Stage to screen

A Single Woman as film

Jeanmarie Simpson, shown here in character as Jeanette Rankin, wrote and performed the play <i>A Single Woman</i>, which has now been made into a movie.

Jeanmarie Simpson, shown here in character as Jeanette Rankin, wrote and performed the play A Single Woman, which has now been made into a movie.

After a successful national tour, the play A Single Woman is about to become a film. Nevada actor and playwright Jeanmarie Simpson wrote and performed A Single Woman, which tells the story of Jeannette Rankin, the first U.S. Congresswoman and a lifelong critic of war. The film version, with Simpson playing the lead, premieres June 9 in Missoula, Mont., in celebration of Rankin’s birthday.

Produced by the Nevada Shakespeare Company, the theater production of A Single Woman toured throughout the country for a total of 263 performances. At an off-Broadway performance in New York, the story caught the eye of film director Kamala Lopez.

“I was struck primarily by the fact that I had never heard of her before,” says Lopez. “I was shocked, and I think a lot of people would feel the same way.”

Actor Judd Nelson, who also appears in the film, had a similar reaction. “I was horrified at my lack of knowledge,” he says about Rankin. “We don’t even know her name. It should be an elemental name of American history.”

After learning about the incredible story of Rankin, many film artists, actors and activists were eager to get involved with the production. The film features voice-overs from Patricia Arquette, Karen Black, Peter Coyote, Mimi Kennedy, Leonard Nimoy, Elizabeth Pena, Margot Kidder and Cindy Sheehan.

With funding raised through grants and private donations, the film went into production this past November. Producer Mikel Elliot donated the use of Quixote Studios in Los Angeles for a fraction of the normal cost because Lopez agreed to shoot the film during the four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Shooting a full-length film in only four short days was an incredible challenge, calling for nonstop, 18-hour work days. For Simpson, the project was especially demanding because of the way her character ages.

“I go from 92-years-old to back in time to 22-years-old,” says Simpson over the phone from Los Angeles.

Much of her experience involved sitting in the makeup chair and being hurried out to shoot a scene. Between takes, a herd of people would run at her, adjusting her costume and makeup and resetting the props in preparation for another shoot. When 2 a.m. rolled around, they were still shooting.

“It just boggled my mind that the lines would still keep pouring out of me,” says Simpson.

Lopez has great admiration for Simpson’s work in the film.

“Jeanmarie is a wonderful actress, very emotionally available,” says Lopez. “On the set, she was really good. She was literally working the entire time.”

Judd Nelson was helpful in the filming, says Simpson, and she was especially grateful to him for the input he gave her about refining the script.

“He’s an extremely bright guy,” she says of Nelson. “He helped me sharpen a scene by asking me more hard questions. He’s a real collaborator.”

As for Nelson, he was happy to be involved with the project.

“I was thrilled to be a part of it,” he says. “Hopefully, it will be of great value. Jeanette Rankin cannot be stuck in the drawer of the guest room of history.”

The film met with enthusiastic responses at advance screenings in Los Angeles and as part of an event sponsored by Code Pink in Washington, D.C. After receiving such high praise at these early screenings, Simpson is hopeful that the film will bring greater exposure to the incredible accomplishments of Jeannette Rankin.