I recently had the chance to interview Hayley Mills, an Academy Award-, Golden Globe-, and BAFTA-winning actor who is currently continuing her successful and diverse 60-year acting career with the all-women’s Off-Broadway show Party Face.
Mills performed in Disney’s 1960 Pollyanna (Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, BAFTA nomination) and 1961’s The Parent Trap (Golden Globe nomination), as well as other films such as Tiger Bay (BAFTA Award) and Whistle Down the Wind (BAFTA nomination). She has also starred in theater productions such as The King and I and Pride and Prejudice, to name a few.
Keep reading for the actor’s thoughts on everything from Party Face and working with an all-women cast to the ramifications and timeliness of the #MeToo movement!
Can you get started by telling us a bit about what drew you to Party Face as a production? What have been some of the most memorable features of the play for you personally so far?
The first time I read the play I laughed out loud, and the fact that it was set in Ireland made all the characters even more identifiable (even though they are universal). I love the country and the people, their wonderful sense of humor, intelligence, and warmth. The Irish and New Yorkers have a lot in common.
The writer, Isobel Mahon, is also an actress and a psychoanalyst and has written a play that could easily have been a family drama – the root of the story is a tragedy and the struggle of all of the characters – but she, in a very Irish way, has written a comedy. In the middle of life’s many heartaches, they laugh, they’re unwittingly funny; they’re real, and like all of us.
Was working with an all-female cast on the set of Party Face a novel experience for you? How do you think this environment affected (either positively or negatively) your experiences on set compared to those of previous productions you’ve been involved with?
Working in a wholly female environment was a novel experience and maybe we were just lucky, but it was totally harmonious right from the very beginning. Human beings are human beings in all their complexities, male or female, but there was a wonderful feeling of sisterhood, of support, and empathy among the whole company – not only among the actors, because everyone was female, from the writer Isobel Mahon to the director Amanda Bearse to the stage management and company management. The lone male was the set designer, Jeff Ridenour.
Amanda Bearse has a brilliant sense of comedy … she was enormously helpful to me. She gave me courage; comedy is much more difficult than it would seem. It’s a precision art; the smallest inflection, or tone of voice, movement and judgement, and the laugh is lost, or found! It takes great energy and commitment; it’s much harder to do than drama, especially if you’re not feeling well!
What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced as an actor, and particularly as a woman actor?
Playing Mrs. Anna in The King and I was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and one of the most exciting and fulfilling. I did the show for two years. I worked on my singing for six months before rehearsals started, but I was always terrified. But fear and excitement are closely aligned, like happiness and sorrow both make you cry.
The music transported me every night, and during the run of the American tour, I met the man I have been blessed to share my life with for the last 20 years.
I have never found balancing my career and my family easy and have not always done either wisely or that well. Being a mother takes the same total commitment that one’s career demands.
As someone who has been involved with acting and production from an early age, what changes have you noticed occurring in the industry and particularly in its treatment of women? Are they overwhelmingly positive or negative?
The film industry has become very “corporate.” When I started my career, the heads of studios were creative individuals like Walt Disney, people with vision. Now the financial rewards from movies can be so mind-bogglingly vast that financiers and lawyers are often making the creative decisions. Profit, not art or truth, [is] the driving force.
[Additionally,] in virtually every film today actresses are expected to take their clothes off. I feel very fortunate that that wasn’t nearly so common when I was a young woman.
As I’m sure you know, there has recently been an intense spotlight focused on the treatment of women in the media and in acting due to the numerous sexual misconduct allegations that were raised against men such as Harvey Weinstein and others. What is your response to this recent surge in attention given to movements such as the #MeToo movement or Time’s Up?
The #MeToo movement has the power of an idea whose time has come. It is tremendous and the impact of it has only just begun. The ripple effect will go on and on across the world. It’s very exciting; many things will never be the same again. It will empower women everywhere; the status quo is changing. It’s one of the most positive things that we are witnessing in our lifetimes. It will produce a far more egalitarian society in the arts, where women have been exploited for decades, and in workplaces everywhere.
On a lighter note, what are your plans post-Party Face? Can we expect to see you in anything else soon?
One of the things about the business I’ve been so lucky to be in all my life is the total unpredictability of it – you just never know what’s coming next. But I do know that I shall be going home to my children, little and large.
Family and the people you love [are] far and away the most important things in life; career, success, money, esteem, all of it, pale by comparison.
Thank you so much again and best of luck on your performances!
Enter to win TWO free tickets to a performance of Party Face here.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter