NEW YORK -- Geraldine Page is too busy being an actress on several fronts to worry about whether she will win an Oscar on her eighth try.
Page, 61, was nominated for an Academy Award on seven previous occasions and never won, a movie industry record. This month she was nominated for Best Actress for the role of Carrie Watts in Horton Foote's 'The Trip to Bountiful' in competition with film newcomer Whoopi Goldberg and three previous Oscar winners, Anne Bancroft, Jessica Lange, and Meryl Streep.
Industry voters traditionally favor nominees who have been disappointed Oscar hopefuls, especially someone like Page who has had a long, distinguished career and received her first nomination back in 1961. But no one will know the outcome until the Academy Awards presentation March 24.
Page isn't predicting whether or not she'll win, but she does have an observation to make about her eighth nomination.
'It sounds terrible to say, but if they nominated me for what they did in the past, how could they have failed to nominate me for 'The Trip to Bountiful?'' she said. As she spoke, she picked over a nouvelle cuisine lunch at the trendy Union Square Cafe with the genteel, Southern belle fussiness that is her trademark on and off stage.
She recalled her nominations for Best Actress in 'Summer and Smoke,' 'Sweet Bird of Youth,' and 'Interiors' and for Best Supporting Actress in 'Hondo,' 'You're a Big Boy Now,' 'Pete 'n' Tillie,' and 'The Pope of Greenwich Village' and said none of the roles she played in these films were as demanding as Carrie Watts.
'From my point of view, Carrie was a lot more work than the other roles. She is a much older woman and it is a very sustained role. I did it without makeup -- just that wonderful wig and the housedress and Red Cross shoes which must have weighed 25 pounds.'
Carrie Watts is a fluttery but determined East Texas widow in her 70s who tries to break away from city life with her son and his bossy wife to return to Bountiful, the rural hamlet where she was reared. Page plays her with remarkable compassion, getting every nuance of bone-weary but slyly resourceful and comic woman just right.
'I've always played old ladies,' she said. 'It's my forte. Carrie has wonderful patina. I've been observing old people as an artist would -- how they look, how they behave -- since I was a girl and my Aunt Lulu and my grandfather came to live with our family.
'I played Alexandra del Lago in Tennessee Williams' 'Sweet Bird of Youth' when I was in my early 30s and I made her in her 60s, or as old as the audience could imagine her. You don't play an age, you suggest it. But I have never felt typecast. Look at 'White Nights'.'
Page plays the 40-ish, smartly dressed, high-powered agent of dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov in 'White Nights,' one of six films she made in 1985. The others were 'Flanagan,' in which she plays an Irish grandmother in her late 80s, 'Riders to the Sea,' 'The Bride,' and 'My Little Girl,' yet to be released. Her stage career has been almost as busy.
Page, who was elected to the Theater Hall of Fame nearly a decade ago, is Artist-in-Residence at the Mirror Repertory Company which occupies a theater in Saint Peter's Church in midtown Manhattan. She played there in 'The Madwoman of Chaillot' before going into the current off-Broadway production of Sam Shepard's 'A Lie of the Mind' in the role of a slatternly, eccentric mother.
She was recently hospitalized for hypertension, which caused her to drop out of the Shepard play, but she has been rehearsing for a Mirror company production of W. Somerset Maugham's 'The Circle,' scheduled to open Feb. 20. She plays the wicked Lady Kitty, as juicy a role as the comedy offers.
In addition she has had several television projects (she got a TV Emmy award for Best Actress 20 years ago) including an episode of HBO's 'Hitchhiker' which took her on location to Vancouver and Doris Chase's one-woman video drama, 'Table for One.' She also added Chaucer's 'The Wife of Bath's Tale' to her repertory of theatrical readings and premiered it at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y earlier this winter.
'I've never been so busy in my life,' said Page, with a sigh that had a suspiciously euphoric sound. 'I've never had work that offered such variety, which is the main beauty of repertory. The Mirror company is where I get my best roles.
'Most of us do not have the opportunity to explore our versatility, and the whole theater benefits from it when we do. There's a sort of flatness that comes from everyone specializing in one kind of part. When you play a different part each night in repertory, it keeps all of them fresh.
'I may be stretching myself a little thin, but it's so enjoyable even if it isn't rewarding financially. Sometimes the things that pay you a lot of money are too expensive. Wonderfully high-paying jobs are not always interesting, and I've always gone for what is interesting even though I'm faced with mortgages on top of mortagages.'
Themortgages are on a rundown Greenwich Village townhouse that Page and her husband of 23 years, actor Rip Torn, have been fixing up for years. They have three grown children. Twin sons, John and Tony, have walk-on roles in 'The Trip to Bountiful.' A daughter, Angelica, has given them a grandson who played the infant James I in the Mirror company's 'Vivat Regina' when he was six months old.
Page does not claim to be domestic or to find time for certain aspects of everyday life that other people believe are important.
'For instance, I've been criticized all my life for the way I dress, but I think there are more important things to spend my time on.' she said, looking down at a shapeless maroon wool shirt over black pants, worn with a multi-colored knit scarf and a hot pink knit cap that did little to restrain her streaming hair.
'I have to budget my time. The things I think are secondary are alarming to most people. Rip has taught me how to cook, and whether I do it well or not, I'm into gourmet eating.'
Asked if she regretted being absent from Broadway since 'Agnes of God' in 1982, Page said that in her opinion 'Broadway is shrinking so fast you can hardly find it.'
'When I look at the paper for Broadway listings, it's everything I see is left over from last year.'
Page described the roles she would particularly relish doing in the future as, 'Everything I haven't tried yet.' As for her next time around on the wheel of life, she wants to be an opera singer, explaining, 'I'm a Puccini nut.'
Page has come a long way since her first acting experience in a Methodist Church production in Chicago in 1941. She studied at Chicago's Goodman Institute, graduating in 1945.
'It's so difficult to get started, to learn how to go on a stage. You have to do it yourself. Eventually I joined a cooperative stock group. By the time I came to New York I had done more than 500 plays in theaters throughout the Midwest.'
While studying with Uta Hagen and Mira Restova in New York, she supported herself as a negligee model. After Jose Quintero payed her $10 a week to play a crone in an off-Broadway production of 'Yerma,' her career took off. She has been especially identified with the plays of Tennessee Williams, whom she remembers as 'a miserable person.'
'I got to do all those Southern ladies of Tennessee's. I have a fine New England accent but nobody knows about it. It seems strange I never did Blanche DuBois in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' in New York but I did do it with Rip in Lake Forrest, Ill, in 1976. My interpretation of Blanche was different than the usual.
'I discovered she wasn't a tart trying to convince people she was a lady, but a lady trying to convince people she was a tart.'