Voice
Lessons



Interviews by Corie Brown, Johanna Drasner, and Holly Sorensen.

An eclectic group of todays brightest young actresses
mouth off about aggressive directors, women's
roles, and why plastic surgery is not a moral dilemma

Premiere: Let's start with a very general question: How important is talent to Hollywood success?

Mira Sorvino: I think to some extent it's a meritocracy. I think good performances are rewarded.

Lili Taylor: I don't think it's merit based. I'm not rewarded for my work, and I work my ass off. Why is it not enough if you keep your cost low then just break even or maybe make a little profit. If two people see my movie, then I've done my job and done it well. I've lost a lot of roles because it has to do with money, it has to do with things that will help sell the picture. The ten best actors are not the highest paid.

Sorvino: No, but perhaps the ten best business people are. Unfortunately any performing art needs an audience and the audience to some extent dictates the success of the performing artist or the piece.

PREMIERE: Is too much pressure put on physical appearance?

Taylor: Respect doesn't get you a job. Beauty helps get you a job. I could be the best actor ever but it doesn't matter.

Penelope Ann Miller: I remember once being told I wasn't sexy or pretty enough. There are studio heads who sit around and judge an actress based on if they would want to sleep with her or not. I've had situations where the director and the producers have really wanted me, and the studio head or heads have fought them on it.

Kristen Scott-Thomas: I don't feel like it's being forced up on me, but then I'm not living in Hollywood. I've heard that this exists--that you have to have this aerobicized body, and you have to have blond hair.

Mary-Louise Parker: I think that's always been the way in movies--it's a visual medium.

Martha Plimpton: To me it's kind of a moot point. I mean, it's the nature of the business. It's always been about beauty and selling fantasy and entertainment. But that doesn't mean I'm not turning into one of the most bitter, miserable, angry people I know because I've been doing this for God-knows how many years and I still can't get arrested when I really want it.

PREMIERE: So what keeps you going?

Plimpton: The simple fact that I don't know how to do anything else.

PREMIERE: Do you thinks standards of beauty in Hollywood are too limited?

Kyra Sedgwick: I feel like there are a lot of acceptable images these days. Women movie stars have such totally different looks that I don't think you can say now that it's all about beauty. I think that there are some classically beautiful women who are movie stars now, but I also think there are some fascinating, unusual-looking women that one may not look at and say, 'Oh my God, she's drop-dead gorgeous and I want to jump in the sack with her.'

Jennifer Connelly: It was kind of frightening to me for a long time to think that it was so superficial--it was very sad. Now I've come to a place where it's okay. It's not as threatening to me anymore.

Parker: Well, I personally can't present one certain persona, so I don't know. I'm incapable. I think probably it would beehove me to do that, if I were looking for a certain kind of success.

PREMIERE: Have you ever been tempted to try?

Parker: No. I mean, as tempted as someone would be...for, like, 30 seconds.

PREMIERE: Which leads us to plastic surgery. Would you? Should you?

Suzy Amis: In terms of the way I approach the business, it is totally irrelevant. I know a lot of women that have done it. But I can't imagine doing that myself.

Dash: I have really small tits and the thought has crossed my mind to get them done. Because I see the girls who are working and they've all got these tits. It's tricky. You're like 'Yeah, well, maybe I should and then I could work.' And then there's also the little voice that says, 'No. Don't make it about that.' One of my idols is Michelle Pfeiffer. I don't see big boobs on her.

Sorvino: I think we're all maybe prey to insecurity about our looks--everybody wants to be thought of as attractive and a lot of us feel like we aren't. But since my initial goal was never to be a big movie star, then I don't see making those compromises in order to mold myself into this girl that everybody loves. There's a million wannabes in L.A. who look far more beautiful than I could ever be.

Miller: I think it depends on what you're trying to put out there. I certainly think it's important to have a good self image, and to feel good abour yourself and your body--if that's going to help you feel better about yourself, then I don't judge it. If you're doing it for yourself, then great, good for you.

