Documentary 'Hats Off' debuts tonight

At 93 years of age and barely as many pounds, Mimi Weddell continues to make her mark in the world, as demonstrated in the documentary "Hats Off," which premieres tonight at Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs.

Weddell and daughter Sarah Dillon will attend the opening show and reception, which will benefit the AIDS Assistance Program of Palm Springs.

At her age, Weddell is making each year count. She still hits the New York City streets for acting gigs and photo shoots, and she does it with style. If her hair decides not to behave, all the better excuse for wearing a fabulous hat.

"It sort of depends on the audition," Weddell explained in a recent telephone interview. "If they say, 'Just wear anything,' I will try to find something to complete the costume - something that feels just a little humorous, a little eccentric, a little gay, so that everybody won't think this is just an old lady."

Throughout her years of auditioning, Weddell would occasionally bump into her daughter's childhood friend, Jyll Johnstone, who had also been bit by the acting bug.

"After that phase was over, she called and asked to follow me around with a camera," said Weddell. "I didn't think very much about it."

"Hats Off" completes a trilogy of documentaries by Johnstone celebrating women of progressing years and talents, including "Martha & Ethel" and "Throwing Curves: Eva Zeisel."

"She is really the sweetest director - unflappable Jyll," Weddell said. "She's so patient, and I think that is an accomplishment."

Capturing ages 80 to 90, the film follows Weddell as she attends classes for acting, singing and dancing. During the interview she even broke into song while gushing about her love for classic jazz.

But the years have begun to take their toll.

"I might arise from the bed with energy, but in 15 minutes it may be gone," Weddell said. "A teaspoonful of brandy helps if I can't get to the gym to stand on my head."

Often seen in the film smoking with a cigarette holder, Weddell confesses to her only vice.

"They would really gladly slit my throat if they saw me smoke, as my aunt paid me $5 during the Depression to not smoke until I was 17," she said. "I don't know if it sends me back to those days of being so light on my feet and dancing down the street and singing, but I enjoy it as I do coffee."

With film credits that span from "The Purple Rose of Cairo" to "Hitch," Weddell has played a number of roles, including the transgendered Miss Mumsley in the 1981 horror spoof, "Student Bodies."

In choosing her roles, personality can trump the paycheck. "If I like (the director), I don't care whether they pay me $2 or $200, as long as I have a love of what we're doing," she said.

Weddell attended a screening of "Hats Off" last January at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

"Everybody was so sweet and enthusiastic. It was a wonderful audience, and I can't wait to go back," she said. "I never felt better than while being in Palm Springs - maybe it's the atmosphere, maybe it's the air."


HATS OFF -- the acclaimed documentary by Canobie Films, starring Mimi Weddell. All materials © 2008