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The “Divine Secrets” of Fionnula Flanagan and Shirley Knight

Like their counterparts in Callie Khouri’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Fionnula Flanagan and Shirley Knight were recently in Atlanta for a screening of a significant picture. No, not Gone With the Wind, which the Ya-Yas attended in 1939, but rather their own film, a cinematic retelling of Rebecca Wells’ best-selling novel. Before the show, the actresses chatted with me about guy movies, the beautiful South, and the secrets women keep from their men. Below, their answers to assorted questions.

filmcritic.com: You star in one of the most anticipated ‘chick flicks’ of the year. Tell me, what’s you favorite ‘guy flick’?

Fionnula Flanagan: Oh, my favorite guy movie? Well, we were just having a conversation a little while ago, and I would have to say that it’s a tie between Apocalypse Now and a wonderful Norwegian film called Emmyng, which is a terrific big-budget comedy, but there are so many wonderful guy movies, it’s hard to choose.

Shirley Knight: Oh, that’s interesting. Well, I certainly liked a film I saw just last year called Memento, I thought that was a wonderful film. I don’t know if that’s considered a ‘guy flick’ or not, but it was about a man. I’m not really fond of those kind of shoot ’em up or blow ’em up types of movies, so I can’t really help you there. I’ll say that I think my favorite film about men, too, was Apocalypse Now. That’s a great, great, great movie.

Can you share with me three adjectives that best describe the women of the Sisterhood?

Flanagan: Loyal, authoritative, and funny. That’s the roles. They’re wonderful actresses who play them, and I was honored to be working with Knight, Maggie Smith, and Ellen Burstyn. But I think it’s also the roles. In another context, I mean, these women run their families the way generals run armies. In another context, these women would be, and are, running corporations.

Knight: The roles themselves… I would have to say drinkers, carousers, and sentimentalists.

How do you think a girl can successfully convince her significant other to take her to see Ya-Ya Sisterhood?

Flanagan: Underneath all those jokes, and there are a lot of laughs in the film, there’s a very dark current running, which is a very important kind of story, that we don’t get real with who we are. We never find the light, and we never set our children free. However, more than that, I think for the guys, and nobody’s saying this … There’s a reason why the women who read this book did not give it to their husbands to read, they gave it to their female friends to read. It’s almost like a conspiracy. And I think it’s because in this film, the guys find out how the women run them. I really do! You watch these women running their families, running their friends, and they send the man out … It’s a very interesting set up.

Knight: I would say that the best thing girls can do would be to tell their boyfriends that they will learn a lot more about women, so they might as well go. Every man needs to know as much as he can about women, so this would be helpful. It will be extremely useful to men.

Share with me one divine secret you’re currently holding.

Flanagan: (laughs) But then it wouldn’t be a secret!

Knight: Honestly, I have the secret to life, and it’s only two words: ‘Be nice.’ That’s it. I hope more people follow that advice.

Flanagan: I just finished a picture with Bruce Willis, it will be out next year, and the title is a secret.

Isn’t it entitled Hostile Rescue?

Flanagan: Ah, but they changed it. But it’s a secret.

Who would you cast for the inevitable Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Brotherhood?

Knight: That’s an interesting question.

Flanagan: For four Ya-Ya Brothers? Well, probably Ethan Hawke. Let’s see, actors who I think are stunning young guys. Um … (long pauses). Where are the names when I need them?

Knight: I would have to cast four of my favorites. So I would cast James Mason, Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart, and Peter O’Toole.

Flanagan: We’re talking about brothers, right? Any age?

It could be any age.

Flanagan: Well, then Bruce Willis. He’s one of my favorite comedic actors. He’s a wonderful comedy actor. So definitely put him in there. And I would cast Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman, actually. They’re both actors with secrets behind their eyes. And there’s an Italian actor who played with Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal, um, Giancarlo Giannini. Excellent actor.

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