Sedgwick: I got shit about my mouth being weird--that I had a big mouth. Of course, when Julia Roberts became a star, it was good to have a big mouth. But I think a bigger issue than the looks thing is the weight thing. You never see a woman who is a normal weight in the movies nowadays, or very rarely. And I am totally neurotic about exercise and my image of what I think looks good. The striving for perfection--it's what brought the Greeks down, it's what brought down the Roman Empire, I mean it's about seeking this perfection that's totally unattainable.

Connelly: Surgery? Never considered it. That's not even part of the equation for me. But in terms of looks, how you walk, how much you exercise and how much you eat--all that stuff was really overwhelming for me for a long time, and it made me really self-conscious and kind of twisted for a while. I didn't quite get it.

Plimpton: This whole plastic surgery thing as a moral dilemma makes me nauseous. Anyone who says it is a moral dilemma is so fucking deluded they should have their head examined. It's a question of 'do I mutilate myself for the sake of people making more money off me or not?' Anyone who says that a woman getting a tit job is reclaiming her sexuality has to rethink their entire concept of what sexuality is in the first place.

PREMIERE: Should there be stronger roles for women in Hollywood movies?

Sedgwick: I don't want more scripts with strong women. I want women to be more real. In general, the scripts I read for my husband Kevin (Bacon) are more interesting than the scripts I read for me. Over the last couple of months I've read so many boy movies, I think I'm just going to vomit. But every actress knows there are hardly any great roles out there.

Plimpton: There are roles for strong women and they are all offered to the same three actresses every five minutes. It's that inability to see women in any aspect other than their otherness, their nuturance or their sexuality.

Parker: I don't care if they're brain surgeons and heroes and they run around saving the world--I don't know what that means, 'strong women.' They can benchpress more?

PREMIERE: Do you feel that certain actresses--Demi Moore, for instance--are finally getting the power that used to be reserved for men? Are you envious of that?

Miller: It's hard for women to be in a powerful position. Women can seem demanding where a man can seem strong. When you start young you're not as mature and adult about things, and so in learning about the political abuse you have to deal with in the industry, and how women can be perceived, I think you have to be careful because people can get reputations so easily. Actors are very emotional people because we have to be, but it's finding the fine line between using it in your work and using it when you're not performing.

Parker: Honest to God, I wouldn't want that kind of clout, or power. No way. Or money for that matter.

PREMIERE: Do you think any actor deserves $20 million for a role?

Sorvino: Does any human being deserve 20 million dollars for anything they do short of finding the cure for AIDS or cancer? I mean, that amount of money is so enormous that I think deserving it falls out of the question.

Plimpton: Actors who accept and ask for this kind of money don't realize that they are essentially making the pool of opportunity shallower for themselves because that money that is being wasted on these people could be used in so many other ways to make other films, to hire other actors, to put into the movie and to put into the industry.

PREMIERE: But Jim Carrey is worth that much now because he will make back the money. However, then other actors will say 'If Jim Carrey's getting 20 million then I want 18,' and second-tier actors will say 'I want 8.'

Sorvino: If the second tier actors get 8 million bucks a picture, what the fuck are we?

Taylor: I'm not even a tier.

Plimpton: I'm still in the cake pan.

PREMIERE: What is your opinion on nudity?

Dash: I don't mind if it's necessary and if it's going to help the character. But just to be the coochie in the flick, no.

Scott-Thomas: The thing I get very angry about is that when you make a film now, you have to adjust the nudity bits for America's ratings. So you're not allowed to show pubic hair! You have to do things with towels! It's just so boring. Nudity does not bug me at all. Sex does. There's nothing worse than sex onscreen. There's a difference between pretending you're having an orgasm-- which is just devastating, just horrible--and having a bath.

