Lesley Ann Warren, Oscar-Nominated Actress, Talks New Thriller ‘The Grand Son,’ ‘Clue,’ And Future Projects

Lesley Ann Warren
Matt Sayles / AP Images

Entertaining audiences for virtually her entire life, Lesley Ann Warren started studying ballet at just 6-years-old. Lesley Ann Warren got her first big acting role in the 1965 TV movie Cinderella, where she portrayed the title character. She would go on to co-star in 1982’s Victor Victoria, and her impressive performance garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Just a few years later, Warren would play Miss Scarlet in Clue, a film that would find pop-culture fandom for decades to come.

Throughout her illustrious career, Lesley Ann Warren has been featured in over 100 movies and television series, including Community, Will & Grace, Jobs, and her current film, The Grand Son, currently available on Vudu and set to be released on DVD on November 16. The film tells the story of Tod and his sister, Lani, who live a charmed life thanks to their wealthy grandmother, Judy (Warren), a former movie star turned host of a home shopping show with failed ratings. Judy sees her grandchildren as spoiled and entitled, and when Tod senses that his lifestyle is in jeopardy, he forms a diabolical plan to keep the home shopping show going and the money rolling in.

The Grand Son is a dark film that’s sharply told, and per her usual, Warren’s performance hits the mark. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lesley Ann Warren, and we discussed her character in The Grand Son, some of her current and future projects, and of course my all-time favorite movie, Clue.

Carter Lee: Hi Lesley, how are you?

Lesley Ann Warren: I’m good, thank you. How are you?

CL: I’m doing really well, thank you. I finished watching your new feel-good film, The Grand Son, last night. Just a charming family.

LAW: [Laughing] Yeah, exactly.

CL: It’s a good film for a normal dysfunctional family to watch and feel a bit more…

LAW: [Laughing] Oh, they’ll feel fabulous.

CL: Yes! There are few redeemable characters in the movie. A lot of times with films that have few redeemable characters, with no one seemingly to root for, an audience can check out. But this one really works well. It’s really good. It’s dark, but it tells a fascinating story. You play a dark character. What was it like portraying her?

LAW: I really, really was challenged by this character, certainly upon reading it initially, because this is a woman who was desperately trying to hold on to something she no longer had control over which was her aging and being aged-out of the career that she loved.

Then being aged-out of the job that she had, essentially, and fighting with everything that she knew how to fight with to try to keep relevant, and she can’t. She tried to hold on to her sexuality, to her control issues, her domineering behaviors. I think inside, she knows what’s happening, and I think she’s dying inside from the reality. So, I thought it was very complex and was very interested to try to embody all of that.

CL: You portrayed her well because this could have just been a straightforward character, but I think through the nuances you gave her, she had more layers.

LAW: I think so too, and I was excited to try to find those moments in places where you could see her humanity, and what was going on for her.

CL: I know that the movie will be received well, and I just thought everyone in that film did a marvelous job.

LAW: I did too, and I think the director Robert Logevall is really, really talented. I think he’s got a real vision, cinematically. He knows how to tell a story in a unique way without having the opportunity to have a budget, per se, but I think all the active actors did an excellent job.

CL: Absolutely. It’s a fine film. You’ve had a stellar career. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you started very young and as a ballet dancer.

LAW: Yes, I started ballet at six in New York, in Manhattan, and that’s what I thought my career was going to be. I was really serious about it, and I loved it. Around 14, a lot of my friends were in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway, and I used to hang out backstage, and I started feeling like, ‘God, I really want to do this. I really want to.’ And I, sort of, veered into the musical theater direction. I started singing, acting, and jazz dancing as well as ballet, and by the time I was 17, I was in my first Broadway show.

CL: Wow!

LAW: I actually got the Most Promising Newcomer Award on Broadway that year. I did that for nine months, and then I went right into Cinderella, which was huge.

CL: Was your first Broadway 110 in the Shade?

LAW: Yes.

CL: That’s a lovely piece, for sure. It’s funny, I was talking with my spouse, Larayne, the other day because she loves musicals. I like musicals when they’re live in a theater, but I don’t normally seek out musical movies. We were looking for something to watch, and she asked me if there were any musicals that I actually liked that we could watch together, and I said, “Yeah, we can always watch Victor Victoria.”

LAW: [Laughing]

CL: It’s just an amazing piece with a stellar cast, you, James Garner, and Julie Andrews. Any Victor Victoria stories you can share?

LAW: That was just a fantastic experience for me. I was convinced I was going to be fired because when I met Blake [Edwards], you know, I looked like myself. He went off to London, and I had all these ideas about how this character should look, and how she should sound, and he said, ‘Well, just bring them to the makeup and hair test.’ So, months and months later, we have these makeup-hair tests in London, and I came out in my full Norma regalia, and I thought, [Laughing] “I think they are going to hate it or they’ll love it.” And the rest is history. He loved it.

And there was no musical number in the movie for me, and then one day in daily’s he just reached over and said, “Do you still sing?” I said, “Yes, I do.” He said, “Do you dance?” I said, “Yes, I do.” And then he brought Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse from California to London, and they wrote this fantastic number, and it was just a glorious experience.

CL: How cool. I’m going to get to my favorite movie in a second, and I don’t mean my favorite movie that you star in, it’s my favorite movie. First, I want to make sure we touch on another current project of yours. I don’t have any inside knowledge; I’m just going off IMDb here. You’ve got a film currently in post-production.

LAW: Is it Life Support with Brian Dennehy and J.K. Simmons? That will be coming out January/February. It’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.

