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11-11-2006, 10:34 PM
she was the evil lady in law and order right? i've never seen her in anything else.
this all sounds very su****ious!!
11-12-2006, 12:14 PM
Part 1 of an interview:
Suddenly Adrienne Shelly
by Tim Rhys
At the Seattle International Film Festival, 1996.
Adrienne Shelly is well aware that something about her makes you want to wrap her in a blanket, kiss her on the forehead and ask her if she wants some hot cocoa before you tuck her in.
Whether she's in movie star mode, looking every bit the blonde bombshell with all the trimmings -- big eyes, pouty lips, slightly submissive demeanor -- or adorned with nerdy glasses and civilian clothes, speaking confidently about her latest directorial effort in front of a thousand Seattle International Film Festival fans, the vulnerability factor is always there, and she's smart and honest enough to go with it. Although she's made her reputation as an actress, starring in Hal Hartley's Trust and The Unbelievable Truth as well as nine other independent films, including Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me and the soon-to-be-released Grind and Sleep with Me, her true passion has always been storytelling.
She has written and directed several plays, has served as the artistic director of the New York City theater company "Missing Children," and directed a 26-minute film called Urban Legend before writing and directing her first 35mm feature, Sudden Manhattan, an accomplished, quirky comedy produced by Marcia Kirkley's new company, Homegrown Pictures.
Like most interesting people, Shelly is a package of contradictions. She is at times painfully shy, at other times disarmingly outspoken; her speech is peppered with references to Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard and ... Mattingly; she's a Cancer who eschews domesticity; she's the ultimate insider's outsider, an artist who could take full advantage of a high-profile independent film career, but who chooses instead to blaze her own trail toward her own brand of fulfillment. She's been patient and methodical and, with the acting offers still coming in and the directorial career taking off, she's just about where she wants to be. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Adrienne at several restaurants, bookstores and coffeeshops both in Seattle and in New York's West Village, where she makes her home.
Tim Rhys (MM): So you decided not to go the Hollywood route. Can you talk about that? When you were first becoming well-known as an actress I imagine you were getting a lot of offers ... were you turning down a lot of work? Tell me how you kind of guided your career in the early stages.
In Chris Kentis/Laura Lau's Grind (1996).
Adrienne Shelly (AS): I don't think I guided my career so much as I reacted to what was happening. I went to Sundance with The Unbelievable Truth and I remember being surrounded by lots of agents and producers and I was really scared. I went back to New York and managers and agents were flying themselves out to see me, agencies were sending limousines to pick me up to have lunch with them. It felt a little like the emperor's new clothes, you know? It didn't feel real rooted in anything. I didn't like it. I don't know. I think what was really imporant to me was to stay in New York, continue writing, working in theater, confining myself to doing what I ultimately started to do, which was create my own work. The opportunity to go to Hollywood was certainly there, my agent was there, I'd been offered a lot of different television series, for example, which would have made me very wealthy, and kind of established me in a particular way. But I didn't want to be established in that way.
MM: What gave you the X-ray vision glasses that a lot of people don't have? How did you see through some of the--
AS: I don't know, I was just reacting honestly to some of the people I was meeting. It was a gut instinct that was saying "Don't put your hand on that stove, it's going to burn." I have a really sensitive bull**** detector. I think I just stayed where I was happiest, and I've been able to make a decent enough living. I've never been very wealthy, working in independent film, but I've been able to support myself doing what I've wanted to do. I've never needed anybody else to decide if I was successful or not. I've felt successful.
MM: Give me some of the requisite background stuff. Like where did you grow up...
AS: I was born in Queens, my family moved out to Long Island when I was about five, and I grew up there. My mother is still there.
MM: What kind of kid were you? Shy, outgoing, what?
AS: I was a shy kid, and very sensitive, and quiet. I was a nice kid, I guess, except to my older brother, who was not allowed to hit me, but I was allowed to hit him. He got the brunt of my aggression.
MM: Were you a loner as a child?
AS: No, I always had close friends. That's always kind of been my modus operandi in the world. In high school if you didn't know what was really going on you'd think I was terribly popular. I was at all the parties and I was sort of acquainted with all the popular people. But I only had three very close friends and they were my life, and my steady boyfriend, who knew everyone, and I never felt like I was really fitting in all that well. But I did a really good job of seeming like I did. I've never had many friends who were not extremely close to me.
