High school never ends if the residents of Pine Grove Senior Community are any example in the new film Queen Bees. When fiercely independent senior Helen’s (Ellen Burstyn) house needs repairs due to an accidental fire, she moves into the retirement village, where she encounters a clique of “mean girls”: Janet (Jane Curtin), Margot (Ann-Margret), and Sally (Loretta Devine).
Devine says the film can be compared to Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, but in assisted living. “I really think it is,” she told Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview. “And that there are always cliques. There will be cliques until we die is what it taught us.”
But when Sally loses her bridge partner, she reaches out to Helen, and a new friendship is formed between the two women.
“When Sally first goes to try to get Helen to become her partner for the bridge team, the whole thing that Helen told her is this is not high school anymore,” Devine continued. You don’t graduate from here, you die. And she knew she found a friend in her. Also, she found it enjoyable that Helen can talk so directly to the head mean queen Jane Curtin. So, a friendship was established that I felt would last forever. I liked that about the character. She had warmth and, also, she could take care of herself.”
Queen Bees is also a rom-com. While the ladies learn that it’s never too late to make new friends, Helen and Margot also learn it’s never too late to find a new love.
Much of Queen Bees was improv, and Devine talks more about developing the backstory for Sally, some of which came from her own personal experiences, and she also discusses what her role of Adele on Grey’s Anatomy meant to her.
Monsters & Critics: Do you remember what you thought when you first read the script?
Loretta Devine: Most of it wasn’t in the original script that I read. Some of it was. Some of it was improv, especially a lot of the stuff you saw with Ellen Burstyn in the bedroom scene [when the ladies get high]. But it was just a warm script. I loved the action of all of the characters.
I had just gone through an experience with my own mom, who had to go into not so much of a retirement home, but when she got Alzheimer’s, we couldn’t handle some of the things. But I have an auntie that lived in a facility like that, and she had a great time.
They have the swimming pools, and everybody is about the same age group that are living in the apartments around her. So, I knew that it could be fun. And, of course, the cast was a dream cast. I had never dreamed that I would work with people of that stature. So, it was all good.
M&C: Where did the title come from?
Loretta Devine: The film had three names. At first, it was going to be Pine Grove, then it was going to be Never Too Late, and finally, for some reason, for this new internet generation, they decided to call it Queen Bees, and the bee is not for Baptist, but for something else.
M&C: You mentioned a lot of things weren’t in the original script. How much did you work with director Michael Lembeck to develop Sally’s backstories? How much was in the script and how much did you come up with?
Loretta Devine: All the stuff about my mom, working in the beauty salon, and all the stuff about hair, I stuck in there, but I had talked to Michael before we did it. So, we knew what parts of my history we were going to stick it in there to give it more realism for people that are watching it.
I think it worked because when my husband and I watched the show — and he’s very critical of everything — he said, “Oh, that made me feel really happy.”
And I said, “We got a good one.”
M&C: Did you know how to play bridge? It looked as if you knew what you were doing.
Loretta Devine: They had bridge classes for us. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we had to make it look authentic and real because we knew that the real bridge people would know when we were faking it. So, we learned how to play the hand that we played for the movie and that’s it. But I couldn’t tell you anything about bridge.
M&C: You mentioned what it was like working with Ellen, but what about with Ann-Margret and Jane Curtin?
Loretta Devine: Well, I had a girl crush on Ann-Margret. She was just a delight. We were roomed right next door to each other. We were in and out of each other’s room. We went shopping together. We had lunch together. We climbed the hill that was across the street one day that we were off.
It rained a lot. We filmed this in 2018, way before the pandemic in Atlanta. We stayed at the Le Méridien and they had jazz in the evening and a great bar. That was the only social life that we enjoyed besides being in the movie.
M&C: One of the enjoyable things about the movie was that the women in this story are from a generation where they’ve actually accomplished something. They’ve had careers. Did you guys talk about how that fact might be harder for them to move to assisted living because they’re used to being independent?
Loretta Devine: No, we didn’t talk about that. Not necessarily, but to me, I think living in that environment instead of living alone is a much healthier thing for older people because there’s so much to do.
We were filming in an actual retirement home and the people there had wonderful lives. There were all these group activities, or you could go to your apartment and not be bothered if that’s what you felt like.
Loneliness can lead to depression and sadness. And so, I think that it would be healthier than being alone. Of course, if something happens to my husband, I probably won’t leave home, because that is what you always hear people saying, “Please, I want to be at home.”
M&C: Doesn’t it depend on how busy and how much of a social life you have?
Loretta Devine: How much of a senior are you? That’s what they were telling me. They’re in their 80s, and they’re very active for that age, but when my mom hit 90, and especially when she started having dementia and she was doing things if no one could be there all day with her. It wasn’t easy. And then we couldn’t lift her for the bathtub. And she was being contrary when her personality started changing. That’s not the same as a retirement home. That’s a whole different situation.
But personally, I’m away from home a lot. When I go away to do a movie and I’m by myself and I have my crafts and I have the stuff I want to read, that is like a great time to me. It just depends on the person. You’re right that it depends on how social they are, because if you have your church activities, if you have your sorority activities, you have a family, you have a huge life.
M&C: You mentioned dementia. Adele on Grey’s Anatomy is one of my favorite roles that you’ve ever played, and you won an Emmy for it. What does that mean when people compliment you on that particular show?
Loretta Devine: Oh, that means the world to me, I was devastated when they let me go from the show because I think I got let go right after I got the Emmy. And I thought, “I got an Emmy. That really secures you.” There’s no security in show business.
But I knew Jim Pickens and his wife from the time I started out in New York way back in my Dreamgirls days. So, I always absolutely loved playing his wife in that show.
And then they were always so generous. They gave all the parties and stuff that had nothing to do with the show. So, it was like a family feeling. And Ellen Pompeo is such a sweetheart. I loved her. Jim would always say, “It’s butter baby. Okay. Let’s go to work. We’re going to make butter.” And so, it was just a good experience. I loved that show.
M&C: Do you know what’s next for you?
Loretta Devine: Well, I don’t know. We’re waiting to find out if Family Reunion is going to be picked up by Netflix. If it isn’t, then it’s back on the block, as I call it, and that’s waiting to see whatever comes.
But I still have a new show coming on Netflix called The Starling with Melissa McCarthy that’s going to be out soon. And I just did a movie with Diane Keaton called Mack & Rita. That’s going to be coming out within the next year. And we have some stuff that we’re in negotiation for. It may work. It may not. I do lots of voiceover, so I have about three voiceovers that I’m working on. So, I have a lot of work stuff coming up.
Queen Bees is now in theaters and On Demand.