Estelle Parsons makes it abundantly clear that she's a theater person, and yet she holds a place of honor in the world of movies. Not only was she in an American classic, Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but also the only member of its cast to win an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress), even though Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard also received nominations. (She was nominated again the following year for her role in Paul Newman's Rachel, Rachel.) This paradox isn't lost on Ms. Parsons, who spoke with Cinematical via phone recently, but she seems amused by it all. To her, it was fun, but it's just a footnote compared to her love of the stage. Today, at an imperturbable 80 years of age, she acts, directs plays, works often with Al Pacino and loves her long walks in the woods. Warner Home Video releases the new, remastered Bonnie and Clyde DVD on March 25.

Cinematical: Have you seen
Bonnie and Clyde recently?

Estelle Parsons: Yes. Gee, I just loved it. I think I saw it on the 30th anniversary. And I saw it again now. It's just so intense. It was wonderful. It was like looking at something I wasn't in.

Cinematical: How did your role in the movie come about? Did Warren Beatty cast you?

EP: No! I was working for Arthur Penn at the Berkshire Drama Festival and I did "Skin of Our Teeth," which Penn had directed in an experimental way. It meant so much. I discovered a great gift with him, which I didn't even know I had. So I was high as a kite on all this good work I had been doing. I was so excited! I was riding high! I was learning all kinds of things about myself. I was going to join a repertory company in San Francisco, and then it fell through, and Arthur said: "You have to read this script." I thought, "This is one of those secondary roles." And I kept reading and it kept getting better and better. Plus I had worked with Gene Hackman before and loved him.


Cinematical: Bonnie and Clyde strikes me as one of those few times when all the pieces came together for the right movie at the right time, rather than one artist being responsible for the whole picture. Casablanca is another. Would you agree?

EP: It certainly happened with Bonnie and Clyde. Warren had never produced before and he was determined to succeed. It was a small movie, and no one made much money. Warren and Arthur were arguing all the time. We were ready to shoot, and then these "discussions" would occur. It was: "This movie is going to be a success or die trying." It was a phenomenon. I don't think there are many people left who remember that time, but it hit a nerve. It was the first movie that stood up and said that criminals are glamorous and the cops are going to be put down. People were rising up against the establishment. You couldn't hope to have that happen in something you're in. It's nice to have a successful movie, but this was so far beyond that.

Cinematical: Blanche and Bonnie are constantly at one another's throats? How did you and Faye Dunaway get along off camera?

EP: We were all just happy actors doing our thing. It wasn't an easy movie to act in. I don't think we hung around and had dinner and drinks. We basically worked and went to bed. It was 12 weeks and we were in Dallas in a motel. It was work, work, work all the time.

Cinematical: You know, Blanche could have easily been unbearably annoying, but you really gave her some soul. She's really funny. It's a terrific performance.

EP: Thank you. You just get up there and this character leaps out of you. That's what happened to me on Bonnie and Clyde.

Cinematical: In retrospect, it doesn't seem fair that this movie won only two Oscars. What are your memories of the awards?

EP: I wasn't even going to go because I'm very leery of Hollywood and movies. I work in the stage. I was in Tennessee Williams' "The Seven Descents of Myrtle" -- playing Myrtle -- so I wasn't even going to go out. I was in a starring role in a Tennessee Williams play! Warren sent me a ticket and off I went. William Morris assigned one of their agency people to go with me. And it turned out to be Sid Ganis, who is now the president of the Academy! When I won it was like getting a piece of candy for a kid. I just kind of do movies when I get an offer, when I'm not working in the theater. When I came back, my gosh! I walked out on the stage and I got this ovation, and it wouldn't stop. I didn't know what to do! And then after the show, the whole back alley was mobbed with people. But it was fun. I'll never forget it.

Cinematical: Usually winning an Oscar means that the movie offers start flooding in. Didn't that happen?

EP: They did, but they were all to do the same kind of part. I could play the hysterical one. I did get some very nice offers that I was sorry I couldn't take. I wasn't about to give up a theater job to do a movie. I really do love the theater. Nothing compares with facing 700 people.

Cinematical: How did your career as a theater director come about?

EP: I'm really an actress, and these other things where I've directed have just kind of fallen into my lap. I'm doing "Mother Courage" in Santa Fe in October. And I'm going on tour with Brecht's "Measure for Measure." I decided I will just act and it's what I do best. I got into the other stuff because I thought when you got over 40 you should do it. It's fun, but it's just sitting around. I did direct three things with Al Pacino. I like to do experimental work in the theater. We played for the New York City school system. We did the Scottish Play and "Romeo and Juliet" and "As You Like It" with bare minimum staging. Everything I do is all about the acting.

Cinematical: You teamed up with Warren Beatty years later in Dick Tracy (1990). How did that come about? Did you remain friends with him?

EP: No. I live in New York, and I work in the theater and he's always been a film person. I wouldn't say we've ever been really friends. I see Faye from time to time and every once in a while when I'm in California I run into Gene.

Cinematical: I read somewhere that you created, or helped create "The Today Show"?

EP: I was one of 8 people hired before it went on the air. I stayed with it five years. I rose from PA to feature editor to fashion editor and book review editor. And then I went on the air and I became a reporter. I came to New York to sing and get into musicals, and this was my 9 to 5 job. So I kind of had Barbara Walters' program. And all these women came to me: "how did I get in?" It was pioneer days. I really loved it.

Cinematical: You've always said that you like to have a life outside the theater? What does that entail?

EP: It's terrible. I'm married to a lawyer. I have this ordinary life. I spend a lot of time in the woods, trips in a canoe. I am so anxiety ridden, I don't think I could spend my life with actors. I'm from New England. I just get too anxious if I'm around a lot of theater people and they're talking about jobs that I could get or couldn't get. I really started that after I won the Academy Award. All that attention was making me cuckoo. I joined the Appalachian club and learned how to backpack. You don't meet many movie buffs up there!