Thanks to her son, Nick, the actress finds direction, balance, and the role of a lifetime.
As an actress, I've played a lot of mothers. People ask me, "Don't you get sick of it?" And I think, Why would I get sick of it? Mothers are the most powerful people in the world. They have a lot of influence on their children and try very hard to be a good influence, even though they don't always succeed. The relationships between children and their mothers—especially sons and mothers, I think—are fascinating. You can never tell whether your kids turn out well because that's the way they are or because you had something to do with it, or whether you hampered them. You can't really know.

Since my son, Nick Cassavetes, was about 12 or 13, he's called me Gena, not Mom. It seemed appropriate because he was 6'3" at that age and so adult-looking. I've acted in a number of projects that Nick has directed. This last one—The Notebook, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks—was particularly hard because I play a character who has Alzheimer's. I went through that with my mother, and if Nick hadn't directed the film, I don't think I would have gone for it—it's just too hard. It was a tough but wonderful movie.

I loved having him at the helm. Nick treats all his actors with respect, which reminds me of his father, John. The first day of shooting, Nick said, "Okay, Mom. Action!" James Garner turned to me and said, "Action, Mom! That's the first time in my career I've ever heard that one." James laughed so hard he ruined the take. I thought, Excuse me? You'd think it would be just the opposite—that Nick would try to distance himself from me to maintain the director-actor balance. But he didn't. It struck me right then that he was so completely in charge as the director, but at the same time he was able to pull off a lovely show of tenderness and respect toward his mom. If a scene went really well, he'd give me a little smile and a wink. Then afterward, he called me Gena again. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, yet I do remember thinking, That's my little guy! Except he's 6'5".


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