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10 Quick Questions for Kathy Bates

Actress stars as the beloved grandmother in ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.’

spinner image kathy bates smiling with chin resting on her hand against a peach-colored background
Philip Cheung/Guardian/eyevine/Redux

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.

spinner image Kathy Bates as Sylvia Simon and Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret Simon laughing in bed in a still from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Bates stars alongside Abby Ryder Fortson in the film adaptation of Judy Blume's book, "Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret."
Dana Hawley/Lionsgate

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?

It is so unique. It really does have the flavor of the older production with Andy Griffith, but it’s new. The characters are so rich and well drawn. There’s a young woman, Skye P. Marshall — she plays one of the law firm partners, and we have some fantastic scenes together. I’m so excited. It’s fabulous. The pilot was created by Jennie Urman who did Jane the Virgin — she’s just fantastic. We had a great time.

You’re the only person to have won an Oscar for acting in a Stephen King movie, for your role in Misery. Are you a fan of his books? Do you have a favorite?

Yes, I am a fan and have been for many years. There’s one that I read not long ago called Joyland, which I loved, about a summer [amusement] park. The characters are wonderfully drawn. I was a fan of [the novel] Dolores Claiborne, which we got to make into a movie. He’s quite a character. He invited me many years ago to play a very small part in The Stand, and I was reluctant. He said, “Follow your bliss,” which was a wonderful thing to say to a young performer.

You did your first nude scene at age 43 in At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and you disrobed again for About Schmidt in 2002. How were those experiences? Would you do another nude scene?

No, I would never do it again. I’m not even really comfortable doing love scenes. About Schmidt was quite fun with Jack Nicholson. We sort of sat in the tub and we actually talked about Winston Churchill and how he was a painter because Jack is also a wonderful artist. I had a cosmopolitan before I got in the tub for a little Dutch courage. I’ve had a double mastectomy since then, but in those days, when we were doing the scene, I had my breasts, and they would always float up to the surface, so that was difficult.

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You’ve overcome ovarian and breast cancer, and you’re an advocate for those who also suffer from lymphedema. How do you prioritize your health?

I haven’t been very good lately. I’m doing this wonderful film [Summer Camp] in Asheville, North Carolina, with Diane Keaton and Alfre Woodard and Eugene Levy. It’s a wonderful cast, but there’s a lot of physical activity that I just didn’t prepare for. I’ve been suffering a bit lately with swollen arms. I went to a head shop and picked up some CBD ointment, which seems to have helped a lot with the pain. I do a manual lymph drainage massage on my arms — that’s really the best I can do. I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done with the Lymphatic Education & Research Network. We’ve made great progress. We have a national commission on lymphedema at the NIH [National Institutes of Health]. We’ve worked very hard to accomplish that. It’s been slow but sure.

Your 75th birthday is coming up in June. Do you have any big plans?

I actually hadn’t thought about it until you brought it up! God willing, I will probably be in Los Angeles. I might do something really quiet with my family. Days like that, especially when they’re big numbers like 50 or 75, I like to spend some of that day meditating on the past and on those things I’ve been so lucky to experience and things I wish I hadn’t experienced …  kind of an inventory time. If there’s a friend or two around, I’ll go and have a martini and raise a glass.

What are some of the things you’ll reflect on for this birthday?

To reflect on the fact that I’ve been in this business for 50 years. I have to say, over the last 10 years, thank the good Lord for Ryan Murphy. After that summer when I had my mastectomy, he gave me a real boost [when he cast me in American Horror Story]. He gave me a new life and introduced me to a new demographic to start my third act. I’ll always be grateful to him for that opportunity. Every day I just thank my lucky stars. I’m so grateful to be able to do what I love to do.

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