BetteBack February 21, 1990: Trini Alvarado Talks About Working With Bette Midler In ‘Stella’ And That Singing Scene

Medicine Hat News
February 21, 1990

Premiere of "Stella"

When Trini Alvarado went to do a screen test with Bette Midler, she certainly didn’t expect to end up singing an impromptu duet with The Divine Miss M.

Nor, when she won the part, did she expect to draw actual blood during a crucial fight scene with the formidable star.

It just goes to show that with Midler anything can happen.

Alvarado’s resume includes years of experience in New York theatre and a raft of guest TV credits. Yet, she was still nervous about trying out for the role of Midler’s daughter in Stella.

“But Bette put me very much at ease,” Alvarado told Southam News in an interview. “She was very much another human being. There was no distance between us.”

However, her tryout session with Midler didn’t end with the screen test.

“She asked me to come and sit next to her and talk to her while she was having her makeup removed.

She was asking questions about myself, about what I’d being doing.”

Alvarado told Midler she’s recently worked in an off-Broadway revival of the musical, Godspell.

“Oh, I hate that show!” exclaimed Midler. Then: “Sing something from it!”

Alvarado balked, reluctant to do something Midler couldn’t stand. They discussed other popular music and discovered they both liked The Beatles.

“So we ended up singing this Beatles song together,” Alvarado recalls.

And she ended up getting the part in Stella.

It was that impromptu duet that clinched matters for her. Director John Erman said later it revealed exactly the kind of magic and spontaneity he needed for Stella’s crucial scenes.

In fact, he was so impressed that he had a new scene written so the two characters could harmonize Califomia Dreamin’ together.

The soft-spoken Alvarado has been performing for 14 of her 23 years, and she boasts an eclectic background. She was playing Goldilocks in NBC’s Unicorn Tales at the age of nine, she’s done musicals as varied as Godspell and a new version of The Diary of Anne Frank. She’s worked twice on the Public Broadcasting System’s prestigious American Playhouse series. She’s even played the wife of mobster A1 Capone’s notorious henchman, Frank Nitti, in an ABC Movie of the Week.

But in Stella, she’s had to play a teenager and convince moviegoers that in the early scenes she’s only supposed to be 14.

There’s also the tough challenge of finding contemporary relevance in an updated version of a vintage tearjerker about an unwed mother from the wrong side of the tracks who sacrifices all so her daughter can live the good life with her wealthy father.

Alvarado gently but firmly defends Stella, saying it can work in the context of today.

“I know the idea of someone sacrificing all for love doesn’t seem to be the type of behavior we would see today. But the reason it does work is that we can believe in the character of Stella and in her relationship with the daughter.

“The way I look at it – Stella probably sees her life as a dead end, and she’s feeling really desperate because of the way her daughter’s life is going.

“She doesn’t want the girl to end up the same way she did, and she has this feeling that all she can do now is drag her daughter down further. Her act of love therefore is in letting Jenny go – no, it’s more than that, it’s pushing her away for fear of causing more harm to her.”

Alvaradd says scenes requiring emotional involvement can be difficult. But the ones in Stella were especially tough because of the topsy-turvy nature of the relationship between mother and daughter. In one bitter conft^ontation scene, she accidentally struck Midler – and she was appalled.

“It was a mistake.”

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