Upon learning of her passing, on October 14 at the age of 91, I went to look at a photo layout and interview I did with Piper Laurie at her Los Angeles home in 1985.
The actress, who played Paul Newman’s girlfriend in The Hustler (1961), said: “She was a very sad and fascinating character, ahead of her time, a neurotic personality with many layers.”
Of Sissy Spacek’s mother in Carrie (1976) directed by Brian De Palma from the 1974 novel by Stephen King, Laurie said: “A religious fanatic who loved her daughter and her religion too much. I end up killing my daughter and then her powers kill me.”
She has high praise for her director: “I loved working with De Palma, he’s wonderful. He’s so unlike what you might imagine him to be, very quiet, easy-going, jovial and warm. There is something solid and relaxed about him, I always thought of him as a young rabbi. He made his actors feel that anything they did was good and right, so we weren’t afraid to try thins, and that’s a great gift.”
Of acting opposite a young Mel Gibson in Tim (1979). “I played an older, successful business woman who lives in Australia. When her gardener quits, this young man who looked like a Greek God, and was also slightly retarded, is hired to replace him. They develop a wonderful friendship and they fall in love.”
She liked her costar: “Mel is an enchanting person and terrifically talented. He has a great sense of humor, he is a wonderful clown.”
Of Ronald Reagan, whom she dated when she was cast as his teenage daughter in Louisa (1950), her first film, she said: “Although I don’t agree with his politics now, I have to admit that he was very charming then, adorable and incredible.”
Piper Laurie played the deaf girl’s estranged mother in Children of a Lesser God (1986) directed by Randa Haines with Marlee Matlin and William Hurt. She acted with Danny De Vito in Other People’s Money (1991) by Norman Jewison, with Walter Matthau in The Grass Harp (1995).
The actress describe how her passion for sculpting was born: “When I got married and had a child, I became a great baker of bread and pies. I also learned to carve stone and work with marble, a very long process that takes a lot of patience. This sculture that represents a fetus took me three months working every day.”
In 2011 Piper Laurie published her memoir Learning to Live Out Loud.
All photographs (c) Elisa Leonelli 1985