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Interview: Bette Not Ready To Be A Granny

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Bette Midler: Being a grandparent is great but I’m not ready to be one just yet
Tuesday 28 May 2013 6:00


Bette Midler, 67, has won numerous awards for acting, comedy and singing – notably Wind Beneath My Wings – and plays a granny in film Parental Guidance.

In Parental Guidance, you and Billy Crystal play a married couple who are asked to babysit their grandchildren. What happens? It’s like the Clash Of The Titans. We raised our daughter [played by Marisa Tomei] with no structure. She has brought her own children up with lots of rules and regulations. So there’s tension because we’re very loose and unstructured. The film is fun and quite true to life. Most people are mortified by the way they themselves were raised and look forward to raising their own kids in a completely different way. It also takes a realistic look at families and how parents are striving to achieve balance in their work and personal lives.

What kind of mother were you when your daughter was growing up? I was often shooting movies or working out of town. But when we were all at home, we had dinner together every single night. My husband [performance artist Martin von Haselberg] picked up the slack and has been a fantastic father. He taught our daughter, Sophie [now 27], to speak German because he is German. He was the disciplined one and when I came home, I was the fun parent. We only had one child and she’s happy that she’s an only child. She had a lot of our attention growing up.

What do you think are the most important aspects of parenting? It is important to listen. We always listened to our daughter. We taught her all those important life skills such as cooking. It’s the kind of skill children used to just absorb from their parents. Now it’s getting harder because parents are not there a lot of the time and aren’t cooking at all. Those things are really important to the quality of life.

Was it hard not to spoil her? My daughter is not extravagant. She is frugal and thrifty. We say: ‘Splash out, take a cab.’ But she insists on taking public transport everywhere. When I was growing up we were poor, so my childhood was very different.

Are you looking forward to the day you become a grandmother? No! I’ve forbidden my daughter from getting pregnant until I’m ready. But I will be a good grandma. It’s great being a grandparent because you can have them for a little bit of time and then you are allowed to give them back.

What does family mean to you? Family means having people who actually listen to you and who care whether you had a good or a bad day. Home is your refuge from the outside world. The world can be quite unforgiving.
So to come home and be forgiven and loved unconditionally is a big deal.

What was it like working with Billy? Great, we had never worked together, although we have known each other for a long time. We’re steeped in old showbusiness lore, so we have a lot in common. We both admire comedians such as George Burns and Groucho Marx. When we get together we have debates such as who was better, Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy?

Your character in Parental Guidance wears some very colourful outfits. Is your style similar? Well, Diane is a woman of limited means who tries to keep up with the latest fashions. She really likes colour because it lifts her spirits. I have a really soft spot in my heart for colour. I think it can cure a lot of ills in the world. I get sad when I go out and everyone is dressed in black and grey. Oh my God, it’s so dreary.

Do you like fashion? I love fashion. It’s so much fun if you can afford it. But you can be very fashionable even if you have just a little bit of money, as long as you have creativity. When I buy a nice piece, I have it for years and years. The skirt I’m wearing is 15 years old. Don’t tell anyone!

You’re so slim. Are you disciplined? I try to be careful. You can eat but don’t eat processed food. I don’t drink fizzy drinks because too much caffeine makes me buzz around. I mostly drink water and occasionally a glass of wine. But the key is to move a lot and wear a good undergarment.

As a child, did you always know you wanted to perform? When I was about six, I remember taking part in talent shows. When I was about 14, I had a wonderful teacher and she started pushing me to enter contests and go to festivals. My mother realised I could sing and perform but my dad said: ‘It’s not for you; don’t do it. Be a teacher or a nurse.’ I didn’t listen.

Are you an optimist? No, I am probably the most negative person you’ll ever meet. But I’m energetic. I can get pretty down; the world can be negative but you have to look around and say: ‘How can I help to improve this situation?’ I do a lot of that and it actually keeps me positive.

Do you have any goals or dreams? I’d like to learn French, go to Machu Picchu and cross China.

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