11-12-2006, 12:15 PM
In Joel Hershman's Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (1992).
MM: Did you do any acting when you were a kid?
AS: Yeah. When I was really young, at a day camp. I was so shy that I really never spoke to anyone. My earliest memories were looking up at people's knees because I was so small. And then they were doing a production of Peter Pan and they couldn't find anyone who wanted to play Wendy. And I went up to the counselor and said I wanted to be Wendy. And they were shocked because they'd never heard me speak before. And the teacher said "We're sorry, you can't be Wendy because you're too small." I was really bummed because I really wanted to play Wendy. So they made me a lost child or something and thus it began. I always wanted the biggest part even though I was really quiet in real life.
MM: They say that's typical of actors. A lot of actors are very shy people who use the stage as a place to open up.
AS: Yeah, I guess so. Try out different aspects of their personality.
TR: Were your parents supportive of your desire to become an actress?
AS: They were supportive. They didn't take it very seriously. I was at a performing arts camp when I was about 10 and we put a show on, and there were agents in the audience who came up to my parents afterward and said your daughter is talented and she could have a career and my father barked at them and put his foot down and said no way. There's actually a line in the Sudden Manhattan that was my father's response to the agents. He said "I will not have my daughter jumping out a window when she's 30." That was his idea of what would happen to you. That's kinda my tribute to my father.
TR: Did you act in high school?
AS: I did. I had my first professional acting job. I played the oldest orphan in Annie in a summer stock production. But by that time I'd already started writing. As soon as I was old enough to realize I enjoyed making stories up I was doing that. I'm not sure which came first. When I was very young we used to put these shows on when we'd gather at one relative's house or another and I'd always choreograph them. I made the stories up and cast everybody. The most enjoyable thing, even when I'm acting, is storytelling. And then college, and I'd gotten into a couple of the acclaimed drama programs across the country, but my mother was paying for college and she didn't allow me to go. And I'm really glad she didn't. I wound up first starting as a journalism major at Boston University and then transferring to the broadcasting/film dept. And I'm really grateful that I had the education that I had.
TR: On the screen you project a certain amazing vulnerability that I think a lot of people are attracted to. In fact you alluded to it in your film, how people want to protect you and run to your rescue. Is that something that you do consciously in your work? Or maybe I should back up -- is that part of you naturally, and because it's part of you do you put that on the screen more readily, or is it more of a public persona...
AS: I think it's a true aspect of my personality. But I also think of myself as pretty strong and capable of withstanding a lot. But I think my way of dealing in the world is to be honest about my vulnerability, and not sort of hide it. I'm not an extremely hardened person.
TR: Not for living in New York all your life, especially--
AS-- No, and I think because I'm as small as I am size-wise, that people do have a feeling like they're supposed to take care of me.
MM: It's interesting to me because I've always heard that actors do better at playing a part that's opposite of who they really are.
In Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth (1990).
AS: I think often I get cast for who I am when people first meet me. I think I could play someone really monstrous, but because of how I look and my size I never get cast that way.
MM: So you've wanted to play the bad girl?
AS: Oh, sure. Actually I did play a bad girl once, in a film called Roadlflower, a Miramax film which went direct to video. I played this sort of bad girl in a bad gang who manipulates other people into killing. She's a different sort of femme fatale that she has no realization that she's so monstrous. She's kind of childlike. In that role I played up the girlishness, so it juxtaposes between something innocent and something evil. It was fun to play her that way. I get shot like 18 times at the end.
MM: How do you feel about getting into character in a role like that?
AS: It's my belief that everybody holds within them many different aspects of humanity.We all have a wide range of personalities within us. They're not difficult to tap into depending on the scenario you're facing.
MM: You seem to do it effortlessly and very honestly.
AS: It is effortlessly and it is a part of me.
MM: No long, agonizing nights thinking "Oh, god, I've gotta be in this character?"
AS: No, I don't do that. I don't write journals about a character's past. I work through details if necessary, but I don't do the preparation that a lot of actors do. I try to work moment to moment when I'm in front of a camera or on the stage; the given cir***stances and basic understanding of who I am and who my character is, and I work off the other actors.
