January 2015 - Extras: Cindy Pickett
Written by Teresa Ewers
The film mother of Ferris Bueller had done well for herself. With a career spanning over 35 years, Cindy Pickett has a portfolio that ranges from drama, comedy to thrillers and fans will be have a chance to pick her brain at this year’s Albuquerque Comic Con. But before that, we thought we would take a chance to pick first.
Acting was in her blood, being the daughter of a director and drama teacher. She found herself doing a memorable stint as Jackie Marler-Spaulding on the legendary soap opera, Guiding Light. “It was a dream job,” says Pickett. “Good pay, wonderful scripts, and amazing talent. A 15-year-old Kevin Bacon was cast at the same time and Jobeth Williams, who had been a friend of mine in Houston, also was added to the cast. The writers had an uncanny knack for writing our personal history into our character, which gave them more depth than the usual sappy material on the other soaps. It was the perfect training ground for a theatre actor going from projecting to the last row in the theatre to the intimacy and simplicity and necessity of less is more on film. When it was our story line, we would have to memorize 30 pages of dialogue a night! That was a great challenge from having weeks to prepare in the theatre to an overnight “candles in the bath” memorizing session and not knowing your blocking until you were on set and ready to shoot. But what that did was make the actor more vulnerable and the emotion more spontaneous, which is something so important, even necessary, for close-ups and the life and truth of a character on film.”
Pickett took a big turn when she chose to play a featured role in the 1980 erotic film, Night Games (Jeux de Nuit), a sexually charged role that found her doing a numerous amount of nude scenes. Although the film didn’t boost Pickett’s career at the time, she doesn’t regret the opportunity. “With Night Games, it was an opportunity to work with a legend on, yes, not so great material, but I didn't care,” shared Pickett. “I got to travel to the Philippines and work with an international crew. Remember, I was still fresh from Texas, college, and regional theatre. Growing up in the theatre I was not shy about my body. How many times did we have to all dress in the same dressing room!? Modesty does not belong in the arts. Plus I had never travelled outside of the country - and to get paid for it? To work with a Svengali and to have my name tagged at the end of 'Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda...Pickett'! I did a very tasteful layout for Playboy. The west coast editor became my friend and she let me pick out some of the shots for my personal use, which it do take to these conventions. I put Ferris Bueller on one end of the table and Playboy on the other - they are my two best sellers!”
Pickett found herself flourishing in other roles including the mother of Steven Stayner in the television movie I Know My First Name is Steven. Pickett remembers her time on set. “I had given birth to my son, Shane, six weeks before when they offered me this wonderful role,” said Pickett. “I still had my baby weight and wasn't really ready to work. But when I read the script, I knew I had to play this woman, who kept the faith he would come home, long after everyone else had given up. She and I became friends, as we did many interviews together. She was very powerful in her quiet strength. I got to know her whole family, they would visit the set, and Steven did a cameo at the end of the movie playing the cop who brings him back to our house, after being gone for 7 years. I'm sure you know it ended in tragedy, this fable. Steven bought a motorcycle with the money he got for selling his story and, not too long after our movie aired, he was hit by a car, on a rainy night, on that motorcycle, and killed. As an actress, it was a very emotional experience, as I had just had a son and the thought of him being abducted made the experience and the feelings very real, which is what you must find as an actress - the truth.”
Other roles on Pickett’s resume include her roles on Call to Glory, St. Elsewhere, Crossing Jordan andBurn Notice. But the role she is most remembered for is the loving mother of America’s favorite misunderstood misfit, Ferris Bueller, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Pickett remembers fondly that time on the set. “Ferris Bueller has been invited into the national archives. How many actors can say they have been in a film that has been deemed a national treasure! When we made this delightful, and in the end, important movie, we had no idea that it would be the John Hughes film that would rise to the top and turn into the cult classic it has become. All of Hughes’s movies were fun and captured the teen angst that kids today can still relate to. To me, that is the definition of a classic: endurance, relatability. John had some kind of insight into the pulse of that generation and Ferris embodied the best, the hope, of how to be positive and live in humor and push the envelope a little; to manage and maneuver through that minefield of adolescence. The last line says it all, ‘Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ That was not the final line that was written in the original script. I think it is something John came up with as we were shooting. He loved ad-libbing, if it worked. We had that freedom and he always encouraged his actors to bring something fresh to a scene, he was a genius. As far as being on the set, the kids mostly stayed together after work, but in the Bueller house, there was a pool table, and when there was a long lighting set up or at lunch we would all migrate to that pool table! It was an easy set, with a perfect cast, and everyone got along. On Fridays, the caterer would always make a grand meal with lobster and champagne. It was magical in every way - the "windy city”, great cast, brilliant script, even more brilliant director. On the weekends, sometimes we'd go dancing, and John would go with us. He wouldn't dance, but loved being with young people - he was so young at heart. The girls would all dance together and he would just watch and walk us back to the
hotel. As you probably know, Lyman Ward, who played Mr. Bueller, and I met and started dating while we were making the movie, and eventually got married and had a couple of kids of our own. When my son was around 8 years old, he turned to me after we had watched the movie a million and one times and said, 'Mom, why didn't you name me Ferris?' I feel very blessed to have been a part of the experience that was the making of this classic and I do believe and live by that last line - ‘If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’”
Now Pickett is working on new productions including White Wings, Te Ata, and Opus of an Angel. She was excited to discuss Te Ata. “I completed Te Ata this summer, which was quite wonderful,” shared Pickett. “It is the true story of Te Ata Thompson Fisher, Chickasaw, whose name means “Bearer of the morning”. She was born in Oklahoma and went to a woman's college in the 1920’s. She was the first Native American woman to attend that college. I play her drama teacher who spots her one day off campus speaking sparrow to a small bird. I invite her into my drama class, and eventually encourage her to go to New York to study further at Carnegie Tech. Her gift was through her drumming, chanting, and moving stories of her native people. She brought the beauty and wisdom of Native American culture to the world in a way that helped develop a deeper appreciation for basic human kindness and respect for the natural world. She eventually performed for presidents, kings, royalty, and heads of state. She became of favorite of Eleanor Roosevelt, who asked her to perform at their first state dinner. The great Graham Green plays the Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, and Q'orianka Kilcher, who played Pocahontas in Terence Malik's The New World is Te Ata. Great cast, greatscript, inspirational story, and a wonderful director. I was very grateful and privileged to play the mentor of this great talent and honestly
to be a part of this film.”
Pickett will be taking part in this year’s Albuquerque Comic Con. Come out and show your appreciation for such a talent and passionate actor.