Last week, we had the pleasure of talking with Marion Ross about her award-winning film A Reason, her favorite projects over the course over her 60+ year career in the entertainment industry, and what keeps her from retirement.
By Jason Jack Underwood
In Hollywood, few actors have had a more continuously successful career than Marion Ross. With 60+ years under her belt, the veteran film actor was kind enough to chat with us about everything from her voice work as Grandma SquarePants on SpongeBob SquarePants to that time she got her hair done with Audrey Hepburn. Our question & answer segment with the amazing Marion Ross is below. Her latest film, A Reason premieres at the Orlando Film Festival on October 23rd at 7:30pm and again on the 26th at 11:30am.
Most people know you as Marion Cunningham from Happy Days, but you have starred in over 150 other films & TV shows. What have been your 5 most rewarding projects that you have worked on other than Happy Days?
The TV show Brooklyn Bridge in 1990 was definitely one of the most rewarding. I played a Jewish, Polish grandmother with an accent. It was created by Gary Goldberg and about a Jewish family who immigrated to Brooklyn and the grandparents lived on one floor and the next generation lived above them. It was exactly how Gary was raised and really based on his life as a boy. It was a wonderful role for me and we got a lot of awards and letters for that show. Theatre wise, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit was really memorable. I was acting with Lauren Bacall and Claudette Colbert which was great. I had actually read the play when I was much younger, so it was a real treat for me to be in it and work with Noel.
Marion Ross in Brooklyn Bridge.
Another project and time in my life that was so memorable was when I first came to town at age 22 and was under contract at Paramount. Back then everyone was at the Paramount lot. I remember sitting next to Audrey Hepburn under the hair dryer one day right after she had made Roman Holiday and seeing Marlene Dietrich walking around, I was so thrilled to be in the same realm as them. Another great project was The Drew Carey Show when I played Drew Carey’s mother. That was exciting for me because he specifically asked for me to play his mother.
You’ve had a storied career that has lasted over 60 years. Why haven’t you slowed down?
Ross alongside Happy Days co-stars Ron Howard & Tom Bosley.
I haven’t slowed down because I love what I do. I like to keep creating an atmosphere that isn’t going to end. I don’t think there is a reason why I can’t go all the way with acting and make the full arch. I started playing older a long time ago so aging as an actress wasn’t hard for me and the roles continue to keep opening up. At the end of the day an actor is really an athlete too, you have to fit and take care of yourself, which I do. You also have to be a good business woman. I used to joke with Tom Bosley and say, “You know I have every penny I have ever made.” He would say, “Why do you say that” and I would reply “I want people to believe that!” I have been very lucky to continuously work.
You’ve taken a particular interest in voice acting in some of the most popular animated series for my generation – SpongeBob SquarePants, The Wild Thornberrys, and The Boondocks. What drew you to these television shows?
The executives asked for me and I said, “Ok.” It was that simple. I had never heard of some of them but my agents told me they were really big shows so I said “Why not.” I started realizing these shows were big when little kids started coming up to me on the street and showing me their Spongebob clothes. What’s so nice about voiceover work is you don’t even need to brush your teeth to go to work, it’s a great job!
One of your latest films, A Reason explores the interactions of a family surrounding the final months of their wealthy Aunt Irene’s life. Irene, whom you play in the film is a complicated yet simple character. What do you see in her & what did you bring to the character that the Director didn’t expect?
Ross as Aunt Irene in A Reason.
I saw that Aunt Irene was very disagreeable and unlikeable. It’s fun for me to play someone that isn’t so darling but it does get hard for me to hang onto it. So I would slip in and out of niceness sometimes.
Both your performances and the film itself have been getting quite a bit of attention recently with your La Femme Lifetime Achievement Award, can you describe how you came onto the project?
I initially got involved because my agent approached me about it. Regarding the Lifetime Achievement Award, it’s startling to look back at my career and life and think it’s been over 60 years. I’ve pulled it off and hung in there this lifetime. As I was watching the slide show of all my work at the ceremony it was weird to see myself age. I definitely like the girl better in my early films. I will be 86 next week. I love that I have gotten to stay in one career my whole life, I feel like that is rare sometimes.
What would you say was the most memorable experience for you while working on A Reason?
One of the best experiences was getting to know the filmmakers. I have developed a real friendship with the director, Dominique Schilling and the producer, Caroline Risberg. We will be friends long after this movie has past.
I found a commercial you were featured in from 1967 for Mr. Clean cleaning products & one from 1981 promoting Seneca Apple Juice. How have advertisements changed during the span of your career?
Wow, these were hard commercials to make. I had to change my dress so many times for Mr. Clean, it got very tiring. But I kept thinking, if I just do this for one day my whole week will be paid for. A fun fact about the Seneca commercial, my kids were actually in it with me. It was great because they were in college and could pick up a quick buck. Jim, my son, said his line so many times that he began to sound foreign so they gave it to my daughter, Ellen and she got it right on the first try.
Marion Ross Mr. Clean Commercial —
Marion Ross Seneca Apple Juice Commercial —
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you.
I am a compulsively nice person. It proves I’m kind of careful and don’t want to wreck my life. In college I did run off and elope with my husband much to everyone’s amazement. So I can do rash things from time to time but pretty much what you see is what you get.
What is on the horizon for Marion Ross?
I am actually recording 2 lines for the Big Bang Theory today, very exciting! I am also going to be in a Christmas movie called Signed, Sealed and Delivered for Christmas. Projects pop up for week on a weekly basis though, so I never know what a phone call will bring.
Jason Jack Underwood is a professionally trained photographer and filmmaker. You can learn more about him by clicking here.