11-12-2006, 12:17 PM
MM: Meisnerian style?
AS: Yes, I'm a Meisner-trained actress.
MM: Have you always been a writer?
AS: Yeah, that's what my family always thought I'd be.
MM: Are you more of an optimist or a pessimist? In the film (Sudden Manhattan) the gypsy says we all lead lives of terrible torture, misery and then death. How much of that is you talking? You told me you want to live forever, right, so obviously you're an optimist?
AS: Well, no, I want to. I won't. I'm as optimistic as someone who is mainly Russian in her geneology can be. I've got that sort of moody, dark underbelly, but I think there's also sort of an element of optimism that quietly helps me navigate through the jungle. I have both sides of that coin.
MM: I have to ask the Hal Hartley question. How did you hook up with him?
AS: When he was casting The Unbelievable Truth I'd sent my picture into another producer in his office who was casting music videos. Hal had received about 200 headshots through an ad in Backstage and someone in his office held up my picture and said "What about her?" So I was called in along with all these other people. I had to go back two or three times to read and then he gave me the part.
MM: So it was that serendipitous?
AS: It was. I was living in apartment with another actor and two strippers and the actor and I were really frustrated. One day we got Backstage and sent our pictures to every call that sort of applied to us. We did it just that one day and then three or four months later I got the call from Hal's office.
MM: That seems to happen to you a lot. You read the script for Sudden at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and Marcia (Kirkley, former director of acquisitions at October Films) happened to be in the audience, and happened to be looking for a project for Homegrown Pictures. Good things happen to you.
AS: Sometimes they do.
MM: What was your working relationship with Hal? Did he allow you a lot of freedom, or was he pretty controlling?
AS: He knows what he wants and he's very strict about the script, about how he wants the performances to be. Nothing is an accident. He sticks to the script and to the characters in his head, how they speak and how they move. There really wasn't a lot of freedom. It was like "Turn to the left, wait three beats, turn back to the right, say your first line, scratch your head, wait three beats, burp." And the whole time he's saying "Less, less, less, I don't want to see anything on your face at all."
MM: That sounds pretty frustrating.
AS: Yes. Sometimes I wanted to kill him. And the other actors did, too. He tends to do that mostly with the lead actors; the supporting actors can have a little bit more fun. It was definitely a very controlled atmosphere. It taught me a lot, working that way. It taught me to have a real respect for the script. Hal is sort of the lead in every movie he makes. His voice is so strong and so singular and I think people really enjoy his films for that reason. There's something powerful about one person's vision, closely adhered to. Other people may react negatively to exactly the same thing, but my favorite work has always been by auteurs.
MM: Being that closely controlled by a director, did that make you want to direct more, so you'd have that auteur experience? Did that make you want to direct sooner? Did you feel you were stunted in your creative expression at all?
AS: No. After I worked with Hal I worked with a lot of people who didn't control me at all, and just said "Do whatever you want here. Do you like this line? Would you rather say another line? Is this the line you want to say?" I was really given free reign. Given a choice between the two, I prefer the former-- someone who really knows what they want and has a vision and a style.
MM: Do you feel like you were prepared enough as a director? Were you apprehensive at all about the technical process?
AS: I think I've been around enough, and I also directed the short film a year earlier. I felt okay about it. I wouldn't have done it if I felt totally neurotic, like what am I doing here, I don't belong here, they're all gonna figure it out. I try to stay away from those situations in life. There was no time for that kind of stress, really. We shot the film in 20 days; three weeks before we went into production my DP quit and she took a higher-paying job. So the business at hand was finding another DP, storyboarding, going into rehearsals, working with my production designer. And I got extremely ill, also. It was a really bad stomach virus -- I had to go to the hospital, be on IV, I was totally dehydrated. I was finally better about five days ahead of time. When you're working that hard and that fast and there's that much pressure on you, you don't have time for the self-doubt that maybe you walk around with in your normal life when you have plenty of free time for self-hatred.
MM: What was your involvement in the editing of Sudden Manhattan?
AS: I was never not there. I can't imagine giving your film to someone... I know there are people who do it and they're fine with it.
