Olympia Dukakis, who died on May 1 at 89, had a face like nobody else’s. Stern however perpetually amused, with a heat leer of a smile that would gentle up a scene, she regarded like the comedy and tragedy masks fused collectively. That’s a becoming reference, since Dukakis was of Greek heritage and, in a stage profession that stretched again to 1961, appeared in classics from “Electra” to “Titus Andronicus” to “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Yet even when she was carving out her place in films and TV, usually cast as the Grande Dame Who’s Smarter Than Anyone in the Room (it is telling that she took on that position way back to the 1969 Dustin Hoffman/Mia Farrow trifle “John and Mary,” when she was simply 38), the Dukakis face, half cherub and half statue, made it appear that no matter actuality she was confronting, she noticed the absurdity of it, and the heartbreak as nicely. She hopscotched from one ethnicity to the subsequent: Italian in “Moonstruck,” Southern aristocrat in “Steel Magnolias,” Jewish in movies like “The Cemetery Club.” But that was due to the common language of which Dukakis was the grandmaster. In position after position, she spoke mother: imperious, testy, form, haughty and, in the finish, at all times searching for you.
In “Moonstruck,” that delirious 1987 fairy story of crazy ardour, opera and dowdy depressives who learn to bloom, Dukakis, as Rose the steel-lasagna spouse and mom, makes an attempt to counsel her daughter, the widowed Loretta (Cher), to do the proper factor. But what, precisely, is that? When Rose learns that Loretta has gotten herself engaged to a middle-aged mediocrity she’s not in love with, she provides the following recommendation: “Good. When you like ’em, they drive you loopy. Because they know they’ll.” That’s the form of line that adopted Dukakis round — the form her followers would come as much as her on the road wanting her to repeat. In “Moonstruck,” she turned strains like that (or the much more indelible “What’s the matter with you? Your life’s taking place the rest room!”) into addled diva classics, however the purpose the movie gained her the Oscar for supporting actress is that she lower proper to the romantic paradox that Rose was the just one in the film sensible sufficient to see. Should marriage be on a regular basis drudgery or moonstruck craziness? Should males act responsibly or had been they placed on Earth to be wolves? Dukakis, with that noodgy droll gleam, let you understand the reply was each.
After the triumph of “Moonstruck,” she performed a tart-tongued matriarch in “Steel Magnolias” (1989), the gossipy small-town weeper in which she saved dropping in to do what she did greatest: preside. And that is what she continued to do. Playing characters like the flinty principal of “Mr. Holland’s Opus” or the trans landlord Anna Madrigal over 4 installments of “Tales of the City,” she had the mien of a psychiatrist: a debonair empath with X-ray imaginative and prescient and pouffy white-custard hair, articulating the cussed truths different characters had been certain to withstand. You might simply have envisioned her as the shrink on “The Sopranos” — however then, with a bit of nudge, it would not be so laborious to think about her as Tony Soprano’s mom, since even in the most civilized of settings Olympia Dukakis had a stealth energy and an old-world comfortableness with the darkish aspect. As Rose says to her untrue husband, Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia), in “Moonstruck,” “Your life is constructed on nothing. Te amo.” Dukakis’ was constructed on seeing (and loving) the world as it’s.