Mary Steenburgen: I Love Playing Horrible, Mean Characters

Mary Steenburgen is known for the down home charm she exudes onscreen, the kind that shines in roles like Elf where she played a mom filled with the Christmas spirit.

But to hear the actress tell it, her favorite kind of roles are the ones where she gets to play the exact opposite.

“I love to play horrible, evil, mean people,” she told CBS News.

Though much of her career has been as a mom — her roles in 30 Rock, Elf, and Step Brothers all cast her as a matriarch of some sort — she has also played some seedy characters as well. In What’s Eating Gilbert Grape she played a woman having an affair with the title character (Johnny Depp).

But even as the played some “horrible” people, Mary Steenburgen has made them seem human, even sympathetic. That was the case with the movie Melvin and Howard, where her portrayal of a stripper earned her an Oscar.

Off-screen, Steenburgen is more like her more wholesome characters. She told CBS that she’s not comfortable in the spotlight, and shies away from the big Hollywood parties in favor of more intimate settings.

“I love being in a room of 8-10 people,” she said. “Once it starts to get much bigger than that, I’ve always gotten very frightened. I’ve never managed to — just telling you about it, I have sweaty palms. First time I’ve ever talked about it, actually.”

Steenburgen is coming back to the big screen this month with Last Vegas, a movie about a group of friends in their late 60s who reunite for a bachelor party in Las Vegas.

In the movie Mary Steenburgen may get a chance to play her favorite kind of character in the comedy. She is set to play Diana, a lounge singer who gets close to the soon-to-be-married Michael Douglas and creates a love triangle between him and another friend, played by Robert DeNiro.