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Tilly recalls joy of making 'The Big Chill' as film marks 30th anniversary at TIFF

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TORONTO - The scenes of intimate chats, dancing and dining which punctuated "The Big Chill" were as integral to the beloved 1980s film as its memorable oldies soundtrack — and the revelry didn't end when the cameras stopped rolling, according to star Meg Tilly.

The British Columbia-raised actress was still a relative unknown when she joined the ensemble piece that showcased future shining stars including Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, Mary Kay Place and JoBeth Williams.

"The Big Chill" revolves around a group of old college pals who reunite under tragic circumstances: the funeral of a friend who has committed suicide. They spend the weekend reminiscing about their departed friend, reflecting on relationships and how their lives have evolved from idealistic, socially activist youngsters to disillusioned boomers confronting the complex realities of adulthood.

Tilly said the actors all lived in rented condos while on location in South Carolina and would take turns visiting each other's homes with food in tow, spending time dancing and playing Trivial Pursuit.

She portrayed Chloe, the girlfriend of the late Alex who is played by Kevin Costner, with only parts of his body visible in flashes at the beginning of the movie as he's being prepared for the funeral. Costner's scenes from "The Big Chill" were famously left on the cutting-room floor, but the future Oscar winner was still an integral part of the cast and present for the entire shoot and rehearsals.

Director and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan sought to further foster camaraderie between the actors during filming.

"We all went to work at the same time. He wanted everybody around. He wanted us all attached at the hip — and we were," said Tilly, 53.

"In most films, you'll come in and you'll be there for your scene and then you'll go home. But he would have us there and all of us were just hangin' out. You would be there for the whole day and hang out and be in the back of other people's scenes and walk through. We were kind of all living together. It was cool."

Tilly is slated to reunite with Kasdan, Close and co-screenwriter Barbara Benedek at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday for an extended Q&A and screening of "The Big Chill" to commemorate its 30th anniversary.

It's a full-circle moment for the American classic which made its world premiere at the festival in 1983 and was a smash with film-goers. The movie took home the people's choice award and went on to earn three Oscar nominations for best picture, original screenplay and a supporting actress nod for Close.

TIFF director and CEO Piers Handling has lauded "The Big Chill" as a landmark for the festival, saying it helped bolster the profile of a once small, local event which had initially tried — and failed — in its early years to persuade Hollywood stars and some big American flicks to come north.

"It's a movie that didn't just define the festival in its evolution 30 years ago, but it also defined a generation," TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey said in a conference call with reporters last month.

"It's very much about that turning point in your life when you turn 30. You enter your thirties, you begin to look back on your youth and to try to reconcile who you are now compared to who you were when you were a university student, in the case of the movie. So the year 30 just made a lot of sense in the case of celebrating this movie."

In addition to the three months spent shooting the film, there were four weeks of rehearsal which Tilly said was unheard of when the allotment of a few days was typically the norm. And while they relished creating the movie, there was initially uncertainty of how it would be received.

"I think people were (thinking) like: 'Well, we're having fun, but is anybody going to want to watch this movie?'" Tilly recalled. "It's just, like, quiet moments. It's not like car chases or big drama. And we really didn't know."

While "The Big Chill" has become a touchstone for many fans, Tilly has found there have been a few naysayers as well.

"Every once in a while there will be a young person who's like: 'You know, I don't get what the big deal is. My parents made me sit through it and it's just kind of boring, people sitting around and talking.' But they're the minority.

"I have so many people who just love the film, who are like: 'Well, that was me and my friends.' Now, there's actually some younger people who are embracing it all over again.

"I can always tell when somebody's recognizing me from that (film). It's kind of amazing seeing as I was the age that my youngest child is now, that people still recognize (me) from that movie. It was really important to a lot of people."

The Toronto International Film Festival starts Thursday.

———

— With files from Canadian Press reporter Cassandra Szklarski

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