Garry Marshall Talks About A Career Spent Making Happy Families And Why He Loves Holiday Movies

When people think of Garry Marshall, visions of the happy 1950s families of Happy Days come to mind. Or maybe it’s the beautiful alien that is Robin Williams’ Mork, the glory that is Bette Midler singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” in Beaches, the charming smile of Julia Roberts as she cradles the arm of Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, and Anne Hathaway with frizzy hair in The Princess Diaries. Since 2010, his name may also conjure up images of a lot of famous people being in love on various holidays, thanks to Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. In his third holiday-centric feature, he turns to Mother’s Day for a film starring Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant, Margo MartindaleJennifer Garner, and Hector Elizondo.

The movie features stories involving a variety of mothers: a new mom who is afraid of marriage, a career-loving mom, a mom who is jealous of a stepmom, a bigot mom, a stepmom who doesn’t know much about asthma, but loves to be flirty, and a mom who married an Indian doctor and loves pilates. One of the mothers is dead, leaving widow Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) struggling to fill the motherly void and who, as a grown man, is ashamed to buy tampons at his local Sprouts.

When we met with the charming Marshall, he regaled us with stories of his own mother, and tried to explain why he makes the movies he does.

What attracted you to Mother’s Day as the next holiday-centered movie to make?

It was particularly close to me, Mother’s Day, because my mother was a great influence on me growing up. She taught us all to have a sense of humor, so that’s why my sister Penny is in comedy, and my sister Ronny. My sister Penny was the star of Laverne and Shirley. I was the moody writer who was always sick. And my sister Ronny made sure we got paid, she handled the money. We all have grown up pretty happy thanks to my mother, so when they said Mother’s Day, I said, “Okay, I’ll do a salute to my mother.”

With so many mothers in one movie, what attributes does each mom have that comes from your own mom?

Well, they all relate to my mom because my mom, we lived about eight people in a little apartment in the Bronx. There were ups and downs, but we were never homeless or anything. It was a lot of adversarial things and in this movie, like with my mom, you always get through and you always get through with a sense of humor and in a positive way. So I did the dual custody mothers, there’s a lot of divorce, the kids have to go back and forth, there’s the stepmom. Then there are moms who have passed away and I salute them. I was in the army in Korea, so I’m always very happy to depict the military because I love the military. The fact that all mothers and daughters go through that fight, “You really want to marry that guy? Is that who you’re going to marry?” And they carry on and sometimes, truthfully, mothers and daughters don’t speak for a while. But it’s all handled and you get through it like my mother did with everything and it makes a funnier story when I can do it with great actresses like I had.

And you consistently work with all-star casts, what is it about you that attracts people to work with you and continue to work with you?

It’s my clothes. See how fancy I’m dressed here? No! It’s about, they know they’ll have a good time with me. We make a nice set. It’s never a closed set, except for certain moments once in a while. I work with them, I meet their families, they bring relatives, they bring friends. Everyone has a good time in between doing the work. And if I’ve worked with them before, we know how to work together quickly and there is some good things that happen in every movie for me and for them, too, I hope they come back.

With the storylines and characters in the movie being connected, do you see all your films as being connected? Do they all take place in your own universe?

That’s an interesting question. Actually, all my movies, I have a good time and try to be positive and I think all my movies try to celebrate the human spirit rather than bringing them down or make some negative things. We know what the real world is. Not doing so good, the real world. It’s better, my made-up world. And we have a better time. I don’t do people flying or people exploding, but I do people who are genuine and real and funny.

The world you’d want to live in and want to see.

Yes, I always made Happy Days a fantasy family. That wasn’t a real family, but I thought maybe a family could possibly do this well. And I must say, so many people over the years have come to me and said, “Happy Days, you told us there could be a family, we believed ya! So we got through.” And that helps me want to do more.

Is there a mom in particular you connect with most in this film?

Well, because you have so many stars, it behooves you as a director to connect with all of your stories and be very compassionate about them, which I was in this case. I don’t think there was any particular moment that was so much like my family because I made this all up with the writers and everybody. But there are real people out there who will go to this movie, I hope more than once. You should take your mother. Then you should take your stepmother. Then you should take the boy’s mother who you’re dating now. Somebody will have a good time if you come to this movie, so it helps you save on presents.

When you’re looking at holidays for your next film, do you find that certain movies are off-limits based on title alone? Like Halloween or Groundhog Day?

I sometimes, just to feel more closely with what an actor is going through. I act a lot in movies and TV. I’m a director. I’ve done 18 films, but most kids only know me as the devil in Hocus Pocus because I wore a costume. Not a fancy costume, but a costume. So they did pretty much the Halloween. But I don’t know. I like to do obscure holidays. Maybe Cinco de Mayo, St. Anthony’s Day, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot or whatever. I think whatever I do, it’s going to be a positive movie and maybe a love story. I love a love story.

And you don’t see enough Rosh Hashanah love stories.

No, but love is everywhere and you never know where it’s going — I burped because I’m eating cookies — but I think I like to do stories with not so much romance, but love. In Pretty Woman, we said, “We can do everything but kiss, a kiss is too intimate.” It is! You gotta have good kissing, and I like good kissing, and that’s why I like to do love stories. So it doesn’t matter if it’s on a holiday or not, I like to do them. And I like people to come out of the theatre and say they had a nice time and are happier than when they went in. It’s hard these days. You can’t watch the news during my movies. You gotta watch the movie!

What are your plans for Mother’s Day this year?

Well, this year, my mother has passed away, unfortunately. This year I celebrate with my wife and I keep wanting to take my wife out and she keeps telling me, “I’m not your mother, even though sometimes I have to be with the way you are.” But I have six grandchildren and three kids. I’ll take the grandchildren and her out for Mother’s Day at a favorite restaurant. We won’t buy flowers, really. We’ll buy other things she might need. I was always sick on Mother’s Day when I was growing up. I was a sickly child, so I remember one Mother’s Day I said, “Ma! It’s Mother’s Day, what should I get ya?” And she said, “You’re sick in bed with kleenex and coughing and throwing up, what are you going to get me?” I said, “Well, I gotta get you something.” And she said, “You want to get me something? Don’t throw up today.” So I stopped and she was happy.

That’s a great gift, resisting the urge to vomit.

It’s a rare gift. Many families don’t relate to that, but I do.