Growing up in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, Talia Balsam knew Palm Springs as a spring-break getaway. Now, with an acting career that spans more than 40 years — and credits including Divorce, Mad Men, and The Good Wife — Balsam is making her first trip to the city as a guest of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
The New York-based actress talked with Palm Springs Life about her love of the desert, the family drama South Mountain showing at the festival, and her exotic plans for the holiday season.
What’s your personal history with Palm Springs?
I went to high school in Los Angeles, and Palm Springs used to be kind of a spring break place. It’s changed a bit but I’ve always liked it. I’d come out and go to Two Bunch Palms, or hiking. When I lived in LA, it was much easier access. But I like the desert. And the architecture is really great. I was there a few years back and we took our bikes. My husband (actor John Slattery) and I just rode around and checked out all the midcentury houses. We were complete looky-loos.
You’re coming out in January to the film festival with South Mountain. What can you tell us about the film and your character?
It’s a very complex character. It’s a woman dealing with a family that’s not your normal, traditional family setup.
Talia Balsam: "There’s been a lot of champions of this film. I think it speaks to a lot of different people for different reasons."
She’s an artist in the Catskills, she teaches. I was at a point where my son was going to college, and she’s sort of dealing with her life changing, and having no say in it, or control. A lot of stuff happens to her in this particular period of time — very dramatic and life-changing things. But it has a very positive bend to it. It’s just somebody dealing with things and processing it, sometimes in a good way and sometimes, you know, irrationally.
You’ve accompanied this film to other festivals around the country. What has the response been like?
It’s been great. I hate looking at reviews, but when we were in South by Southwest [SXSW], it was so nice. I feel like people got it, maybe more than I did. There’s been a lot of champions of this film. I think it speaks to a lot of different people for different reasons. I think it’s a beautifully made film and whether you’re a kid or an adult, it speaks to different generations.
You worked with your husband on Mad Men several years ago. What was that like?
That was actually a great time for us because our kid was younger and we got to be in LA over the summer and settle in a bit. That’s when Mad Men was shooting there. And I loved playing Mona. I think it was really helpful that we had a prior connection, or our marriage, to those characters. I think it informed it a lot.
Had you ever worked together before?
We did a movie called The Return. But I didn’t have any scenes with him.
Talia Balsam and Scott Cohen connect in South Mountain.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been going to a lot of film festivals for South Mountain. But I did a movie called The Climb that was at Cannes and I think is going back to Sundance. And there’s another movie I just did with Michael Keaton called What is Life Worth? that’s also going to be at Sundance. But this movie [South Mountain] I’ve been traveling around with because I’m in it from beginning to end. So we hopefully get a distributor.
What are your plans for the holidays? Will you be spending them at home in New York?
I’m going to Paris with my mother and my husband and meeting up with my son, who’s been going to school in Copenhagen. So we’re all meeting up. I haven’t seen him for three months. So we’re going there for Christmas and bringing everybody back. And then I’m so happy to be coming out [to Palm Springs] and supporting our movie and seeing some other films. I’m very happy to be a part of it.
South Mountain screens at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 3 at the Mary Pickford, 36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; 5:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Palm Canyon Theater, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, and 4:30 p.m. Jan. 9 at Regal Cinemas Palm Springs 9, 789 Tahquitz Canyon Way.