TORONTO — Janet Gretzky says her hockey-legend husband and their kids are supportive and proud that she’s starring in a James Franco movie at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Gretzky — whose most high-profile screen role was probably in 1984’s “The Flamingo Kid — walked the red carpet this weekend with The Great One and two of their five children in support of Franco’s cinematic adaptation of William Faulkner’s ”The Sound and the Fury.”
“Wayne believes in me as a person and a mother and a wife and a human being,” Gretzky said exuberantly during a Sunday interview at the fest. “He’s very supportive in every way. He saw me support him for 25 years … so he’s like: ‘Let’s do this. … Let the world see you.”’
Gretzky, 53, has largely been out of the acting spotlight over the last two decades, as she and her Hall of Fame spouse raised their brood.
Then, a couple of years back, she was cast in “Palo Alto,” which was directed by Gia Coppola and based on a short story collection by Franco. Coppola, incidentally, is the granddaughter of movie-making superstar Francis Ford Coppola, who had directed Gretzky in “One From the Heart” when she was just 18. One thing led to another, and Franco sought out Gretzky to play the matriarch in “The Sound and the Fury.”
She calls it “such a great honour” that the eccentric “Pineapple Express” star believed in her for the challenging project.
Faulkner’s works, after all, have been described as “unfilmable,” but this isn’t the first time Franco has tackled the famed author’s work, directing a screen adaptation of “As I Lay Dying” in 2013.
In addition to helming “The Sound and the Fury,” Franco stars as the mentally challenged Benjy, while Gretzky plays the matriarch of the troubled Compson clan. It also features Tim Blake Nelson.
So far, the film has received mixed reviews, with one critic pronouncing it “a swirling mess.” But Gretzky beams as she describes the praise she’s received from son Ty, who walked her down the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival.
“Your biggest critics are your family and I turned around and I said: ‘Did you like it?’ and he said ‘I loved it, and you were great in it,”’ said Gretzky, looking chic in a cream-coloured leather jacket, skinny jeans and suede booties. “It came from a genuine place and it was very emotional for me.”
For the Toronto gala, Gretzky was also joined by son Trevor, who hopped a plane after wrapping his minor league baseball season for the Anaheim Angels. It’s a new experience, said Gretzky, for her children to see their mother in the spotlight.
“When Ty was coming from the airport he said: ‘Mommy do you realize this is the first time we’re driving into Toronto because of you, not Daddy?… And I said: ‘I know Ty that’s kind of strange, isn’t it and he goes: ‘It’s really cool!”
Playing a mother came naturally, said Gretzky, and allowed her to forge a bond with her young co-stars, including Jacob Loeb, who plays Quentin.
“I know I’m not really old, but I’m older than all the kids in the cast and also I have a 25-year-old (daughter) Paulina, I have a 24-year-old Ty and a 21-year-old Trevor… So that part of it was so easy, being a mother of all these kids. Because it comes natural to me.”
Echoed Loeb: “Janet’s role as our mother has sort of extended even outside of film. She’s been really taking care of us and guiding us though this.”
And are there more roles on the horizon now that Gretzky has once again been bitten by the acting bug?
“Are you kidding me? Now I feel like I can do anything,” she said Sunday. “(James Franco) made me feel like I could act, and that’s what was fun … I feel like he made me a better actor today than I ever, ever was.”
The Toronto International Film Festival runs until Sept. 14.