When it comes to movies or TV, often, you hear about the leading actor. Occasionally, you might hear about a colorful supporting actor or two. But, very rarely do you hear about the other supporting actors who also make up the film or TV show. Their performances are essential in providing the movie with a believable background and environment. Rutanya Alda is that type of actress. She has had a long career acting in film, TV and theater. Her supporting roles have included mothers, prostitutes, housekeepers, judges and nurses. Her portrayals are very subtle in that you believe her as the character, and yet her performances never get in the way of the film and/or its star.
In her long career, she has worked with directors such as Michael Cimino, Sam Peckinpah, Brian DePalma, George Romero and William Lustig. In addition, she was acted with top actors such as Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken and Sean Penn. She has also worked with the contemporary leads of today like Jessica Chastain. In addition to describing supporting roles, in this interview she talks about the thrill of playing them and sometimes the disappointment of seeing the role being edited out of the film. Where many stories often focus on the leading actor of a project, Rutanya’s story is often an untold one about being a supporting actress and the often overlooked work of trying to make a small or supporting role work for the film or TV show.
In this candid conversation, we look back at the some of the main films she did, in films such as The Deer Hunter and Mommie Dearest. We also look at her experiences working with some of the top directors and top actors as well as at what Rutanya is up to currently in her career. I really want thank Rutanya for taking the time out to do this interview.
Rutanya Alda: I got started . . . well I came to New York to be an actress and study with the really great people that were teaching at the time that are all unfortunately passed on. I was like twenty years old. I'd graduated from college and I came to New York to study and to be an actress.
Rutanya in Greetings
JC: Now after doing DeNiro’s first film, you were also in Panic in Needle Park. This was one of Al Pacino's first films before he really became Al Pacino.
RA: Yes. I had a little part in that film in the beginning with Kitty Wynn. I'm the nurse that checks her into the hospital.
Rutanya with James Coburn in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Rutanya getting married in Deer Hunter
JC: I have heard many stories about Michael’s style of working on Heaven's Gate. Can you tell me about Michael’s style of working on The Deer Hunter?
Rutanya in Murder at Howard Johnson’s
JC: Now we're gonna get to the one film of them all, Mommie Dearest.
Invitation to Mommie Dearest at the Ziegfeld
Rutanya being interviewed by Hedda Lettuce
Rutanya tries to stop her son from killing her husband in Amityville II
Rutanya screaming in Vigilante
It still affects me. And that's the business and you just have to say, “Okay, I have no control over the editing of it.”
Rutanya as Rose in Law and Order: CI
Jessica Chastain and Rutanya Alda
Rutanya with her idol Lois Smith and Django Unchained’s Dennis Christopher