Beloved screen icon Hayley Mills, of The Parent Trap and Pollyanna fame, is back on the New York stage with Party Face, a female driven comedy by Isobel Mahon, in which Mills plays Carmel, the not-always-very-nice mother of Mollie Mae (Gina Costigan), a woman trying to make sense of her life after attempting suicide. Mills delivers her lines with gusto, and her comedic timing could very well spark fireworks, but there’s also something quite moving about the moments in which we see Carmel listening to others. It’s like she talks only because she’s afraid to truly be heard. Even though Mills is best known for the Disney heroines of her youth, she’s the rare actor who transitioned into having a successful career as an adult. She’s done plays, musicals, comedy, drama and as shown in Party Face she always has another card up her sleeve. We talked to the legendary actress about her impeccable comedic timing, being Pollyanna in a dire world, and how fate has often been her ally.
Carmel is such a fun character. She’s not always easy to like though, so I’d like to hear how you fell in love with her.
I was touched by her, I understood her. She also made me laugh and I loved the idea of doing a comedy. I loved the whole play, it wasn’t just the character, although I really enjoy playing her.
How did you perfect your comedic timing? Is there a secret formula?
No, there isn’t. I just decide when to say a line or not. It’s not written in stone either, comedy is a very elusive thing, sometimes it’s like trying to grab mercury that’s running around all over the place. Comedy is much harder than drama, it’s a precision art, it takes energy, breath control, physical, mental and emotional control. If you raise or drop your voice just a bit you can kill or make a laugh, it’s such a delicate balance all the time.Comedy is like trying to grab mercury that’s running around all over the place - Hayley Mills Click To Tweet
The play touches on issues like suicide, but it remains rather lighthearted most of the time. What’s it like to do a play that combines the dark with joy in such a way?
That’s life, isn’t it? In the middle of a row something strikes you as hysterically funny and you find you’re laughing at the most inappropriate moments. It’s very human but it’s also very Irish. One of the things I love about this play is that it’s written by an Irish woman, it’s set in Ireland and the characters are so Irish. I think the Irish and New Yorkers are very similar, it’s no accident there are so many of their pubs around. The people in the play have embraced life, but in Carmel’s case she resists it, but she realizes she can’t get away with that indefinitely. She struggles to maintain the status quo, she’s dealt with so much and she’s got a lot of undeveloped potential in her.
Given the times we’re living in, has comedy helped you stay grounded?
Not specifically. There’s a movie I’ve seen a few times, Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, which has a similar approach to life and seeing it from a comedic side. It’s wonderful! Dustin Hoffman and Adam Sandler are so funny in it. In my mind I also draw on things from my dad, who was very funny.
So who would be the ideal guests at your party?
[Laughs] Stephen Fry, Shirley MacLaine...this isn’t including family I suppose?
It’s your party, you can invite whoever you want!
Well in that case, I’ll have my entire family, Stephen Fry and Shirley MacLaine.
I grew up watching your father’s work and he was incredible. What did his work teach you in your own craft?
When you look into my father’s face on the screen you see a real person. You see the truth in his eyes. He had such a love and enthusiasm for the business, it energized him through his entire life. He died at the age of 97 and he never became cynical about the business or the people in it, sometimes he was disappointed but he never became cynical.
People often accuse me of being a Pollyanna, and nowadays I think we could all use being a little more like her. Don’t you agree?
Yes, there’s always options. We have a choice in how we interpret every single situation. Pollyanna would always choose the positive and what’s wrong with that? It’s not about ignoring reality, but about how you interpret it. Even in dire circumstances something positive comes out that you might never have expected.When you look into my father’s face on the screen you see a real person. - Hayley Mills Click To Tweet
Knowing now what you know about life, what advice would you give Susan and Sharon from The Parent Trap?
As a parent you never stop learning, I wish I had the experience and wisdom I have now as a grandmother, when I was a young mother. When I was young I did some things right and some wrong due to my ignorance. Having said that, my two sons are wise, loving parents, they both have two children of their own. Life is a constant process and the older you get the more you learn, especially through the hard times. You don’t learn much when everything is hunky dory, but when we’re being challenged.
What characters are on your bucket list now?
I’ve always believed that what comes to me next is what’s meant to come to me next. I’ve always been a bit nervous about instigating things, perhaps I’m deflecting fate a bit. What’s destiny after all? My life has always been like this, I was taken up by fate, I wasn’t the driver or motivator, things happened to me. I’m not saying this is a good attitude but it’s what’s ingrained in me. I’ve done things because they’ve come to me and I take it as a sign that I should do them, some things come to you that you don’t know if you can do, but you do them anyway and those are the ones that really excite you. I hadn’t done a comedy in a very long time, learning lines doesn’t get any easier as you get older, so doing Party Face was nerve wracking for instance. I’m happy it’s turned out so well.
For more information and tickets to Party Face click here.