Unknown Magazine - 1996

"People," says Lili Taylor in a voice that's a husky cross between Marlene Dietrich and the Cookie Monster. "I just really dig people. And I dig that we're all here trying the best we can."

Normally, when someone starts talking Free to Be You and Me language, my deepest desire is to plunge out a window. But Taylor tosses off her sentences with such unself-conscious, anthropological zeal that I want to get in line behind her and dig people, too. In films like Dogfight, Household Saints, and Short Cuts, the actress, who's twenty-nine, has consistently turned in performances so raw and empathetic she can break your heart just by looking at the camera. And although Taylor has never come close to the visibility of, say, Julia Roberts, her co-star in her first film Mystic Pizza, audiences are finally beginning to notice her-even on the street. "I'm worried about that," she says, signaling for a cappuccino from a corner table in her favorite West Village hangout. "I love just leaning against a wall and watching," she says, recalling a recent street drama she happened upon. "But then all these people saw me, and I was like, Oh, shit, my cover's blown."

A skinny guy with short curly hair touches her shoulder. Taylor turns and then sees it's New York actor Michael Imperioli, who, until recently, was her long-term boyfriend. "What are you doing here?" she crows, pulling his hand to her cheek. Imperioli grins and then, realizing she's in the midst of an interview, moves on. I remark on how close they seem, even after breaking up. "To sense when it's time to go is so hard--to leave a secure thing, a loving thing," Taylor says. "But that's what'll preserve the friendship. If you go past that time, you sacrifice it..." She breaks off. "But it's hard. It is so hard," she says, her eyes bright with intensity.

Keeping up with Taylor's speedy emotional metabolism is exhilarating as she talks about therapy ("I wish the government just gave it to everyone"), biographies ("I love Muhammad Ali's! He stands up for what he believes"), and astrology ("Sign shit? It's a science. It really is"). And then there's work.

This year Taylor appears in four films: I Shot Andy Warhol and Cold Fever already in theaters; Girlstown, in August; and Ransom, due this fall. Valerie Solanas, the man-hating loon who plugged Warhol, seems to have burrowed deepest under her skin. "I had to expand my mind to make her real to me," she says, rubbing one of her perfectly plucked eyebrows-the only sign of cosmetic tending on her face. "Then, late one night, I came up with 'clear vision in a crippled psyche' and that held all of her contradictions."

In Ransom, her most mainstream film, directed by Ron Howard and starting Mel Gibson, she plays a tough-talking kidnapper. "Originally I was like, 'This character's a cartoon and I don't buy it.'" She rolls her eyes at the thought that a bad girl wouldn't have some touch of humanity. "So we made her working-class, from the Bronx. This kidnapping scheme is like a lottery ticket for her," says Taylor, who grew up middle-class in Chicago.

What makes the actress beam as though she's just won the lottery is the 52nd Street Project a Manhattan theater group that taps eight-to eighteen-year-olds from Hell's Kitchen to write and act in plays. She's volunteered there for seven years. "It's the best writing; it's so pure-we never want to change their words," she says. "And when you act with the kids their eyes light up and they feel that they're offering something to the world." Taylor smiles. She knows the feeling.

-Sarah Towers

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