As the saying goes, you’re as young as you feel, and in the new film Just Getting Started, actress Rene Russo channeled her inner child. “I think there’s a little girl, little boy in all of us. No matter how old you are, I think we’re all the same on the inside – we just look different on the outside. I’m shocked that I’m not 27. I’m always just like, What? Yes I am! Even 13 sometimes.”
I chatted with Russo on the phone last week about her turn in this new Ron Shelton movie, and she was warm and charming, complimenting my name – “Young people always have interesting names, I can tell by your name that you’re young” – and laughing at memories from filming alongside Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones. “Morgan’s like a big kid, and Tommy is too!” she exclaimed. Although Just Getting Started centers around life at retirement community Villa Capri, the characters in this comedy are anything but mature as the manager Duke (Freeman) goes head to head with new resident Leo (Jones) vying for the affections of Suzie (Russo) and title of top alpha male. Russo told me that watching her male co-stars film these high jinks was so entertaining, she momentarily forgot she was filming. “Watching the two of them in the scene, sometimes I would literally get lost and then forget my line – that actually happened to me. Because I was thinking, Oh my God, before my eyes, these two guys are 8 year olds. I’m watching them turn into 8 year olds and I blew a line. I was suddenly in a movie, and not an actress on the set.”
Although Russo had met Freeman during the making of Outbreak, the two never filmed any scenes together, so working with him on Just Getting Started was a new experience. “Morgan is just suave, charming as hell. We’re in the desert and he’s serenading everyone – he’s got an extraordinary voice. But it was a little nerve-wracking. They’re just huge personalities, both of them, so when you walk in a room and they’re both there, you’re like, Oooh, this energy is big energy! And you kinda had to be on your game, because they’re really good. I’ve worked with other actors and actresses, of course, that are really good but I dunno, I just felt a little bit intimidated by the two of them.”
While Freeman serenaded the cast, Jones was more of the silent type. “He doesn’t talk much. But when he does, it’s always interesting,” Russo said. “Off-camera, Tommy Lee Jones is the most interesting person I’ve ever met. He’s so complex and so interesting. And he’s got a really soft heart – he probably hates me saying this. He’s got a really sweet, soft, sensitive heart. And he’s brilliant. I don’t think there’s anything he doesn’t know about any subject, which was really shocking to me. I finally said, Tommy, is there anything that you don’t know? You know everything about everything. It’s aggravating! I actually said that to him.”
Russo told me that both her co-stars brought a lot of their own personalities to their characters. Just like Leo, Jones is a fan of Ford trucks, showing off his vintage Ford pickup to Russo during filming. “He was so cute – he said You wanna see my truck? It was the coolest truck.” She declined his offer to take it for a spin, however. “He goes You wanna drive? I’m like, Tommy, no! I’m thinking to myself, dear God, it’s a ship – which I grew up on, but can you imagine? This is his baby.” And better safe than sorry, lest life imitate art: In the film, Leo does not take kindly to the person who destroys his precious Ford F-150.
As Just Getting Started unfolds, Suzie’s character arrives at the Villa Capri during Christmas to audit Duke’s performance as manager. But he has more to hide than just shady business practices: After a string of attempts on his life, Duke must come clean about his past and enlist the reluctant help of Leo to save not just his life, but also the Villa Capri and Suzie’s career with it. “I think was Susie was hanging on by a thread,” Russo laughed. “She’d been in trouble before – trouble follows Susie. She’s going there to investigate some unsavory business practices, and she’s at a time in her life she really has to get it together. I think she’s trying to hold herself together more than she really is actually together.”
Although it’s not specifically a holiday movie, Just Getting Started has the quirky backdrop of Christmastime in the desert, with inflatable Santas bedecking palm trees; at one point in the film, Duke brings in an entire live nativity scene complete with camels because Villa Capri is a desert “Just like Bethlehem“. But don’t expect Russo to add the film to her personal holiday viewing list: “I don’t watch myself in films,” she explained.
The next project on Russo’s plate is a film that will take her back into art world, which she famously visited in Thomas Crown Affair. “My husband Dan Gilroy is writing a movie, and it’s a movie set in the contemporary art world – we start shooting that in March, so I’m lucky because I’m his wife and he has to give me the part,” she joked. Like the film, Russo herself is just getting started.
Just Getting Started is in theaters now.