STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK
Geena Davis sashayed up to the podium at the Limelight Hotel and smiled that broad smile of hers.
“I’ll get right to how I look the same as I did 20 years ago!” the 61-year-old actress quipped.
Davis, one of America’s most prolific female actors, was in good humor this week in Sun Valley.
She took the gondola halfway up Bald Mountain to the Roundhouse Restaurant Saturday night to receive the Third Annual Vision Award from the Sun Valley Film Festival, following in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood and Oliver Stone.
And on Sunday she took part in a Grand Dames Brunch touting women in leadership presented by Zions Bank.
Davis, who talked about her efforts to promote gender equality in film and TV, did her part to portray gender equality in the days when no one even thought about that sort of thing.
She was TV’s first female president in “Commander in Chief.” And she played a pirate in “Cutthroat Island.”
But the movie that really rocked the world of women was “Thelma and Louise,’ a low-budget movie in which Davis and Susan Sarandon played an Arkansas waitress and a housewife who ditch their deadbeat boy friend and husband to take off on a cross-country trip in a ’66 Thunderbird. They find themselves on the lam, however, after Louise kills a man who threatens to rape Thelma.
The movie was a critical and commercial success, snaring six Academy Award nominations and winning one for Best Original Screenplay. Not only did it become a classic but it became a landmark feminist film, influencing other films.
Its influence was certainly noted during the brunch as Sun Valley artist Lisa Holley dialed up a picture of a limited edition autographed “Thelma and Louise” movie poster hanging in her house. And Sherry St. Clair shared with the group how her sister, whose cats are named Thelma and Louise, was inspired by the film to work for gender equality in the hospital in which she works.
“We just hoped people would see it. We had no idea the nerve it would strike,” said Davis. “Everyone was so impassioned about it, telling me how many times they’d seen it. We even made the cover of ‘Time’ magazine… Since, I’ve made my acting choices with the idea of empowering women and girls through the roles I choose. I think: What are they going to see about my character?
“Oops,” she laughed. “There was that movie called ‘Earth Girls Are Easy,’” a musical romantic sci-fi comedy about three furry aliens who land in southern California looking for female companionship with Valley Girls.
Davis came to Sun Valley in 2012, during which she talked on empowering women at a dinner presented by Zions Bank. She also appeared at a sit-in movie celebrating the 20th anniversary of “A League of Their Own” shown on the jumbo screen on the Sun Valley lawn.
Davis will observe the 25th anniversary of the movie with a softball game this year at the Bentonville, Ark., Film Festival she started to champion women.
“I still have the same number of girls come up to talk with me as when the movie came out,” she said.
While Davis plays a pitcher who hits nothing but home runs in the movie, she always saw herself as a gangly teen-ager “with too many limbs” who couldn’t play basketball or any other sport despite being 6-feet tall.
At 36 she began learning Tae Kwon Do and horseback riding “in a real way instead of a movie way.” She took up archery at 41 after observing how beautiful it looked on TV and got so good that she was a semi-finalist for the U.S. Olympic Archery team as it prepared for the 2000 Olympics.
“Sports helped me realize it was okay to take up space in the world and feel good about my body,” she said.
Despite being busy with campaigns promoting women’s equality in sports and in the media, Davis continues to appear before the camera.
Her latest movie “Marjorie Prime” just premiered at Sundance Film Festival. The film revolves around 86-year-old Marjorie who spends her days with a computerized version of her deceased husband as family tries to reconstruct a painful past. The film brings artificial intelligence face to face with death as it asks: How would we choose to rebuild the past? And what would we decide to forget?
And Davis is playing a Chicago hotel manager, wife and mother of two daughters in Fox’s retooling of the 1973 horror classic “The Exorcist.”
“Maybe watch during the day time,” she advised.