Olympia Dukakis hints at screen return for Armistead Maupin’s Anna Madrigal

Forthcoming novel from San Francisco author, centered on iconic Tales of the City character, could be made into a film

Joanna Walters
theguardian.com, Saturday 7 December 2013 10.30 EST

The venerable stage and screen actress Olympia Dukakis is poised to reprise what is perhaps the most iconic role of her career – and certainly one that had a huge impact on her outlook on life.

No, not her 1987 part as Cher’s mother, in some sort of sequel to the hit movie Moonstruck, which won her an Oscar. Dukakis is in talks with the author Armistead Maupin about embodying once more – after a long hiatus – the character Anna Madrigal, the transgender landlady of a fictional house in San Francisco, where the legendary writer set his Tales of the City novels.

“I’d be there in a minute,” Dukakis told the Guardian of the prospect of playing the iconic character again.

January 2014 sees the publication of The Days of Anna Madrigal, Maupin’s ninth novel in his enduring series about a colourful set of folks playing out their lives in a bohemian landscape of sex, drugs and love in the northern California town in the late 70s to mid-80s. There is no film deal yet, but one surely cannot be far behind given the popularity of the TV series which was made from several of Maupin’s Tales books and broadcast on PBS in the US and Channel 4 in the UK between 1993 and 1998.

“Armistead Maupin has talked to me about whether it’s going to be a movie – there seems to be interest, he’s talked to people,” Dukakis told the Guardian, cautiously. Her eyes lit up, however, at the prospect of playing the quirky quasi-matriarch of the tall house at 28 Barbary Lane – a fictional address based on a real location in San Francisco that became a point of pilgrimage for fans. Her eyes twinkled, too.

“Thank goodness I have grown up to be her age,” she said. Dukakis is a mere 82 while in the new book her alter ego, Anna Madrigal, will be 92.

In The Days of Anna Madrigal, Maupin has his iconic character returning to her native Winnemucca in Nevada, to “a lonely stretch of road … where the 16-year-old boy she once was ran away from the whorehouse he called home”.

Mrs Madrigal became a legend in her character’s lifetime, levitating from the newsprint of Maupin’s original Tales of the City columns for the San Francisco Chronicle, into his novels and finally on to the screen. Her big secret was revealed and she ruled the roost over the creaky, wooden-framed 28 Barbary Lane with kindness, sardonic wit and a large spliff, very comfortable with her own identity as the other characters scrambled to find theirs.

Maupin hinted a few years ago that he had no plans to put The Days of Anna Madrigal on film – but it appears he may have changed his mind.

Dukakis is still very active as an actress and as an activist for gay and transgender rights. Despite being happily married to the actor Louis Zorich since 1962, the New York City dweller (she was born in small-town Massachusetts to hard-scrabble Greek immigrant parents during the Depression) has carved out a reputation for playing queer. She most recently played a lesbian in a little-distributed film, Cloudburst, opposite Brenda Fricker.

“I made a damn good butch,” she told the Guardian.

Dukakis said that when she began preparation for filming Tales of the City, in the early 90s, she could only find two books written by people who had gone through gender transition. Both detailed the physical and psychological pain involved. Then she met a male-to-female woman in San Francisco and was amazed to find that her driving force had been a yearning for soulmate female friendship.

“I expected it to be about sex, but it was more about innate character,” said Dukakis. “That influenced me tremendously and helped my understanding and my outlook from then on.”


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