Turning 76, Ann-Margret is still a redhead charmer
LOS ANGELES—When you have a career like Ann-Margret’s that spans five decades, you can cite some pretty interesting sidelights. In her first film, the singer-actress played the daughter of no less than Bette Davis. She had an affair with Elvis Presley while they were filming “Viva Las Vegas.”
In my first ever interview with Ann-Margret, who was a sex symbol in the ’60s and ’70s, she recalled performing for the US troops in the Philippines.
The winner of five Golden Globe Awards told me in this talk at The Whitby Hotel in New York that the caretaker of her husband, actor Roger Smith (they will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in May), is Filipino.
Turning 76 in April, the famous redhead (but she’s actually a natural brunette) is girly, sweet and very charming. Having been a beloved entertainer who performed around the world, she knows many foreign phrases and greetings that she speaks, depending on the nationality of the person she’s meeting for the first time.
But she’s fluent in Swedish, being born in Sweden. When she was a kid, she moved to the US with her mom to join her dad, who left Sweden earlier.
Since taking her first dance lessons, where she showed she was a natural at performing, Ann-Margret went on to sing and act in high school and college productions.
Discovered by George Burns in Las Vegas, Ann-Margret soon became a stage, film and TV star. Her long list of credits include “Carnal Knowledge,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Tommy” and stints on TV series, from “Ray Donovan” to “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
Showing no signs of slowing down, Ann-Margret stars with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin in actor-director Zach Braff’s heist comedy, “Going in Style.”
The actress plays a supermarket employee who aggressively pursues the character of Alan, whom she fondly describes as “weird.” Fil-Ams Jojo Gonzalez and Precious Sipin figure in one scene with the three male leads.
Excerpts from our chat:
What are your memories of performing for the US troops in Asia, including the Philippines? Oh, my gosh. The first time in Vietnam was ’66. There were just four of us—me, Johnny Rivers, his bassist and drummer. We went everywhere. Then in ’68, there was the Bob Hope show—there were 85 of us.
Also in ’68, my own show was in the Philippines. I remember there was a song that the audience sang to me. (Starts singing the song, “Slowly”) “Tell me you love me again and this time slowly/’Cause you’re talking too fast, baby, much fast.” I remember that song.
The gentleman who is Roger’s caretaker for the last three and a half years is from the Philippines. His name is Francisco Gomez.
How about Elvis Presley? He was great. He was one of the most naturally talented men I’ve ever met.
Can you talk about doing “Carnal Knowledge”? My father was proud that people thought I was a good actress. I’m the only child. And daddy’s girl. So he did not see the movie because he knew what it was about.
Did you enjoy working with Jack Nicholson? Oh, yes, definitely. I did two films with Jack—“Tommy” and “Carnal Knowledge.”
Bobbie Templeton (her character) never chose the right man. But in real life, I did. I knew on the third date
(with Roger). I didn’t realize we were going to be together for 53 years (laughs).
How have work opportunities for women changed in Hollywood? I did my first film (“Pocketful of Miracles”) playing the daughter of Bette Davis. The director was Mr. Frank Capra. Can you believe it, my very first film? There were probably three women behind the camera. A body makeup girl, a hairdresser and one other. That was it. Oh, during the day, the producer’s secretary might come in a couple of times, and the director’s secretary. But that was it.
I love the fact that in this movie that I did, there were a lot of women who were working behind the camera.
What was the camaraderie like on the set of “Going in Style”? Oh my gosh. I had the best time. I really did. It reminded me so much of “Grumpy Old Men.” And I happen to be married to a grumpy old man. It was like working with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau—just a great feeling of warmth.
When you hit a certain age, you keep going. And if you feel something for somebody and you get those juices going, that’s incredible. How blessed we are. It doesn’t just stop.
How long have you known your costars? I call them Da Boys. I met Michael in London in the ’60s when he had a restaurant. We used to go there. I had never met Morgan. We were doing hair, makeup and clothes test for all of us. They were playing all sorts of ’50s and ’60s music.
All of a sudden, Morgan comes in and he’s dancing. We started harmonizing together.
I did a film with Alan, so I’ve known him a few years. The man is so weird (laughs). He looks weird, he acts weird, he walks weird. I said how I felt to his wife, Suzanne. I said, “You know, your husband’s really weird.” She said, “He’s uniquely weird, yes.” It’s adorable.
You’re so much fun to interview. But I was surprised to hear from Alan that you are such a prude that you couldn’t stand any swearing on the set. I don’t mean to be.
Anything that you would have done differently? No. I just made a beeline. I wanted to entertain people. Through the years, like in 1966 and 1968, I went to Vietnam. Whenever I get a chance to perform for the troops, that makes me feel that I’m really doing something. That’s what I want.
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