BetteBack: Big Business – Blue Screens and Crying

Bette Midler doubles fun as twins in `Big Business
Article from:Chicago Sun-Times Article date:June 5, 1988 Author: Peter Keough

LOS ANGELES Bette Midler, Touchstone Pictures‘ hottest property, star of the mega-hits “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986), “Ruthless People” (1986) and “Outrageous Fortune” (1987), sat at the table, clutching an empty baby bottle. Ostensibly, she was promoting her new film, “Big Business,” a comedy co-starring Lily Tomlin (opening Friday in Chicago). But her mind seemed elsewhere. Sophie, her daughter, was gone.

“She’s having lunch,” Midler said. “She’s an 18-month-old,” she said, in a tone suggesting that her thoughts were perhaps out to lunch with her firstborn.

Reminded of a quote attributed to her by Premiere magazine, in which she unfavorably compared her own spontaneous approach to acting with Tomlin’s more studied method, Midler at once snapped back into the situation. “Strike that comment out,” she said, an eyebrow archly raised. “Buy up all those copies of Premiere magazine!”

In fact, Midler’s part in “Big Business” has been, with the possible exception of motherhood, her most challenging role, or roles, to date. She plays Sadie Ratliff, the poor rural twin, and Sadie Shelton, the rich urban twin, two halves of a set of identical twins separated at birth and paired mistakenly with the divided halves of another set, Rose Ratliff/Shelton, played by Tomlin.

“I was concerned about the two characters being different,” Midler said. “I focused on those differences, but always the the idea that the core of the two was the same – graspingness, an ineffable longing for material wealth, which is tempered by the different environments they’re from.”

To aid her in playing the parts, Midler did some twin research. The results were contradictory and not very useful. “There’s a lot written about twins, about how close they are, or how different they are. I remember one set of twins from when I was in high school. They looked identical – one was sort of a vaguer copy of the other – but they were completely different otherwise. I used them a little bit in my portrayals.

“But in subsequent readings, I discovered these other twins, these guys who were separated at birth and later reunited. They both drank the same kind of beer, they both married women named Kathy. So then I started to think, well, gee, did I do this right?”

If laughter is any indication, then Midler needn’t worry. As the rich Sadie in particular, she unleashes some classic Midleresque lines. Some examples: Confronting an employee clad in a garish red dress, she remarks: “Is this the way we come to office? You look like a blood clot.” Or, meeting with her identical twin for the first time: “My God! It’s me in a bad haircut!”

This twin meeting twins sequence, done with a variety of special effects including split screen, blue screen and a new computerized process called Vistaflex, proved to be the most trying for Midler. Nearly overwhelmed by the technical process, she acted unconsciously, on pure instinct.

“What was on my mind?” she repeated incredulously. “On my mind? I couldn’t remember my name. I was working with a blue screen. I was talking to a wall! It was so confusing. I was crying. The first day we used blue screen, I cried. I said, `You’ve got the wrong girl.’ How did I do it? I don’t know how. That stuff was the hardest part.”

After the blue screen and other high-tech tortures, the rest of the stunts, such as milking a cow while yodeling, came pretty easily. “That was simple mechanics,” said Midler, demonstrating her deft udder technique. “I was a little frightened that the cow was going to step on me. But it was a good cow. Wasn’t it a good cow?”

One challenge, though, that Midler welcomed and which proved most rewarding was the opportunity to work with Tomlin, whom Midler has known and admired for more than a dozen years. “I was glad I could make her laugh,” Midler said. “Because she sure makes me laugh. Usually on the set, people are kind of reserved. But she just jumped in. It was a very nice camaraderie, and I think it shows up on the screen. I would really like to work with her again.

“When we talked about it (future collaborations),” Midler deadpanned, “we decided we were going to do a whole series of films called `Boobs.’ You know, boobs like in morons, crazy people. Fruitcakes. And we could have, like, a whole series, a `Boobs’ series – `Boobs on Broadway,’ `Boobs on the Moon.’

“I thought it was a good idea,” Midler said. “But they (the studio) thought `boobs’ was an offensive word. The public might misinterpret it and be turned off. So there goes our career with boobs.”

Seriously, though, Midler has been delighted with her association with Touchstone Pictures, an affiliate of the Walt Disney Co. “I cannot emphasize how much confidence I have in the Disney group,” she said. “They have not made a mistake yet.

“For example, at first I didn’t want to touch this picture. They gave it to me years ago, and I couldn’t even get through the first draft. But the last revision clarified what was really there so I said, `Well . . .’ and they were adamant. So you know me, I agreed to do it. With an association like this one, you just have confidence.”

As happy as Midler is with her studio, she does have one complaint. “We don’t have any day care at Disney,” she said. “That’s something we are working on. It’s surprising, because Paramount has a great big day care. And we don’t have any. And they make all their money off me.

“Being a working mother is terrifying,” Midler said. “You just don’t have a single second to yourself. You finally sit down and you’re up again. I feel very sorry for all the women who don’t have the help I’ve had. I’m surprised the government has not taken a stand on providing day-care assistance because so much of the workforce is in this position.”

It’s so difficult to balance motherhood with a career that Midler has had second thoughts about the latter. “Work and motherhood don’t fit together very easily, I have to confess,” she said. “I like being a mother better than I like my job. I mean I like my job. But I like my baby.

“I’m doing a movie now – `Beaches‘ – a drama about two girlfriends with music in it that’s real departure for me. Then I have one more picture to do to fulfill my contract. After that, I might renew for three more. I don’t know. I’d like three more babies, too – a picture, a baby, a picture, a baby . . .”

Midler pondered the prospect a moment, glancing at the baby bottle before her.

“I do like them, I found out,” she said, referring presumably to babies, not movies. “You’re always surprised. You think, `Well, maybe they’re all right.’ But then when they’re yours . . .”

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