MM: So how do you spend your time when you're not busy on a project?
AS: I hang out with my friends. We read. We go to the theatre, we see movies, go to coffeeshops.
MM: You're just one of those snobby members of the literati.
AS: I am. I'm a big old snob. It's probably one of my biggest flaws. I'm a big old snob. I have a real snobby attitude. What's art, what's not art, mainstream cinema. I have opinions, dogmas.
MM: So, your social life is really boring.
AS: My social life is a mess. In Sudden Manhattan there's this theme that's sort of based on all of the strange relationships and situations I've been in with men throughout my 20s...
MM: They've all been impotent? (like Tim Guinee's character)
AS: I don't even know what that would be like. But these sort of situations where you've met someone, they're really charming, you really like them, and then you find out they live in a car. "You live in a car!?" Or, "You're actually an alcoholic, and I never knew?" These strange sort of scenarios where people's identities are hidden from you. That's been kind of a running theme throughout my 20s.
MM: Are you religious in any way?
AS: I'm an optimistic agnostic. I'd like to believe. I'm willing to listen to any sort of evidence. I hope there's a God, I sure hope there is. I hope we don't just die and that's it. But there's a part of me that really needs some sort of scientific. There remains in my work, in my writing, an element of spirituality. But there are other moments when I feel profoundly insignificant. And that actually is a feeling that kind of frees me. A kind of feeling that this is it. This is my life, so I'd better enjoy it and I'd better be responsible. My father died when I was very young, and he died suddenly, without ever having been sick. So I've gone through life with this feeling that life could end at any given moment. When I wrote Sudden Manhattan and a writer friend said to me "Look, Adrienne, it's your first feature. It might take seven years to get produced." And I thought that is not acceptable to me. Because in my way of thinking I might not live another seven years.
MM: It's an intelligent outlook. It's the truth.
AS: There's something Kierkegaard writes about, in a similar vein. Don't make plans for the future without adding the phrase "However, I might be dead in the next 10 minutes, in which case I shall not attend to it."
MM: Never buy green bananas.
AS: It's opposed to how modern culture would have you think about life.
MM: This is a young, immortal society we're living in. We act like we're going to be around forever.
AS: Everything is so darned pleasant.
MM: And you being Russian, pain is important.
AS: Well, I just think people can enjoy life with the acknowledgement of the entire human experience, pain included. An acknowledgement of death, too. Otherwise it's kind of prozac. We can't live in a society that has us forget pain and suffering so that when it does happen, which it inevitably does, we're not prepared for it and don't face it with dignity or grace. We're also very closed off to the suffering in the rest of the world.
MM: But you have to have small talk.
AS: Whatever I small talk about is actually extremely important to me. Like baseball, which is a complete representation of my life, actually. I just feel better when the Yankees are winning. I'm no fair weather fan. I'm always a Yankee fan. When they suck, when they're great, when Steinbrenner is a bastard, I love 'em. You might be disappointed in them but you still love them. I cried when Reggie Jackson was traded. I wrote letters. And when Don Mattingly left the Yankees this year I was utterly heartbroken. I had framed pictures of him in my kitchen. He's the only person in the world who renders me completely starstruck. I saw him on the street once my knees became weak and I started sweating. And I've met everybody. Martin Scorsese came up to me at a party a couple of weeks ago and told me he was a fan of mine, and I thought that's great. But Don Mattingly nearly bowled me over just by being within 50 feet of me.
MM: That's because you can be a Martin Scorsese, but you can never be a first baseman like Don Mattingly.
AS: Oh, I don't know. I don't think I could ever be like Martin Scorsese. My father instilled a real love of baseball in me. I used to go to baseball games with him and my brother all the time. And when they'd lose my father would get so angry and he'd say Finito! Finito for the Yankees! In 1978 the Yankees were in last place, they were doing terribly. And my father died that August. And right after he died they made this amazing comeback. I felt like Dad had a hand in it. MM
11-12-2006, 12:25 PM
Originally Posted by Mother Greer
she was the evil lady in law and order right? i've never seen her in anything else.
this all sounds very su****ious!!
I recommend Trust for starters. I believe it is only available on vhs currently, but it shouldn't be too hard to find.
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