Last Sunday's screening at New Haven's Lyric Hall of the documentary "Broads,"that features salty, outspoken interviews with actresses of a certain age remind me of some of my own favorite interviews of like-minded dames.

I'll post a series of these interviews in the next week or so. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did writing them. On Friday there was my1992 interview with Maureen Stapleton. On Saturday, my 1998 piece on Cloris Leachman, a 2001 interview was posted Sunday with Elizabeth Ashley and yesterday there was my 2008 piece on Elaine Stritch. Today, my 2008 piece on Olympia Dukakis.

By FRANK RIZZO

One of the great film moments in 1987's ``Moonstruck'' is when Rose Castorini, a mature married woman played by Olympia Dukakis, and a charming professor played by John Mahoney, have dinner together in an Italian restaurant, where she gently but firmly rebuffs his flirtations.
    Looking him squarely in the eye, she tells him in no uncertain terms: ``I know who I am.''
    It became a rallying cry for many women, but for the actress, it only told part of the story. Dukakis knows who she is -- today. But as the title of her 2003 autobiography suggests, ``Ask Me Again Tomorrow.''
    In some ways Dukakis is more like another Rose -- the title character in ``Rose,'' Martin Sherman's one-person show in which Dukakis is starring at Hartford Stage. (Performances of the first SummerStage presentation of the three-show series start Thursday and continue through July 17.)
    In Sherman's drama, which played London and Broadway with Dukakis, Rose is a Jewish octogenarian, born in the Ukraine, who escaped the Nazis and the Warsaw Ghetto, emigrated to the U.S. and traveled to Israel. Looking back at her life, she sees herself as not being any one thing but an evolving woman who adapts to the forces of family, history and life.
    The same could be said of Dukakis, who grew up in Lowell, Mass., in a Greek-American family, struck out on her own and spent 50 years in the theater. She found late-in-life fame in such movies as ``Moonstruck'' and ``Steel Magnolias'' and as Mrs. Madrigal in the three television miniseries: ``Tales From the City,'' ``More Tales From the City'' and ``Further Tales From the City.''
    ``It's a lot easier to look back for Rose than it was for Olympia, I'll tell you that much,'' says the 74-year-old Dukakis in her distinctive low, intimate and no-nonsense voice that hovers between inner peace and an outer restlessness. There's something about sitting down in a quiet, out-of-the-way restaurant and sipping espresso that encourages straight-from-the-heart conversation. Though it was high noon on a summer's day, we felt moonstruck.
    ``I found it hard to figure out what the story was,'' she says about writing her autobiography. ``I kept thinking, `What is this story that I'm writing?' I wasn't interested in writing a book that was like `and-then-I-did-and-then-I-saw- and-then-I-screwed.' I gave that up very quickly. I realized I had to get interested -- but what is my story?''
   
    It Was All Greek To Her
    Dukakis grew up ``a poster child for the bad Greek daughter,'' she says. She was fiercely independent in a world that had strict rules, roles and expectations.
    ``I was very aware from the very beginning about a number of things. One, that we were surrounded by a world that wasn't Greek. That was the big one. And then I became aware that, within the Greek community, there was gender bias. So I got ethnic bias on the outside and gender bias on the inside. Those two issues, I think, did a number of things. They kind of played havoc, but they also forced me to stand up to the plate early on, to try to define myself, as opposed to being defined by others. I look back now and give all this nice terminology to everything I was going through, but when I was growing up, it was just turmoil. I didn't understand it. I was like a cat in a bag, arrgh, trying to get out.''
    It was a long process. She attended Boston University on a scholarship, majoring in physical therapy and working with people with polio, which was a high-paying job for women at the time. But for her it was a practical means to an artistic end. Dukakis went back to school to study theater and acting when she earned enough money from her therapy job.
    After her second college stint at B.U., she and a group of friends started the Actors Company at Boston's Charles Street Playhouse and worked on such challenging classics as ``No Exit,'' ``La Ronde,'' ``Blood Wedding,'' ``Orpheus Descending'' and ``A View From the Bridge.'' In 1959, she left Boston to pursue theater in New York. In 1961, she met and married fellow actor Louis Zorich. For nearly 30 years she worked mostly in the theater -- on regional stages, off-Broadway (where she won several Obies) and on Broadway -- as well as founding her own theater in Montclair, N.J., in 1973. It was called the Whole Theater. (The theater closed in the early '90s because of rising debts and government budget cuts.)
   
