NEW YORK — They may have been in New York, where their new film “Going in Style” (opening Friday) was shot, but Chicago was on the minds of the principal actors as well as director Zach Braff.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic booster was Swedish native Ann-Margret, who moved to America at age 6. The veteran actress, who grew up on the North Shore, graduated from New Trier High School in Winnetka and attended Northwestern University, literally jumped out of her chair when she realized she was about to be interviewed by a fellow Chicagoan. “Oh goody!” exclaimed Ann-Margret as Braff — who was seated next to her — laughed out loud.
In the film, the former Ann-Margret Olsson has most of her scenes with Alan Arkin — who, along with Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, takes up bank robbery as the senior citizens attempt to recover funds from their canceled corporate pension plans.
“I loved being the only girl with ‘Da Boys,’ those three guys,” she said. “I can look at them and I see them as 17-year-olds. They’re such kids at heart! ”
Arkin, of course, launched his career in Chicago in the very early days of Second City. “Chicago? Chicago!” exclaimed Arkin. “I owe everything to Chicago! That was where I got my start.” As he reminisced about Our Town, Arkin did turn somewhat morose, remembering the late great Second City teacher and director Sheldon Patinkin. “Sheldon was one of my very best friends. I spoke to him all the time,” said Arkin. “I miss him so much. I miss hearing his voice. He’s someone I miss as much as almost anyone I’ve ever called a friend.”
On a much lighter note, Arkin chuckled about a key scene he has in the film with Ann-Margret, playing a supermarket clerk who has long lusted after Arkin’s widower character. “I was speechless — and I’m often not speechless,” said the actor.
Braff explained, “I love that scene — it’s where Ann seduces Alan in the supermarket with an eggplant. When we were setting up the shot, she turned to Alan and said, ‘What is this? It’s pretty and purple and shiny, but what IS it?’
“Alan looked at her incredulously. ‘Are you kidding me? It’s an eggplant!'”
Ann-Margret jumped into the conversation, explaining, “I don’t got to supermarkets. I don’t cook, and I don’t care! … I only would recognize eggplant if it was all mushy and cooked — like in eggplant parmesan.”
Flashing back to her own Chicago-area roots, Ann-Margret noted she treasured her years working with William J. Peterman, the longtime chairman of the musical theater department at New Trier. “He’s the first person who ever told me I would be an actress. It came at a funny time. I was 16, and had just lost a big part in a show at New Trier to another girl. In front of the whole glee club, Dr. Peterman said, ‘Olsson! You’re too urban!’
“But then, he took me into his office and reassured me. He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘You’re going to be an actress in the movies!’
“I didn’t get that part in high school, but it sure worked out fine in the end.”
Co-stars Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine both have spent a lot of time in Chicago during their careers. “After making ‘Chain Reaction,’ when I got pneumonia, I swore I would never again work in Chicago in the winter,” said Freeman. “Basically, I haven’t — at least not outside.” Sitting alongside his co-star, Caine nodded. “That’s right. We did shoot a lot of Chris Nolan’s ‘Batman’ films in Chicago in the winter, but…” [as Freeman chimed in simultaneously] “we only worked indoors!”
Braff explained that despite his strong acting background, he could not insert himself in “Going in Style” — even in a small role. “This movie was just too big. I had to concentrate completely on the directing.”
However, during his interview with the Sun-Times, he couldn’t help showcasing his performance skills as a mimic.
Egged on by Ann-Margret, Braff did deliver a spot-on impression of Caine. When told he should get the two-time Academy Award winner to record an outgoing voicemail message for him, Braff winked and said. “I’ve got this one,” as he easily slipped into his other star’s voice and said, “This is Morgan Freeman. You’ve reached Zach Braff’s line. He can’t come to the phone right now …”