- - Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Oscar-winning actress Louise Fletcher is a bit unnerving. And it’s not really her fault. Throughout her decadeslong career, Miss Fletcher has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, but she will always be remembered for her turn as the sadistic Nurse Ratched in Milos Forman’s award-winning masterpiece “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” That performance earned Miss Fletcher a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and the best actress Oscar.

Now in her eighties, Miss Fletcher remains active in the world of film and television. I sat down with the pleasant actress at The Hollywood Show autograph show to discuss her appreciation of getting her “big break” later in life and why she turned down roles in “Carrie” and “Norma Rae.”

Question: I’m a bit nervous to interview you. Do that happen to you often?

Answer: Ha! I’ve done about three or four of these autograph shows, and people always say the same thing. They say, “You’re not as mean as we thought you were.”

Q: Do people assume because you played the role of Nurse Ratched so masterfully that you most be like that in real life?

A: A lot of people think that, yeah. A lot of people can’t understand that that is just acting. They say, “If you played that on film, you must be like that in real life.” That’s pretty naive of people.

Q: What do you remember about the night you won your Oscar?

A: I couldn’t get any spit. I had dry mouth. Acute dry mouth. Adrenaline does that. Hearing my name called as the winner was like a huge shot of adrenaline. The saliva eventually came.

Q: You hear from actors and actresses all the time that winning an Academy Award changes your life. How did your life change after winning?

A: I got offered a few things immediately after that I didn’t do.

Q: What roles did you turn down that you regret?

A: “Norma Rae” and “Carrie.”

Q: Why did you turn down “Carrie”?

A: That was right after “Cuckoo’s Nest,” and my agents weren’t too keen for me to be this villain again. I was being led around too much at that time, not making my own decisions. I was kind of naive myself, even though I was 40.

It had taken quite a long time to get my break. I took my agent’s lead. And then, in time, I learned I had to make my own decisions.

Q: Did you appreciate your break because it came later in life?

A: Definitely. I think maybe it was meant to be that way. I grew up in the real world. I had life experience to bring to my work, which before I didn’t much have.

I saw myself on an old episode of “Perry Mason” the other day, and I’m like a child. So innocent. I had no life experience to call on, but I played that very well. I was happy that I married, had children, raised my children, traveled and lived before that breakthrough role.

Q: What are you most proud of in your career?

A: Well, obviously “Cuckoo’s Nest.” It was one experience where everything came together in such a perfect way. And I can only say that is because of the director (Milos Foreman) and the way he approached his work — dividing up a movie into four equal parts.

He considered the casting to be equal to the screenplay. People here in Hollywood cast something in two weeks. It took him a year. And he got it right. Then the shooting. Then the editing. He was just brilliant. That film was a gift, really. A tremendous gift. I’m very proud of that.

I’m also very proud of “Brainstorm.” I enjoyed making that very much. Beyond that, there are so many little movies that I was in that I had a wonderful time on.

Q: Are you still pursuing new acting roles?

A: Yeah, I’m still available. [laughs] I think it’s a mistake to retire unless you have to. Unless you just can’t work. I think you shouldn’t go around saying, “I’m retired.” I’m not retired. But I may be retired and not know it. [laughs]

Q: What advice do you give to young actors and actresses starting out today?

A: Only do it if you absolutely have to, because you are gonna eat rejection every single day. And it’s not easy eating that rejection every single day because it hurts. You have to learn not to take it personally. And that is a very hard lesson to learn.

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