February 9, 1999
Mary Kay Place had to chill out after her most successful film
By Randy Myers
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Professionally, life couldn't have been better for actress Mary Kay Place in 1983.
She'd recently put to rest her country-singing character on the campy Norman Lear soap opera "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman," had jumped headfirst into theatrical movies like New York, New York, and Private Benjamin, and just started filming a little picture called The Big Chill.
Yet the Tulsa native felt awful.
"I was totally fried," says Place.
The joyous experience on Chill, which recently was re-released on video to celebrate its 15th anniversary, helped ease the pain, but Place realized something wasn't right and she needed to confront it immediately.
"I didn't understand the concept of restoration," Place remembers. "Every moment was filled with work. There wasn't a moment of stillness."
So after Chill was released and lavished with adoration from audiences and critics alike, Place slammed the brakes on her career. For 10 years, the actress who played a workaholic attorney who longs to have a child in Chill slowed down the pace. She continued to work in films, but not with the rigor or zest she once possessed.
"My body shut down and I had no energy," she says. To regain the "oomph" in her life and in turn her career, Place embarked on what she calls a "spiritual journey." It was a difficult time for Place: She entered therapy and uncovered emotions that came bubbling to the surface. But it was a soul-searching period she believes helped save her life.
The decision to lay low right after the release of Chill might have cost her a marquee-making career like those of castmates Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt and Jeff Goldblum, but Place is comfortable and takes pride in her career. Place has certainly carved out a niche in the independent film industry, having starred in some outstanding features, including Citizen Ruth, Manny and Lo, and Eye of God.
She counts her experience on Chill as being one of her best, but she also had a great time working with director Francis Ford Coppola on his version of John Grisham's The Rainmaker. She was almost unrecognizable as the mother of Matt Damon's dying client in that film.
As for the possibility of a Chill sequel, Place says it's unlikely, unless director Lawrence Kasdan wants to do it and comes up with a great script.
Kasdan and the Chill cast do stay in touch, though: "There was definitely a bond that formed" between all of them, she says.
The Big Chill is available on DVD and VHS. The DVD version features an excellent 50-minute documentary on the making of the movie, including interviews with cast members.