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Interview : Ellen Barkin

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Returns to the screen in “Oceans Thirteen”


Ellen Barkin is one of today’s most gifted actresses. Since her debut in the 80s classic “Diner” she’s also been rather in-demand, too. Among her many film credits – “Tender Mercies” (1983), “Sea of Love” (1989), “Switch” (1991) and “This Boy’s Life” (1992). Her first major movie in quite some time is the star-studded “Ocean’s Thirteen”; she talks to Moviehole about the experience.

What’s it like to work with the cast of Ocean’s Thirteen?

ELLEN BARKIN: I am lucky enough to be with these amazing human beings, all of them.

What’s it like being the only girl?

ELLEN BARKIN: Yeah. I’m it. I was it. It would be like what anyone would imagine. It’s pretty great. And they were wonderful to me, took very good care of me, and I think were very happy to see me because I was it. I was the only game in town really.

You’re a very lucky girl.

ELLEN BARKIN: So lucky, so lucky.

Did you have any input into your costumes in the film?

ELLEN BARKIN: Well, a woman named Loretta Scott designed my whole wardrobe and actually did my wardrobe for the press for the movie as well. So, there’s a kind of running theme. But we spoke to Stephen [Soderbergh] about it and there were conscious decisions made not to have her in a suit and the idea of just like zipping up a dress and going to work and no accessories, you know, just a watch.

She’s a no-nonsense woman.

ELLEN BARKIN: It’s a no-nonsense, girl yeah, in a no-nonsense wardrobe, except for the fact that there are shades of this aggressive color, and aggressively fitted, shall we say.

Now, of course, the film is about Vegas. Do you gamble at all?

ELLEN BARKIN: I do. I do.

What’s your game of choice?

ELLEN BARKIN: I play blackjack and certain of my cast members taught me how to play Hold ‘Em.

Let me guess: Would that be Don Cheadle?

ELLEN BARKIN: Don gave me some pointers. It would be Matt [Damon]. Matt really taught me the ropes. But they taught me how to play poker. I had no idea how to play poker. So, I just started from the beginning.

So, what’s the first lesson?

ELLEN BARKIN: Not to bet.

That’s the first tip?

ELLEN BARKIN: Yes.

Interesting.

ELLEN BARKIN: Don’t get so excited and bet when you have no cards. And also: what’s a good hand and what’s not a good hand – because I think two threes and I get really excited. And Matt’s like, ‘You’re not putting money in on two threes.’ And I watched Don play in Vegas. I was in the room and I watched him play. He’s good.

Do you have a good poker face?

ELLEN BARKIN: I think so, yeah.

You see all the poker games televised and they’re all wearing sunglasses.

ELLEN BARKIN: Yeah. I don’t think that should be allowed. But they have other tells. That’s what they’re called: tells.

Tells?

ELLEN BARKIN: Signs when you’re bluffing. They’re tells.

You’re sounding like an expert now.

ELLEN BARKIN: No, I’m not. In fact, Jerry Weintraub was really kind and set me up with a former world champion, the guy who has a bracelet, to give me some poker lessons. And I got really excited and then, at the end, I said, ‘Okay, I’m going in the room,’ and he said, ‘You can’t go in the room. They’re not going to let you play. You’re too slow.’ So, I could only play in the private games.

There was an Ocean’s Club on set where everyone hung out.

ELLEN BARKIN: Yeah, of course. Yeah, everybody had a card.

So what did you do at the Ocean’s Club?

ELLEN BARKIN: It wasn’t a gym or anything, I could tell you that. There was a nice room. It looked like a little ‘60s vibe, ‘50s vibe, with leather booths and wonderful meals and, at the end of the day, we would go in and have a cocktail and there was a poker table in the middle and two big flat screen TVs. Stephen would sit in the corner and edit the movie on his computer and everybody was there.

It sounds like a really good set to be on.

ELLEN BARKIN: It was the best. It was wonderful. And from someone who hadn’t worked in a while, it was just a great way to come back to work. I mean, it’s not always like this.

So, how far did you get into the script until you knew you were going to take this part?

ELLEN BARKIN: Oh, no. I didn’t read the script. I took the part over the phone. Jerry Weintraub called me up and said, ‘How’d you like to be the girl in Ocean’s Thirteen? I said, ‘You’re on. Let’s go.’ And then I read it.

You have a lot of trust in this man.

ELLEN BARKIN: You know this man cast me in Diner. I have an enormous amount of trust in him and he’s been very good to me throughout the last 25 years. Really good, especially lately, and I also did a cameo in Twelve, which Stephen promises me will be in the box set.

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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