CL: That’s the one I really wanted to touch on. What can you tell us about that? It has an impressive cast.

LAW: Dennehy, J.K. Simmons is in it, Tom Arnold, Mo Gaffney, it’s a really wonderful cast. It’s a comedic tragedy. It’s basically a true story about this family that comes together with the impending death of the patriarch and what happens to the family dynamics, and it’s funny, and it’s sad, and it’s moving, and it’s poignant. I love this movie.

CL: That’s very exciting. I see David Koechner is also in it. He’s phenomenal.

LAW: Yes! He’s fabulous. It’s got a great cast. And it’s funny too, but it’s also kind of tragic. I play Brian’s second wife, so a lot of the kids don’t like me [Laughing]. But it’s so good. I’m excited about it. I’m also doing this new series by Jenji Kohan, who created Orange is the New Black, and Weeds, and Glow, and it’s called American Princess. We’re in production, we haven’t completed it. And that’s an absolutely wonderful project.

And I’ve been doing a dance show called Dance to the Movies. It has a lot of the winners and runners up of the dancers from So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, and two singers from American Idol, and we do the re-creation of movie musical numbers. We send them all over the country—Ontario, 4,000 people in Florida, New Jersey—and I go out with it, and I do maybe three or four shows, and I come back and do the rest of my life. It’s really fun.

CL: Very cool. That’s exciting. I’m glad you are still part of that dancing world. Do you still sing?

LAW: I do!

CL: Good! Because you have a beautiful voice.

LAW: Thank you.

CL: Okay, so the one film I’m dying to talk to you about that you’re probably sick of talking about…

LAW: Is?

CL: Clue!

LAW: I knew you were going to say that! [Laughing] I knew you were going to say that. People love that movie, and I do too. I do too.

CL: Oh, good! I’m glad because, you know, they say never talk to your heroes or interview your heroes, or whatever, and the entire cast of Clue are pretty much my heroes. But I thought you seemed really nice, or at least nice enough to not lambaste me for bringing it up [Laughing].

LAW: Oh, God no. I’m so proud of that movie! And I’m proud of the amazing, enduring legacy of it. It’s fantastic.

CL: I’m sure you’ve been told this a million times, but I can quote 99 percent of that movie.

LAW: Oh yeah, that happens to me all the time. I’m not even kidding you. I go places and people will go, “It’s my defense mechanism.” They just start quoting lines from the movie. It’s crazy. I’m thrilled. I’m really thrilled. I’m proud of it.

CL: I think everyone should be that was a part of that film. I have probably seen it over 200 times, and I keep playing with the idea of getting a Clue tattoo.

LAW: That’s hysterical.

CL: I have several tattoos, none of them are of films, but this has been my favorite movie since I was 7, and I don’t think that’s going to change.

LAW: I just love that.

CL: My mom showed it to me when I was about 7 or so. Now, my stepson watches it. He’s 15, but I think I first introduced it to him when he was 7. So, it’s like a family tradition here.

LAW: I like that.

CL: It’s just brilliant and so witty, and everyone shines in it equally, I feel.

LAW: I do too. I think everyone was cast so intelligently, in terms of what they could specifically bring, and they bring it. I agree. It’s a fabulous combination of extraordinary talented, I don’t even want to say comics, but actors who are adept at comedy. We so enjoyed each other’s work, we drove the director crazy. We were just laughing hysterically at each other’s work. It was about three-and-a-half months of shooting, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had.

CL: That’s awesome to hear. Certainly, the cast of characters you’ve got there, I can imagine how you guys were cutting it up.

LAW: Oh, we were impossible. [Laughing] It was like herding cats.

We were out of control because we were so enamored by each other’s work. There were times when, literally, we would be doubled over in hysterics and we had to start shooting. It was so crazy. It was just an incredible experience. A blast in every way. I’ve gone on to work with Martin Mull, like three or four times we’ve been paired together, and we’re just crazy about each other.

Clue co-starring Lesley Ann Warren.
  Paramount Pictures

CL: I think every time that I see you two on screen, the chemistry really shines. You can tell it’s genuine.

LAW: Yes, yes.

CL: I can honestly say that I don’t think a week goes by without quoting that movie. I have a group of friends back home in D.C. that always quote it with me. Just the other day I looked at my girlfriend and said, “It’s me and you honey bunch.” I didn’t even think about it. It just came out.

LAW: [Laughing] Yeah, I know. It’s just wonderful. The other thing about it, it spans all these generations. Really young children, like you said, love it. Teenagers love it, and then I get these 20- or 30-year-olds that come up to me quoting lines, and then the people who are older that saw it when it came out. It’s crazy.

Clue co-starring Christopher Lloyd and Lesley Ann Warren
  Paramount Pictures

CL: Yes. Seeing it as a kid is one of my fonder memories.

LAW: I’m very sad that they’re talking about redoing it. I hate it. I just don’t want them to.

CL: Right?! A film like that doesn’t need to be updated.

LAW: I know! It is exactly the right period. It is a magical combination. But, all well.

CL: I think they’ll find that you can’t recreate that magic.

LAW: You can’t. You can’t.

CL: I think it’s one thing when you remake a movie because, maybe, it needs better special effects and it’s an action type of thing.

LAW: This movie is so performance driven and has such distinct characters. I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do.

CL: No, it’s not. Well, I appreciate this conversation. You made my day. I look forward to revisiting The Grand Son soon and checking out the other projects you’re working on. Thank you so much.

LAW: You’re welcome. Thank you. Enjoy your day.