Gene Hackman plays a blue-collar family man and Ann-Margret a widowed bartender who rekindles the dormant passions of the middle-aged husband and father in Twice in a Lifetime (1985), a story of family, divorce, new beginnings, and love the second time around.
The original script by Colin Welland was revised and expanded from a television play he had written for British TV in 1973. Kisses at Fifty was the story of steelworker in Manchester who leaves his wife for a barmaid when he turns fifty. Bud Yorkin, a veteran director best known as Norman Lear's TV producing partner on All in the Family and other iconic seventies sitcoms, loved the story and envisioned a film set in an American milieu. Yorkin had grown up in a Pennsylvania steel town and felt the story could be relocated there. Welland moved to Pittsburg for six months for research while writing his new version and he incorporated the culture he saw around him, which remained even after Yorkin relocated the setting once again, from Pennsylvania to Seattle.
Gene Hackman was Yorkin's first choice to play Harry, the husband and father who leaves his family when he falls for the recently widowed Audrey. He responded immediately to the screenplay. "[T]his story moved me more than a lot of other things I'd done more or less immediately before," Hackman shared with biographer Michael Munn years later. "I'm at an age where I get offered these fatherly parts… but this one interested me because the father changes. He's got a hard edge to him but he's also got a soft side…"
Yorkin had known Ann-Margret for decades and had directed her on a number of TV variety shows. The role of Audrey was a change of pace for the actress but Yorkin thought of her for the role and sent her a script. She had recently announced her retirement from the stage to spend more time with her husband Roger, who was battling a progressive disease known as myasthenia gravis, when she received it. "I have to get a story that excites me, that will make me want to get up at 4 a.m. and get home at 8 p.m.," she explained in a 1985 interview. "This script is very honest – brutally honest – about marriage, divorce and separation."
The rest of the cast was filled with some of the best actors in Hollywood: Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn as Harry's wife Kate, rising star Amy Madigan as the volatile eldest daughter Sunny, teen-movie star Ally Sheedy (fresh off WarGames, 1983 and The Breakfast Club, 1985) as younger daughter Helen, and Brian Dennehy as Harry's best friend Nick.
Yorkin and Hackman were both going through divorces at the time. Yorkin joked that "I guess the film was something of a therapy for both of us," but Hackman was more circumspect. "It was a little painful for me to play that role, and although I thought I could use some of what I was going through at the time, it didn't really work out that way." Ann-Margret had a different connection. "My godmother has been a waitress for 30 years in Chicago, at the Merchandise Mart. I know from her how hard the job is on your feet."
Yorkin rehearsed with the cast in Los Angeles for a week before heading north to Seattle in the summer of 1984, where he shot on location in and around Seattle and Snohomish, a small mill town northeast of Seattle. The rehearsals served the cast well as Yorkin improvised family scenes between Kate and her daughters, including a scene where Kate has her ears pierced. Burstyn, who did not have pierced ears, had to be talked into getting it done on camera. Her startled response is genuine.
The most difficult scene to shoot, according to Hackman, was when Sunny (Amy Madigan) drags Kate into the neighborhood watering hole to confront Harry in front of his friends and his mistress. Welland based the scene on an event he witnessed firsthand during his Pittsburgh visit. "It was such an uncomfortable scene to do, and being uncomfortable and self-conscious is something we all dread," recalled Hackman. "It makes us vulnerable, so when we came to shoot it, just about all the actors wanted their lines reduced; some just didn't want to do it." Yorkin and Ann-Margret both insist that this scene earned Madigan her Academy Award nomination.
The film opened to mixed reviews but the cast earned overwhelming praise. "You could probably not assemble a finer cast, person for person, pound for pound, than the actors who make up the Twice in a Lifetime blue-collar family," proclaimed Los Angeles Times critic Sheila Benson, who singled out Amy Madigan's performance: "almost incandescent in her fury at her father." Janet Maslin, writing for The New York Times, concurs, noting that Madigan "plays her role with a fierce, riveting conviction bordering on downright belligerence." Madigan earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her performance and Hackman received a Golden Globe nomination.
Ann-Margret My Story, Ann-Margret with Todd Gold. Putnam, 1994.
"'Lifetime' Cast Needs Life Lines," Sheila Benson. Los Angeles Times, October 30, 1985.
"Film: Tale of a Divorce, 'Twice in a Lifetime'," Janet Maslin. The New York Times, October 23, 1985.
"Ann-Margret Puts Her Marriage First," Bart Mills. South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 29, 1985.
Gene Hackman, Michael Munn. Robert Hale Limited, 1997.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Audio commentary with Bud Yorkin, Ann-Margret, and Amy Madigan, Twice in a Lifetime DVD. Warner Bros. Home Video, 2005.