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Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates, 74, stars as the grandmother in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., the film adaptation of Judy Blume’s classic coming-of-age novel. She also plays the title character in the upcoming Matlock reboot on CBS; is filming a movie alongside Diane Keaton, Alfre Woodard and Eugene Levy; and, as a cancer survivor, is a passionate medical activist. Best of all, she’s enjoying life: “Every day I just thank my lucky stars. I’m so grateful to be able to do what I love to do.”
Were you a fan of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., or is it a newfound interest?
It’s totally newfound. About the time that book came out in 1970, I was just graduating from college, and a couple of years after that, I was protesting the Vietnam War. And in New York, I was trying to get into the acting business. But the book was on my niece’s bookshelf for a long time. I read it in preparation for this and liked it so much. I was shocked to learn that it was banned back then.
What was it like getting to know Judy Blume during filming?
She’s absolutely delightful, very diminutive, full of energy and just so loving. She was so excited to meet me, and we have some wonderful pictures taken of us. If you listen to some of her interviews that she’s done, she’s just so smart, so brave. I just admire her tremendously.
You’ve worked with some iconic talents. Do you have mentors in the industry?
I think Shirley MacLaine, at times, has been a mentor for me. Early on, you know, I had the opportunity to go to Southern Methodist University, and they had a wonderful conservatory there. We had fabulous teachers, and they were the real mentors. I learned the craft and the respect that what we were doing mattered. I had a wonderful professor by the name of Burnet Hobgood. He told us it will take us a good 15 years to become actors or directors, just as people becoming a doctor or any other profession takes a while to do it. He was absolutely right.
What’s the best piece of acting advice anyone’s given you?
Someone along the way told me you have to have a head like a bullet and a heart like a baby. That was really good advice.
You recently wrapped filming on the Matlock reboot. Can you give us a preview of what to expect?