This Friday, the Metrograph theater in Manhattan kicks off a tribute to the film legacy of writer-director John Cassavetes and actor Gena Rowlands, who together pioneered a style of filmmaking that continues to influence American independent cinema to this day. The pair’s complex and emotionally devastating 1977 film Opening Night begins the series, Cassavetes/Rowlands, which features eight of the husband-and-wife team’s groundbreaking collaborations—including A Woman Under the Influence, Faces, and Love Streams. In anticipation of the retrospective, RogerEbert.com has published a candid new conversation between Rowlands and writer Matt Zoller Seitz.
When asked why she ranks her experiences working with Cassavetes as the greatest of her career, Rowlands replies, “Because there's nothing like working with John! . . . The freedom that John gave his actors was astounding.” It was this autonomy that gave Rowlands a platform to deliver some of the most astonishing performances of the era, including her Oscar-nominated turn as troubled housewife Mabel Longhetti in A Woman Under the Influence, which the actress names her “favorite movie.”
Rowlands also mentions that she recently watched the Criterion release of her final collaboration with Cassavetes, 1984’s Love Streams, and that writer Michael Ventura’s audio commentary reveals a few secrets she hadn’t previously heard. “I didn’t know that when we were making this movie, the doctor had told John that he was gonna die within five months. I knew that John looked ill, but he also looked handsome and wonderful. And he didn’t die for five years after that!”
Thirty-two years after that film’s release, Rowlands still loves to revisit their work with an audience. “I like knowing that there are people out there who admire the work we did together, and still consider John an example of how this can be done. And he still is. He still is an example.”