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Eva Marie Saint says stories still bring people to the movies

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Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

There aren't many people whose co-workers have included the likes of Marlon Brando, Cary Grant and Paul Newman, let alone have had a Hollywood career that spanned six decades. But for Academy Award-winning actress Eva Marie Saint, that's all she's ever known.

After winning the Oscar in 1955 for best supporting actress in “On the Waterfront” — her feature film debut — the opportunities to work with some of the biggest icons of the silver screen came one after another. Her accolades include a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for television and film, an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in “People Like Us” (1990) and countless other industry nods.

At 88, Saint is working on the film “Winter's Tale,” and, once again, her co-stars include some of today's hottest actors — Will Smith, Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe. Just don't ask her which gent she feels epitomizes what it means to be a “leading man.” She's never been one to kiss and tell.

Question: You won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 1955. What was going through your mind when they called your name?

Answer: My pregnancy — I had a baby two days later. And I think that day, I had walked down from Macy's to be sure the crib was going to be delivered. That's really where my mind was. I'm not saying it didn't take away from the Oscar, but it was a very heady time between the Oscar and the baby. And I remember the hospital room at Mt. Sinai in New York, it was like a garden – so many flowers for both occasions.

But when some of the names started to be called, we didn't think we'd win anything. My husband said, “Honey, if they call your name, don't just hop up now. Remember the baby.” And when they called my name, I couldn't get up because he had his thumb on my thigh, and I'm counting 8, 10 seconds, because he had told me to count for 10 before you get up. It's kind of exciting when it precedes or follows your name — “Oscar winner” — and I'm so proud of that.

Q: What still attracts people to a movie 40, 50, even 60 years later?

A: It's the story. I don't go to films with all the effects and everything. It just isn't for me and sometimes I guess it does work if there's a story. But sometimes it's in place of a story – it's like a show. But are people moved? Do they remember a relationship? And sometimes they don't really have a story, but they do that in place of it. Not every film was great in the '50s and '60s, but the ones that stay with us are stories about the human condition, and stories between people. So that when people leave the theater, they remember. They've had an experience and they remember what was happening.

Q: Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman — you've worked with some pretty dreamy fellas. In your eyes, who was the epitome of a leading man?

A: I don't have a favorite! See, I can't even go there because Cary Grant epitomized exactly that for “North by Northwest.” And he was perfect for it and in person he was a beautifully charming, sexy guy. And then there was Marlon…

Q: I read that you once said, “America is now obsessed by stars in an unhealthy way.” What did you mean by that?

A: I hope I didn't say “unhealthy,” I just think it's exaggerated. But maybe it always has been. As someone said, when someone is up on the silver screen and you're larger than life — my God, you're so large up there — something happens and that person becomes an idol and people idolize them.

Q: Looking back on your career, is there one role in particular that you enjoyed more?

A: One of my favorites was “All Fall Down.” It's about a family and I play Echo from Toledo and I went to college in Ohio. And when I read the script, I said, “I want to play Echo!” I think it's such an interesting story and I love my character.

Q: Is there anything left on your career bucket list?

A: No, just keep acting. But I really have had one beautiful life — I have a dear husband of 61 years and two beautiful children and three grandchildren. I really have had it all. I've been very fortunate. <

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