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Ellen Barkin's Happy Day

The Tony Award-winning actress discusses her new film, Another Happy Day logo
Ellen Barkin
(© Tristan Fuge)
While the title, Another Happy Day, has a deeply ironic meaning for Lynn, the desperately unhappy wife-mother-daughter figure in director Sam Levinson's debut film, veteran actress Ellen Barkin who plays her, has never been happier. "For me at 57, I have never felt more visible, more present and more deserving for the first time in my life," she says. "I have never felt more listened to and I've been feeling it over the last five years just when I'm supposed to be receding into the background."

After winning last season's Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her wrenching performance as Dr. Emma Brookner in The Normal Heart, there's already some Oscar buzz for Barkin for the meaty role of Lynn, a hyper-emotional mother coming back to her parents' home for her estranged son's wedding.

She has to face not only meeting her abusive ex-husband (Thomas Hayden Church) and his hot-tempered new wife (Demi Moore), but also her own aloof mother (Ellen Burstyn) and aging father (George Kennedy) plus her two bickering, jealous sisters. She also brings along her three other children (Kate Bosworth, Ezra Miller and Daniel Yelsky) each of whom has his/her own set of problems.

The actress and director -- who are a couple offscreen -- first met on the set of the 2010 film, Operation Endgame, which he wrote. The name, Levinson, was no stranger to Barkin, however, since Sam's dad, Barry Levinson, directed her in her breakthrough film, Diner.

"We'd been sitting around for awhile, talking about the film when I noticed the name, Levinson, on his script cover, and I said, 'Are you Barry's kid? And he said, 'Didn't you know?'" she recalls. "Both men -- at very different times in my life -- gave me roles that were so close to the surface of where I was at the time and so raw and true in terms of the work I needed to do in order to succeed for myself. Sam has now given me a whole orchestra to play."

Indeed, Barkin was immediately taken with the script to Another Happy Day. "When Sam first gave me the script, I went straight home and read it and I was really shredded. I was sobbing," she says. "It really got to me, and then I burst out laughing. Emotionally, I literally did not know what to do with myself and I think that's the experience the audience has."

Ellen Barkin in Another Happy Day
As the actress points out, the movie's subject matter is unusual to say the least." You know, it's one of the last taboos in film -- we can watch the brilliant Mo'nique break our hearts in Precious because she's an abusive mom -- but we can't watch a mother like Lynn who only wants to do good for their children," she says.

"There are mothers who want to do better than their parents and sometimes -- to the point of damaging -- they want to protect their children from the outside world. But if you do that too much, you're not giving them the tools to protect themselves. And I think, within that framework, mistakes are made all the time, big ones, small ones and profoundly traumatic ones and you just hope that when these mistakes begin to resonate in their lives, that they do better than you did."

While Barkin is a mother herself, she doesn't see herself in her screen alter-ego. "My connections to this character are up there for everybody to see, and yet she may be the least like me of any character I've ever played," she says. "It's like the moment you're not able to reproduce, your function in society is negated and you become invisible. For me it's been the reverse. I was a ghost in my twenties because I didn't know how to handle it all, but now, I'm right up there with the menopausal power pack. Now it's my turn!"

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