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Shirley MacLaine grows old and mean - for "Bernie"

By Zorianna Kit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Shirley MacLaine has portrayed many characters in the movies, and she won an Oscar in "Terms of Endearment" as a mother whose relationship with her daughter encounters many ups-and-downs over a long period.

But for her new independent film "Bernie," which reaches theaters in major U.S. cities on Friday, MacLaine, 78, is as mean and spiteful on screen as anyone has ever seen her.

Directed by Richard Linklater, "Bernie" is based on the true story of a hateful millionaire widow, Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine), who is befriended by a much younger companion Bernie Tiede, the town's beloved assistant funeral director. But when he grows tired of her ever-increasing demands, he shoots her.

Marjorie's death went unnoticed for months because Tiede (played by Jack Black in the film) went to great lengths to conceal it. When he does confess to the crime, the townspeople of Carthage, Texas where the murder took place in 1996, rallied to his defense because Marjorie was so unliked.

In real life, MacLaine is nothing like Marjorie Nugent, and she let her good humor show through in this recent interview with Reuters about "Bernie."

Q: Your character, to put it politely, is not a very nice person. Did you enjoy playing someone unlikeable?

A: "Everybody hated her. I think she would drive Mother Theresa to murder. I loved experimenting with being absolutely horrifically irascible. I loved it like I loved it in 'Steel Magnolias.' Maybe I'm rehearsing for my older age, but to me it's funny."

Q: Most of your scenes are with Jack Black. Was it fun working with him day in and day out.

A: "Oh my God, I loved going to work with Jack Black. He's my fourth Jack. Jack Lemmon ('The Apartment,' 'Irma La Douce') Jack Nicholson ('Terms of Endearment'), Jack Guilardi my agent, a great old school guy who's about 150. And now Jack Black."

Q: You just turned 78. Marjorie Nugent was 81 when Bernie shot her. You look great right now. Did you have to add wrinkles or sit for a long time in the make-up chair to appear older?

A: "No, those were really mine! A lot of it is lighting. You have to know how to work with lighting and on that movie, I knew how to stay out of the light so I could look old. Marlena Dietrich taught me how to light. Isn't that something? My God, that was, like, a century ago!"

Q: Does that make you panic - that many of your peers like Jack Lemmon and Marlena Dietrich are no longer with us?

A: "I'm very well aware that I have half of an address book left. The rest of them are dead (laughs). I'm okay with that. I love the idea that I'm the oldest one in the room because I can get away with anything! People want to take care of you, help you step out of low-slung cars, bring you food, ask for advice. Any favor you ask, they do it. Being old is such a treat!"

Q: It's good for your ego, yes?

A: "I don't know about that. You kind of give that up. You go more along the lines of soul identity. The important thing is to have a good definition for wisdom, because they're all going to ask my opinion, and the funnier you can be about it probably the better (laughs). I mean, no one asks beauty secrets of me, or 'What size do you wear?' or 'Who's your couturier?' They ask me about really deep things and I love that."

Q: Did you have a master plan for your life?

A: "I don't think I've ever had one. I've been living in the moment since I was born. That's why I tend to be late. When you're living in the moment, you don't think about being on time. On the other hand, I'm getting more to understand that I really should be on time because it bothers other people."

Q: Do you have any advice from your younger self?

A: "'Don't eat so much sugar, you idiot!' And I love it when it's free. I had chocolate covered almonds, a couple of brownies, four croissants and I ate 'em all this morning. I had the Danish with apples, the Danish with cherries. I ate about four or five of those."

Q: What's left for you to do?

A: "I'd like to go to another planet, which I might live long enough to accomplish. Just get on a spaceship and go. But not the moon. I don't see any flowers there. The moon is too close. I want to go further."

Q: Have you signed on for Richard Branson's expedition to space yet? That sounds like it would be up your alley.

A: "No, it's too expensive. I have to wait for a sale. I'm too middle class to spend that kind of money."

(Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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