Blythe Danner laughs at the suggestion that she's never had movie roles big enough to do her justice.

"Maybe I'm just good in those little parts and you think you want more of me. If you had it you might be disappointed."Although she has worked steadily for more than 20 years and has a reputation as one of the best stage actresses of her generation (she's in her mid-40s), Danner has had relatively few film roles, most of them small. Her two latest projects - the current "Alice" and the upcoming "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" - offer more of the same: modest character parts that Danner's precision turns into memorable miniatures.

The Pennsylvania-born actress says her erratic career is the result of both choice and circumstance. "It's choice that grows out of circumstance, I guess, because after the children were born I said I was just going to be a good mother."

Danner and her husband of 21 years, TV producer Bruce Paltrow (St. Elsewhere), have a 15-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter who recently entered college. Danner continued to work after becoming a mother but scaled back her professional activity.

"When they were young there were several things that came along that were large, juicy roles, and I just said no. I have no regrets about that.

"I'm not one of those superwomen, unfortunately, who can do it all. Women's liberation has been liberating in a lot of ways - for jobs and pay and everything else - yet women have suffered so much stress trying to do it all."

She plans to pursue acting with renewed vigor when her son leaves for college in a couple of years. "Of course, nobody will want me then," she jokes. "But I hope I have a reputation as somebody who's at least had some stick-to-itiveness. I'd like to work more."

A welcome side effect of an on-again, off-again career, says Danner, is that she's rarely typecast. "Nobody knows who I am enough to type me, although I've certainly played mothers a lot. I was a Jewish mother in `Brighton Beach Memoirs' and a Southern mother in `The Great Santini.'

"I like the anonymity I have. I move from one small part to another. You can't hit a moving target!"

Thanks to good experiences making "Alice" and "Mr. & Mrs. Bridge," she says she's finally feeling more comfortable with movies. "I used to hate film. I never could make a friend of the camera until recently. That, of course, has to do with the individual crews and directors."

She describes "Alice" as "charming" but admits it's not one of Woody Allen's best. Still, she was pleased to work with the director and his all-star cast, which includes Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Joe Mantegna, Bernadette Peters and Cybill Shepherd.

"That cast is so impressive. It always fascinates me how people will drop everything and practically do a walk-on, because Woody is one of the few people who can do exactly what they want, and I think everybody admires that freedom."

She says her role as Mia Farrow's sister "was a small part to begin with. As a matter of fact, I think everything I shot was in the movie, miraculously."

"Mr. & Mrs. Bridge" gave Danner a belated chance to work with two old friends - James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, the team behind "Maurice" and "A Room With a View."

"They had asked me to do several roles over the years, and I just couldn't get out of the house by choice, of course."

She hadn't read the two Evan S. Connell novels on which the film is based, "Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge." But Danner says she "embraced and loved them" after she was cast as Grace, the ill-fated friend of the title characters, a Kansas couple played by Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

"That's one of the things I like about working," Danner says of her preparation for the part. "It's sort of like going back to school with each project. I get a crash course in whatever I'm working on."

Her next project is Barbra Streisand's adaptation of novelist Pat Conroy's "Prince of Tides," which took Danner back to Beaufort, S.C., where she shot "The Great Santini."

"Having played a lot of Southern people, I'm so fascinated with the South. There's an eccentricity that you just don't find anywhere else.

"I think I would have liked to have been Southern, which is why I like to play Southerners. I feel a real identification with them. They're dear, dear people."