Veteran actress Cloris Leachman has a thing about women directors -- she doesn't like working with them.
"I categorically like men directors," says the 82-year-old, who won a supporting actress Oscar for "The Last Picture Show" (1971) and has received eight prime-time Emmy Awards -- more than any other actress.
"I wasn't happy with the women I've worked with before," she says with a sigh. "One of them called us her 'little chickens.' That was very irritating and off-putting. She was a very popular director in TV."
But Leachman didn't have any problems being guided by Diane English in "The Women" -- the updated remake of the Clare Boothe Luce play and 1939 classic film adaptation -- that opens Friday.
English, the creator of the long-running CBS comedy series "Murphy Brown," wrote, directed and produced the all-female dramedy that, in addition to Leachman, boasts a stellar cast of women: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith and even Bette Midler in a small role.
Leachman plays the no-nonsense housekeeper Maggie to Ryan's Mary. That strictly business demeanor disguises her deep emotional ties to Mary and her tween daughter. It is a role not in the original play or first movie.
When the happily married Mary learns her husband is having an affair, the turmoil forces members of her close-knit group of female friends to question their own relationships.
English, who makes her feature directorial debut with "The Women," was "just adorable" to work for, Leachman says. "You would never know we were being directed," says the actress, who admits she hadn't heard of the award-winning television director before this film.
Before production began, Leachman says she struggled to get the right hairstyle to reflect Maggie's personality. She finally opted for a simple, straight bob. "Did you like it?" she asks. "My hair was already cut a certain way, so I had to do something with the cut or wear a wig. I really always like to use my own hair if at all possible. I thought I certainly should be clean and neat, and that's kind of what I did with the hair. [Maggie] was organized and very stable in an atmosphere that was unstable. I had to hold things down. . . . "
Leachman says she was elated to work with such a versatile cast of women. "They were just marvelous and thrilling," she says. "Everyone I adore."
-- Susan King