    A Turning Point
    But her first major role in the movies, in John Patrick Shanley's ``Moonstruck,'' directed by Norman Jewison, changed her life. It was a hit, and Dukakis then became the poster woman for strong-willed women of a certain age.
    The year 1988 was a good one for her family. She grabbed the Academy Award weeks before her cousin, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, became the Democratic nominee for president. ``I used to say it was the year of the Dukakii. There certainly was a karmic shadow on that year.''
    Though in her book she tells of the perks she had at being an instant celebrity, there were also problems.
    ``I did have a problem,'' she says. ``I found it hard to be happy about everything good that was happening to me. I talked with a friend of mine, the wonderful actor Austin Pendleton, and I told him how I felt guilty about all the attention I was receiving. `Look at all this work that I had done in my whole career and all the other wonderful characters I had played,' I told him. `Now everyone is telling me that Rose in ``Moonstruck'' is so great and how I've arrived because I'm working with Cher.' But I've always worked with brilliant actors. Cher is wonderful, and I don't want to take anything away from her, but it was just hard for me. But Austin said to me something wonderful. He said he saw all of my work in Rose Castorini.
    ``People also said, `Oh, you've paid your dues.' But I know so many wonderful actors who paid their dues. And then it occurred to me. We all know what to do when painful and difficult things come up. We learn from them. And that's what good times are about, too. But they're all the same. So I don't have to walk around thinking that I'm being rewarded and other people are not. These were all a series of lessons that I had to deal with, many of them based on the insecurities that I had. A lot of it had to do with my ethnicity. I was a public target being Greek, the way I had been when I was growing up. It brought back all of that. Trying to assimilate and trying to do this and other things, and now I was back to being exposed again. But this time I was finding my way differently.''
   
    Trying To Fit In
    After ``Moonstruck,'' other movie and TV offers came along, including wealthy, wise-cracking Southern widow Clairee in ``Steel Magnolias.'' (``I love ya more than my luggage.'') But even with a few more hits and an Oscar in her pocket, she still found it difficult to fit into a profession ``that's constantly trying to put you in a singular category.''
    ```Oh, you're not right for that. You're too old for that. You're only right for ethnic parts.' There's this constant defining of you, and you have to push against that all the time. Acting is all about transformation. It's as if what I chose to do with my life was at the heart of what I needed to do and needed to be. And it all happened instinctively, without any thought and without any understanding of anything.''
    She lets out a self-deprecating laugh. ``I'm happy to report that I was totally blind, that I just followed my impulses and my needs and my this and my that.''
    Dukakis says she and Michael Wilson, artistic director of Hartford Stage, have talked about the possibility of doing Tennessee Williams' ``The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore'' some time in the future at the theater. After her run in Hartford in ``Rose,'' she flies to Africa in August to work in a sequel to the Showtime movie ``The Librarian'' with Noah Wyle (``ER''). Then this fall she will star off-Broadway in ``A Mother, a Daughter and a Gun.'' There is also talk about another edition of Armistad Maupin's stories of eccentric San Francisco life in his ``Tales of the City'' series. (``That series opened the door for a lot of things,'' Dukakis says. ``Armistad has to be a national hero for helping us with our major disease, which is intolerance.'')
   
    The Essence Of Art
    ``Do you know the Federico Garcia Lorca poem?'' she asks. `` `The poem, the song, the picture is only water drawn from the well of the people/and it should be given back to them in a cup of beauty/ so that they may drink -- and in drinking -- understand themselves.'
    And that's what it's all about. I feel that we're all here as human beings, all of us trying to make of our lives something that we can have regard for, something that will bring us satisfaction, security. Yet meanwhile we're faced with all these events that are happening around us, and we must ask ourselves how do we make our way?''
    That's what her character in ``Rose'' is all about.
    ``She is just trying to live, but then things come up that she has to deal with, and she finally asks herself, What is god? What do I believe?' Maybe god is just a question mark, like everything else.''
    Dukakis is particularly related to Rose when she says, ``Maybe there's a joy in not belonging.''
    ``That's a big one,'' she says. ``Yes, there's a freedom in being on the outside. You can have a sneaky good feeling about it, too, because you don't have to do and believe in all the stuff everyone else is doing. But there's also a loss and a pain, but we tend to focus on that mainly when we are outsiders. But we hold in our secret heart the freedom that that's there.
    ``That's one of the things that Rose helped me with. I am on the outside. I am different. And my difference only matters to the degree I accept it or not accept it. I identify with that, and I identify with the fact that god is a never-ending question.''
   
    Being Interconnected
    Sometimes grace comes in unexpected places.
    ``I remember one day I was feeling very glum, and I walked down the street, and a woman came by me, and she said, `You're a wonderful actress,' and just kept walking. She didn't want anything from me. She just said that and kept on walking.
    ``Do you know I just stood there and cried? I didn't realize how much I needed someone to say something nice to me. So it was, `OK, that felt good.' And then I went to the gym and came out, and I was starting to go downhill again, and a guy came over and started to talk to me and he said, `Oh, I loved your Mrs. Madrigal. It meant so much to me.'
    ``And I thought to myself, `You gotta knock this off. The universe is doing everything it can to say, `Cut this out. You have no right to feel down on yourself.' Two in one day.
    ``Those are the vitamins. Those are the endorphins.''