degree – a lot of gay men enjoyed the things that my character said. They loved her humor, her honesty and her phrasing. ”If you’ve got nothing good to say about anybody, come sit by me.” Things like that. I think they enjoyed a lot of it.

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