This story about Lois Smith first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.
This fall, Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater played a double feature that represented bookends in the film career of underrated acting treasure Lois Smith. The first film was her feature debut, “East of Eden,” the James Dean classic directed by Elia Kazan. The second was one of her latest, “Marjorie Prime,” an intriguing and chilly sci-fi drama from Michael Almereyda.
Marjorie is a role Smith can’t seem to get rid of — she workshopped the Jordan Harrison play before it premiered Off Broadway and became a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2015. In the film adaptation, Smith stars as the fading matriarch Marjorie, whose daughter (Geena Davis) and son-in-law (Tim Robbins) reluctantly supply her with an artificial intelligence that looks like a young incarnation of her late husband (played by Jon Hamm).
The AI, or “prime,” feeds on Marjorie’s memories, becoming a stronger proxy for her dead beloved the more time they spend together — much unlike dotty Marjorie, who is succumbing to dementia.
“She’s losing her memory and she’s got this new companion,” Smith said. “She knows what it is, and she enjoys it. It’s not as if she hasn’t got any marbles. She knows who she’s dealing with, and she enjoys the back and forth and the flirtation.”
Of the years she spent with the work as it moved from stage to screen, Smith said, “My character is less changed than the other characters. There was never a wholly new interpretation, but the writing is so good and so strong, you’re halfway home before you ever start.”
And during all the work’s iterations, she added, she kept one thread: “I always thought she was a person who really loved life.”
Smith, 87, recently landed a Film Independent Spirit Award nomination for her performance — and should she go the distance this Oscar season, she would tie “Titanic” actress Gloria Stuart as the oldest-ever Academy Award nominee. (Unless you’re counting days, in which case she’d trail Stuart by about three months.)
No reason not to love life off-screen either, then.