How did it all begin for you as an actress?
A casting director was in my school cafeteria. I went in to read for her and was terrible. I was ten and a half. I went to an acting class with other children out of mere curiosity, and as we were doing improvisational work, it was much like what children do anyway. We played make believe, and once I understood that acting wasn’t acting, but playing rather, I got better.
Are some actors exceptionally and innately talented whereas others need to work hard to
improve on their acting?
It is most difficult to be natural the moment when one becomes self-aware. A child is the best painter, but most grow up to say “I can’t paint”. It is the same for acting. Later on, once you become self-aware, everything has to be learned to be forgotten. I think it is possible to be natural in your first film if you are playing a character close to yourself, but only if you have never thought about what you looked like in your life. This type of self-awareness is why most models are stiff on camera; they pose and show/demonstrate their emotion instead of just feeling. The second you think about how to act you are false. Everybody works at it in their own way. Whether they tell you about it or not is the question. Sometimes a bit of life experience is all you need to become better. Sometimes it’s the lack of experience, like a child, that made you natural to begin with. One can start off natural and get unnatural, and vice-versa.
Why do some actresses, especially here in the states, prefer to be addressed in the masculine, “actor”?
I think they think it makes them more equal to have the same title as a man: flight attendant instead of stewardess.
Do you prefer being called an actor or actress?
I don’t care really. If I am treated right you can call me whatever you want. I refer to myself as Leelee Poohead sometimes.
What are your strengths as an actress?
They haven’t been shown yet, I think …but I’m funny. And I’m good at feeling pain, but I don’t like it.
A great film can be a big budget film with explosions, and it can be a small film addressing only emotional matters.
Some consider Deep Impact (1998) a turning point in your career, and as the movie where you first achieved recognition. Do you agree with this assessment?
Maybe. I actually shot Eyes Wide Shut first. I haven’t thought about that really, as at the time, everything kind of blended in, one with the other.
What are other films you’ve starred in that you personally consider an artistic but not
necessarily a financial success?
A Soldiers Daughter Never Cries is one of my favorite films. I also met my best friend, opera singer Anthony Roth Costanzo, on that movie. It’s a great film. When I think of how to run a set smoothly- Jim Ivory and Ismael Merchant were an incredible team.
Would you say that overall, the quality of films being made today pales in qualitative content, than say, films made before your time?
Most do, but there are so many now, and only mostly the junky stuff gets through. Also, some are pretentious about what a great film is. A great film can be a big budget film with explosions, and it can be a small film addressing only emotional matters. I think there will be more interesting films made today, as everyone with a digital camera can become their own filmmaker. On the other hand, when it’s too easy, sometimes it’s not worth fighting for. I do love the classics and the films that become the classics. Most of the time, time is the test.
What do you make of Hollywood’s attitude regarding women, youth and aging?
I think it’s wrong. I think what Hollywood thinks people want is not what they want, but what Hollywood is programming them to want. They have this term, “bankable”, to describe an actor, when really no actor aside from maybe five in the world are “bankable”. People just want to see a good movie. If the movie is crap, no one is bankable. Ah-ha, but to pre-sell your film, before you made it, to get financing, you need the actor. It’s a crazy world. Sex sells, so if the attitude towards what is sexy changes, then older women will have more interesting and sexual roles, as they do in France.
Why and how, for example, do actresses such as Meryl Streep or Glenn Close seem impervious to this attitude? They never relied on only their looks, or never really played “the pretty girl”; most often they played the smart and interesting and strange and pretty girl and now they play the same, but with the word “woman” at the end instead of “girl”. I think they are, and were, beautiful. The kind of beauty that most interests me. Other women want to see this type of woman because it is the best type of woman. A woman that can be admired and be your friend. And men are interested by this type, but they have been kind of programmed to be scared of it.
In the book, Conversations with Woody Allen, one finds that he wanted to cast Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder in Melinda and Melinda but couldn’t, because, said the director, “I couldn’t get insurance on them….” Do you think that somehow, Downey Jr. has now been absolved of his transgressions, while Ryder continues to pay for hers?
Downey Jr. had small and then big and then bigger box office hits, and so that is why he has been absolved. But men get to play the leading man much older than women do (aside from the few mentioned above) and that is the question here. Maybe Winona will have anther big hit and then she will be absolved. I think maybe people just think that particular shoplifting incident is kind of funny somehow, and so they like to think about it and it stays in their mind, whereas drug addiction is not something people want to think about.
Are they any films that you’ve recently completed and are pending releases?
Mad Cow (now titled Branded), which was great to shoot, but I haven’t seen anything yet, as it is in post-production. It is kind of in the vain of How To Get Ahead In Advertising one of my favorite films) mixed with some surreal epic with romance. And The Last Film Festival, starring Dennis Hopper, which is almost a mockumentary on small film festivals.