Taking the Outsider's Route to Stardom|
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
LILI TAYLOR had no idea what she was doing in the Oyster Bar.
"Yeah?" she asked, her eyes full of hope, when a reporter approached her in the restaurant, destination of the hip and transient in the subterranean world of Grand Central Terminal. She seemed unsure that she was in the right place, or indeed that she was the right person.
"You like this place or something?" she asked, as if maybe we should have shared a smoke on a stoop instead of a plate of shrimp cocktail. When she was told that it was her press agent who chose the restaurant for an interview, she seemed more confused.
Lili Taylor is not used to being handled. She is not, it seems, used to any movie star stuff at all.
But she may have to get used to it as her face, often twisted in a thoughtful grimace, becomes more and more visible. After years of playing the outsider, the ugly girl, the misunderstood misfit and the hopelessly depressed in mostly low-budget films, she has combined all those personas into the powerhouse role of Valerie Solanas in I Shot Andy Warhol, which opened last week.
"It confirms for me and people in my circle that this all hasn't been for nothing," Ms. Taylor said. A native of the Chicago suburbs, she now talks with an accent that is very much of her latest New York character. "This shows that the quiet, slow, not-always-so-rewarding path I have chosen has been for something."
To understand a thing or two about Lili Taylor, it is useful to think of the trajectory of her career versus that of Julia Roberts, her co-star in the first film for both actors, Mystic Pizza (1988).
Ms. Roberts and Ms. Taylor both played pizza-tossing, working-class Portuguese-American heroines with men in their lives who often took a back seat to their whims or pride.
Nearly a decade later, Ms. Roberts has become a celebrity, has played a glamorous hooker, jilted wife and, most recently, a tortured gothic servant in Mary Reilly. Ms. Roberts has spent her screen time finding ways to seduce her male co-stars. In Ms. Taylor's latest role, she simply shoots hers.
Ms. Roberts has married and divorced a famous singer. She frequents Manhattan nightclubs. Her hair stylist is often consulted by beauty magazines.
Ms. Taylor, 29 and single, lives alone in a small apartment in Greenwich Village, where she does not own a television. She won't dab Chap Stick on her lips for photo shoots. When the world looks grim, she plays her accordion.
With restless, mascara-free eyes that dart around the restaurant furiously while she contemplates a question, Ms. Taylor explains why she has never gravitated toward Hollywood. "It's not like I'm anti-Hollywood," she said. "It's just that everything up until now has not met my requirements. The director is most important, and the female role. I am too complicated to simply be a device for the man."
I Shot Andy Warhol is based on the true story of Ms. Solanas, who devoted a good deal of her time to her organization, the Society for Cutting Up Men, before ultimately shooting the pop artist.
Ms. Taylor's characters have been obsessive. In a pair of 1989 films, one wrote hundreds of songs for a former boyfriend (Say Anything) and another devoted her life to the pursuit of Jesus (Household Saints). She has been unattractive: in Dogfight, she was a young man's pick as he tried to win a contest for ugliest date. And her main dilemma in Mystic Pizza was her ambivalence about marriage.
In I Shot Andy Warhol, in which Ms. Taylor's performance grabbed the critics' attention, she combines all of those characteristics and performs them in stereo, and painfully so. "It was a hard film, being in every scene," she said.
She doesn't go to films. She doesn't want to be in most of them. "Hollywood is like making food and the food they are giving people is really bad," she said. "There is no balance, and it makes me sad that a potentially rich medium is putting out garbage. It is as if it is going to atrophy our cultural muscle, and it is sad to me."
Now, if Ms. Taylor were delivering this over a glass of carrot juice in her trailer between meetings with her psychic and her consultant for her inner child or something, it would seem like the sort of pure-in-my-heart line trotted out by many stars that never quite hits the right note. But Ms. Taylor, in T-shirt and big, black chunky-heeled shoes, seems genuinely grounded in her plans to stay low-key, and refreshingly aware of what that might cost her.
"I think my fear has been that my heart was going to lead me astray and I'd be alone with my morals and out of work," she said. "But I'd rather pay that price than the price of spiritual decay."
"I have a niche. When I came to New York in 1988, everyone was leaving. A few of us just hung on tight and stuck it out, and now I can say there is a real community."
Then there is the accordion, which she picked up after Arizona Dreams was filmed in 1992 but dumped by its distributor. (It was released three years later.) "When Arizona Dreams was canceled, I was in shock," she said. "I just started playing the accordion. I didn't know what else to do."
Ms. Taylor also works in Off Broadway productions, and she said she would likely have a staring role next winter in "The Three Sisters."
Lili Taylor's private life, though, does not appear to be her favorite subject. She is not in a relationship now, after a long romance with the actor Michael Imperioli. She seems surprised that reporters are suddenly interested in her personal life, as if she were, well, you know who.
"It's a bite, and they want it," she said, a laugh peeling out of her scrubbed face. "But I don't have bites. I don't. I just have nothing to hide."
Photo: Lili Taylor, shown at the Oyster Bar, gained rave reviews for her role in I Shot Andy Warhol. (Jose R. Lopez/The New York Times)
The New York Times - May 5, 1996, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
Section 1; Page 49; Column 2; Style Desk
Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company