Ernest Borgnine just wapped his starring role in the feature “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez” and he has a four-hour television movie event coming up Saturday night (11/5) with the Hallmark Channel’s “Love’s Christmas Journey.” Not bad for 94 years old.
“I feel great. I’m going to be 95 in January,” he lets us know. As for special birthday plans? “The family hasn’t figured it out yet. All I know is, it’s probably going to cost me money,” quips the Oscar winner, laughing.
Borgnine had to mine his talent for writer-director Elia Petridis “Vicente Fernandez” dramedy, which has him as an old man bitterly disappointed that he never became famous — who suddenly finds himself the center of attention among the Latino workers in his nursing home when they learn of an incident in his past. “I doubted very much if I could pull off something like this,” he admits. “Carrying a picture is a whole lot different than just being in a picture. You have to think ahead to where things are going at all times. But this young man was so enthusiastic and confident, it made me feel confident. He said, ‘No one else in the world can do this. You’re brilliant.’ He was just a dream to work with. I learned so much. I can’t say enough,” he says of Petridis.
Meanwhile, there’s “Love’s Christmas Journey,” the latest in the Hallmark Channel’s enormously popular “Love Comes Softly” movie series of 1800’s prairie family romance tales. With JoBeth Williams, Charles Shaughnessy and Sean Astin also in the cast, the story has Borgnine as a mystery man named Nicholas who gets the town talking. “I had a ball with it. It turned out to be just fun. When they said, ‘There’s going to be four hours,’ I said, ‘Are you going to show it all at once?’ They said, ‘All at once.’ So you’d better get a lot of popcorn and settle in.”
Borgnine is also fronting a Turner Classic Movies cruise coming up Dec. 2 — and he’s hoping “Vicente Fernandez” will be ready to show. Where does he get all his energy? What’s his secret at almost 95?
“My secret is: keep laughing. That’s the idea,” Borgnine replies. “If you can keep laughing and keep smiling, one way or another, by golly, you’re bound to find other people around you laughing, too. I’ve had my times when I just felt terrible, just awful, you know? But hey, there’s always something that comes along that makes you feel good. That’s what matters, really — it’s how you approach life. You can be like the people who go around with a cloud over their heads for the rest of your days and it’s terrible. Or you can wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, man! I’m alive and God has had a good look at me and blessed me.'”