Angela Lansbury
(© Tristan Fuge)
Angela Lansbury
(© Tristan Fuge)
Five-time Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury and Theatre World Award winner Carla Gugino are no strangers to the world of family films, so it's not surprising that they signed up to appear in the new movie, Mr. Popper's Penguins, based on the 1938 children's novel, opening on June 17.

The film stars Jim Carrey as Popper, a slick New York real estate developer whose life literally goes to the birds when he inherits six penguins. Gugino plays his estranged wife, Amanda, and Lansbury plays the woman he tries to charm into selling Tavern on the Green. TheaterMania recently spoke to Lansbury and Gugino about sharing the screen with Carrey, flightless birds, and their need to keep working.

THEATERMANIA: Angela, it's been 6 years since your last film, Nanny McPhee. What made you want to do this film?
ANGELA LANSBURY: It was an unexpected event in my life. But I found it hard to resist working with an extraordinary group of people led by the great Jim Carrey and to make this movie in New York City.

TM: What is it like to work with Jim Carrey?
CARLA GUGINO: Jim is amazing because every take he tries something new, and that's always really fun to work with. It's great because he's just experimenting all the time.
AL: All my scenes were with him. My first three days were night shoots, from 7am to 7pm at The Guggenheim, dancing and being spun around by Jim.

Carla Gugino
(© Tristan Fuge)
Carla Gugino
(© Tristan Fuge)
TM: What about your other co-stars, the Gentoo penguins?
CG: They're pretty lovable creatures, and the thing about penguins is you cannot not smile when you're in their presence. It's like a chemical reaction. I will say that they are a bit diva-like, because they're more comfortable under 40 degrees so our entire set was 39 degrees at all times. I'm from Florida and don't do well in the cold. My thing during shooting was that I wished someone would say "Carla Gugino works best at 72 degrees and let's adjust accordingly!"

TM: You shot at the now closed Tavern on the Green. Was that bittersweet?
AL: Tavern on the Green was an important social venue for all of us in show biz. We had some of our great first night parties after opening nights on Broadway. When we did A Little Night Music we had one of the last parties given there, and it was very sad. The Tavern is part of the social life of New York City -- not just to New Yorkers, but to visitors to the city -- so I hope it will be revitalized and brought back to life. And perhaps this movie will in some way be responsible for doing that.

TM: Angela, we're seeing so many screen actors headlining Broadway shows. What do you think that's done to the community and to theater audiences?
AL: Obviously theater audiences love to see screen stars on Broadway. Sometimes those actors are effective and good. And, I'm not going to mention any names, but there have been some that haven't been so good. Economically, it's a tremendous asset to have a star name in a play, and it's not always easy to get the audience in to see a play unless you have a name that is recognizable. Most great actors on Broadway today are not necessarily big draws, sad to say.

TM: Acting is a tough business, but you both work all the time. Why work so hard?
CG: Acting is the love of my life. I was one of those people that wanted to be so good at many, many things. You get to be so many different people and through research you get to learn so many things. I've learned about brain surgery and astrophysics and traveled to amazing parts of the world.
AL: Energy and stamina are two qualities I have in me, and I need to use them. If I don't use them I get very despondent.