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Ronee Blakley: Life After 'Nashville'?

June 13, 1986|CHRIS WILLMAN

On a fishing expedition in her home state of Idaho, Ronee Blakley recently found herself at an isolated lake with all the necessary amenities but one--a fishing pole.

Undaunted, she strung the line through her bathing suit, sunbathing in between tugs against her skin from the lunch-to-be.

Ronee Blakley the human fishing pole joins a host of others who've learned to adapt to new roles on the spot, including Blakley the film and stage actress, Blakley the movie writer and director--and Blakley the singer/songwriter, who performs Saturday at the Palomino.

Blakley's most legendary bit of improvisation also happened to be her first and most famous movie role, an astonishing debut as the doomed country singer Barbara Jean in "Nashville"--whose director, Robert Altman, let the fledgling actress write her own breakdown scene.

The 1975 part won her the cover of Newsweek, an Oscar nomination and even New Yorker critic Pauline Kael's seal of approval ("Perhaps for the first time on the screen, one gets the sense of an artist's being consumed by her gift," Kael wrote).

But she hasn't had an album out in 11 years, and while she's had supporting roles in some well-liked movies ("The Driver," "Nightmare on Elm Street"), none of them have been the award-winner type.

Perhaps she can sympathize with Carole King, a friend up in Idaho, whom Blakley says people are often surprised to find out is still around.

"They always think you're dead if they haven't heard from you in the last minute or so," she sighs, sitting poolside in her Encino backyard.

Unlike King, though, Blakley has decidedly not been hibernating. On ex-husband Wim Wenders' film about Nicholas Ray, "Lightning Over Water," she provided both the music and the screenplay's climactic scene.

She wrote and directed an autobiographical film, "I Played It for You," which received some good notices in a one-week engagement here last year. She wrote two screenplays, one of which she says Altman wants to direct. She made her Broadway debut in "Pump Boys and Dinettes."

After for a time shunning the country music that made her famous in "Nashville," she's returned somewhat to those roots--to the extent that those are her roots.

"I'm white, and so folk and country music are my roots," says Blakley, who also studied classical music at Stanford and Juilliard.

"But I never considered myself in any way to be a country star, because I never was one. . . . My own real career comes out of the L.A. singer/songwriter tradition, when Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt were starting out, and Glenn Frey lived four doors down from me practicing his guitar over on Yeager Place in Hollywood. Somewhere in there is where I think I belong, if I belong.

"I didn't play any country music for a year or two in the early '80s; I just cut it out of my set. I was the first person to do new wave at the Palomino, before Elvis Costello or anything. I had a girl crying in the bathroom because it was her birthday."

Blakley presumably won't be ruining anyone's night Saturday, when she'll be performing--both at the solo piano and with a band--oldies dating back to "Nashville" as well as many of her new, tough-minded rock songs.

And she'll even be doing a straight-ahead country tune she wrote earlier this week about the Palomino, "home to the great and the small" and a place "where city girls are country girls."

Her country-girl side--the Barbara Jean she's had trouble shaking in many folks' minds--may get a screen reprise if Altman's proposed "Nashville 12" project gets off the ground.

She says that Altman has asked her to appear in the sequel, but won't spell out how that could be--since both actress and director agree that her character was shot dead at the end of the first film.

If it comes off, it'll be another coveted chance to indulge in two art forms--film and music--at once. And renaissance type Blakley does want to dabble in as many media as possible, preferably simultaneously.

"All the arts seem to me to be one," she proffers, "just as all people seem to me to be one. I want to be part of the whole . I'd rather be in solution than in suspension."

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