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Libby Villari talks ‘Boyhood,’ career

Posted 7:45am on Saturday, Aug. 02, 2014

FORT WORTH In Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s unique movie that was filmed over 12 years using the same cast, Libby Villari plays a role simply billed as “Grandma,” the character’s relationship to protagonist Mason.

It’s a small role, three scenes during a 163-minute movie. The tricky part about it: The third scene was filmed eight years after the second one.

The gap was long enough that, even know she knew from the beginning that this was a 12-year project, she wasn’t even sure she was needed anymore -- until she ran into casting director Beth Sepko at a party last year in Austin.

“She said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad I’m running into you. because we need you next week,’ ” says Villari, a nearly 40-year North Texas resident. “Now, I hadn’t heard from them in eight years. I’d filmed the the first three years, and I thought they’d killed me or replaced me. [Laughs] I was thrilled that they were going to have me back.”

When filming started, Villari says, her life was in a bad place -- she’d had breast cancer, and underwent a double mastectomy and had gained weight because she wasn’t able to exercise. Her son was going through a custody battle over Villari’s granddaughter, and Villari was involved in that.

She bonded with her co-star, Ethan Hawke (their on-screen relationship is less cordial) during the audition because he was also going through a custody battle -- and because she lives on Eagle Mountain Lake, where Hawke had spent summers visiting his grandparents during his own boyhood.

Now, at 63, she’s healthy and the stress is behind her. “I think I’m the only one in the film who looks younger at the end than I do in the beginning,” she quips.

It may be a small role, but Villari has some great lines, most of them based in Grandma’s uneasy relationship with her son--in-law, played by Hawke. In a graduation-party scene late in the movie, especially, she gets in some pretty good digs.

Villari has done character-acting roles in movies and TV since 1985; she’s best known for her role as Lucy Rodell, the no-nonsense mayor of Dillon, Texas, in the Friday Night Lights TV series. According to Internet Movie Database, she appeared in 20 episodes -- all of them shot during her eight years away from Boyhood.

She didn’t try out for the FNL role; instead, she auditioned to play the wife of Buddy Garrity, the football-team booster played by Dallas’ Brad Leland, whom she’d known for a long time. Series creator/executive producer Peter Berg told Villari that her audition was great, but then she didn’t hear anything for weeks.

“Finally, I called my agent and said, ‘I know I had a really good audition; could you at least get some feedback?’,” Villari says. The agent replied: “Oh, didn’t I tell you? Peter’s been in L.A. for two weeks trying to get them to use you as the mayor.” His persuasion worked -- even though the mayor was written as a short, bald Hispanic man.

She’s also worked with such directors as Clint Eastwood, Robert Rodriguez and Robert Altman; she had roles in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Boys Don’t Cry, and appeared in several different roles during Walker, Texas Ranger’s run .

Most of the roles are small, but Villari makes an impact; in one case, Eastwood’s A Perfect World, she was left on the cutting-room floor, and received an apologetic letter from the director.

“He wrote me a letter and told me how much he loved my work, but that he wasn’t able to use the scene, and he just wanted me to know before I went to the theater,” she says, adding that he sent her a copy of the dropped scene. “I can’t think of any other director I worked for who would do that -- except maybe Rick.

Villari moved to North Texas in the mid-’70s from California at the invitation of some California friends who had jobs at Burlington-Northern. Land was cheap, so Villari, her then-husband and about 15 other friends made the move, bought 17 acres in Springtown, and formed a commune they dubbed “Rancho Arriba” because it was on the highest hill in Parker County.

Already in her 20s at the time, Villari wanted to go to college and major in journalism. She hadn’t really thought about acting, but she took classes at Weatherford Junior College, which had just started and oral-interpretation class. She won best student in the class and, at 27, received a scholarship offer from North Texas State (now UNT). But she had to do some acting to get the scholarship.

“I’d never acted in my life,” she says. “I don’t think I’d even seen a play. But I went in and auditioned and I got it. I thought, ‘This is crazy; I don’t know how to be an actor. But you’re going to pay for my school? Yes, I’ll be happy to be a theater major.’ ”

Her first professional job came at Fort Worth’s Stage West, where she played iconcoclatic comedian Lenny Bruce’s wife in Lenny. An agent happened to come to the show and signed her, which is when the movie and TV work began. Her experience working on-camera led her to develop a class in which she taught stage actors how to act for the screen.

One of the people she helped was Fort Worth’s Charles Baker, who went on to play the scene-stealing role of Skinny Pete in Breaking Bad (Baker has since had recurring roles in The Blacklist and Murder in the First, and has several movies in the works).

“I gave him about seven lessons and said, ‘You’re ready,’ ” she says. “And now look at him. I’m so glad he’s in L.A.”

Villari is currently filming Occupy, Texas, a movie due for release in 2015 and co-starring fellow Texans Peri Gilpin, Janine Turner -- and Lorelei Linklater, Richard’s daughter, who plays Villari’s granddaughter in Boyhood.

“I hadn’t seen her since last year, when we finished ,” Villari says. “She is so different than she was as a child. She was really gregarious and mouthy and precocious, and now she’s really a thoughtful, quiet artist. I was so glad to see her, because Rick’s family, they’re just extraordinary, down-to-earth people. It feels like you’re having a cookout with them or something.”

The reunion with Lorelei was sweet, and she’s also hoping for a reunion with Linklater -- on another movie, or maybe just in another setting.

I hope we’re going to the Oscars,” she says. “When I saw Rick at a screening a couple weeks ago in Austin, he was joking about it. ... But he’ll have a nomination, there’s no doubt about that.”

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth will screen Boyhood Aug. 1-3 and Aug. 8-10. Showtimes are 6 and 8:45 p.m. Fridays, 4:15 p.m. Saturdays, and 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $6-9. The movie is also playing at the AMC Parks at Arlington and AMC Grapevine Mills.

Robert Philpot, 817-390-7872 Twitter: @rphilpot

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