Rosalie Buckler and her daughter Debbie Rich are soul sisters, the best of friends and then some. Debbie knows what Rosalie is going to say before she has time to utter a word. But then Rosalie gets that knowing smile when her daughter talks and it says so much more than words.
Debbie has had many roles in her career. She was a radio news reporter, served as communications director for former Mayor Lincoln Chafee and worked for him when he was senator. When Chafee served as governor, she worked in the Department of Motor Vehicles as the director of information. Pretty much all of that time she was interested in acting and has become a card-carrying member of the SAG AFTRA . She has played parts in numerous films and commercials.
Often Rosalie, who is now 90 but doesn’t look it, accompanies her. She has fun watching the filming, gets to enjoy the “always good food” and sometimes is an extra.
More than a year ago Debbie and Rosalie set off for a North Hampton, Mass. retirement home. No, Debbie was not thinking her mom should be placed in care - the two live in Wethersfield Commons and are quite happy there, thank you. Rather than a search for accommodations, Debbie was working on a film that is now making the festival rounds and will be released in the near future.
“Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game” stars Paul Sorvino and Martin Landau, two friends who discover being a senior can be ageless. The story, from what can be gleaned from the online description and trailer, is both entertaining and provocative.
It turned out to be far more than what Rosalie or Debbie imagined. In fact, Rosalie dies on screen.
That’s getting ahead of the story.
Rosalie didn’t volunteer to die. She didn’t even realize she was being considered for a feature role when a director spotted her as she and Debbie were having coffee. He asked if she might join Sorvino and Landau for lunch on the set.
“Well, sure,” she thought. The lunch looked appetizing and she wouldn’t mind sitting between the two actors.
Debbie, who was cast as a member of the home staff, would be on the set, too. She was nervous for her mother and afraid of showing it. She chose to wait on tables in a corner of the dining room, just about as far away as she could get from the action.
“I felt like my son was pitching in the Little League World Series,” Debbie said. On the other hand, Rosalie was treating this as just another day at the set. This wasn’t a big deal, at least for her. When she took her seat, she looked up at Sorvino saying, “you look familiar.”
Meanwhile, Rosalie listened carefully to directions. As Sorvino, described conditions at the home to Landau, the newcomer, on camera Rosalie, was to pay no attention to their conversation as if they weren’t there at all. However, at a given line in the conversation, she was to slowly lean forward until, her head is resting on the table.
At that point Landau asks, “What’s, wrong with her?” to which Sorvino replies casually that she’s died.
At this point, the staff, including Debbie, rushes to the table and the scene comes to a close.
Rosalie found the whole thing amusing and on one take couldn’t help but laugh when Debbie raced to her side. She estimates they must have shot the scene 15 times.
The movies were not a chosen career path for Rosalie.
She started working at the age of 14 in her parent’s bakery, Kessler’s at the intersection of Orms and Douglas in Providence. When the freeway claimed the bakery it was forced to move to North Providence. When the bakery and deli closed in 1973, Rosalie landed at AT Cross where she worked as an assembler and machinist before retiring in 1989. She later volunteered at Miriam Hospital and Women and Infants and then worked as a product demonstrator at Stop & Shop where she handed out food samples.
Debbie introduced her to the movies and she has appeared in a number of them. Her advice has always been not to interrupt the star actors as they have a lot on their minds.
“Don’t talk to them,” was her instruction.
Rosalie knows where her daughter is going with the story. She was at a shoot for the TV series “Brotherhood” when actor Jason Clarke took her hand and remarked, “Your hands are so soft.” Rosalie didn’t respond at first, which had Clarke asking more questions. She remained mute, but surely give him one of her smiles. Finally, Rosalie confided her daughter’s advice and they laughed.
As it turned out, Debbie and Rosalie knew the story line to “Abe and Phil’s Last Poker Game” but discovered it was far spicier than imagined.
“There’s sex,” says Debbie.
Rosalie smiles knowingly.
They don’t go into details. After all they haven’t seen the movie yet. That may come at the 22nd Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival on March 17. Debbie thinks it may soon be available on YouTube and Google Play.
Meanwhile, Debbie works the movie circuit and Rosalie joins her.
She’s ready to be featured at any point, although she never would have thought the big opportunity would be playing dead.
Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game was the first feature film written and directed by Howard L. Weiner, a Denver-born neurologist who is the Robert L. Kroc Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Partners MS Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Originally released in April, Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game is the final feature film to star Landau, who died in July of 2017 with 175 actors credits to his name, according to IMDb.