Sedgwick: When I was 19 or 20 out in Los Angeles, the parts for women were like these teen flick movies, where you just flipped through the pages and looked for the nude scene. It was mandatory for all scripts. It hasn't changed very much. I've got two kids now, and it really changes things for me. If it's really important to the story, if it's a great part with nudity, I'll never say never.

Miller: I'm very, very, very particular about nudity. It's something that I don't normally feel comfortable with, unless it really says who this character is. There's a great scene in Frances where Jessica Lange is naked and being stripped out of her home--that was an incredibly emotional and heartbreaking scene, because she is just so vulnerable and so violated. I could understand what that was about creatively. But normally I'm not going to do something that's gratuitous.

Sorvino: Nine times out of ten it's used as a titty shot--flash your breasts, we get the t&a audience that we think is waiting for that. It's a double- edged sword. I want to be true to the artistry of the piece and if it makes sense character-wise, story-wise, in terms of the whole validity of the story, then it's something you consider. But if it's used in an exploitative way...

Parker: It depends on what it is. I've had some scenes which I thought were really great, really wonderful, and they were fucking scenes, and I just loved them. I mean, it's a scene, it's like any other scene. I thought that Jamie Lee Curtis thing in True Lies was hilarious! I thought she looked so pretty, and I liked her little getup, whatever it was.

PREMIERE: That didn't bother you at all?

Parker: No! I thought she was hilarious!

PREMIERE: A lot of people thought it was out of place.

Parker: Oh, so what, at least she was funny.

PREMIERE: Many people are angry about the fact that the movie When Night Is Falling received an NC-17 rating--they believe it is because the movie has two lesbian love scenes. How do you feel about that?

Taylor: Lesbianism is fine as long as the dick prevails.

Stacy Dash: I think that's some big executive feeling guilty about the pornos he watches.

Scott-Thomas: I think it's absolutely outrageous that they should be rating this movie differently from any heterosexual thing. I think it's riduculous. At the end of Bitter Moon, when I seduce Peter Coyote's wife and we kiss, everyone was like 'Oh my God, the bit when you kiss her is just unbelievable!' I hate to say this, but it's all pretend anyway. If you're pretending with a man, you might as well pretend with a woman.

PREMIERE: Has your goal always been to end up in Hollywood?

Sedgwick: No! In fact, I sort of looked down upon Hollywood. My mother was from the school of 'Non-actors go to Hollywood, and real actors do plays.'

Amis: You know what's hilarious? I don't feel like an actress in Hollywood. I feel like an actress.

Parker: I never ended up in Hollywood.

Dash: I went to my last three years of high school in New Jersey. I just wanted to act, you know? My mother was like, 'No, no, you're going to college.' But I was not school oriented at all. Because my mother didn't want me to do it, I had to get into the city somhow. I took the bus, I took the train, I did whatever I had to do, and I went into the city and auditioned for things.

PREMIERE: You must have come across some awful characters during those days.

Dash: Not during those days. I'll tell you when I came across awful characters, is when I got some kind of status and came to Hollywood. Then you have directors trying to sleep with you, assuming that you will do things because of the way you dress. Once I got fired because I wouldn't sleep with the director and I wanted a body double for the nudity. Because the nudity was totally unnecessary. It was a big movie, I was in Arizona and I get called to the director's hotel room. Only he's in bed and I was like 'No! This is not happening to me, holy shit!'

PREMIERE: What did you say?

Dash: 'I'm not fucking getting into bed with you.' And I got fired.

Connelly: I've had a few bad experiences with some producers who I thought were trying to take liberties--just verbal manipulation. You want to be in their film, and therefore they have this power, and so they can ask things of you, and you feel like 'Oh, maybe I should do this.' It never became a real big problem, because I always just walked away from it. I don't think that it ever got so bad that I actually lost work because of it, but I'll never know.

Plimpton: We are so busy talking about sexual harrassment in corporate America, but in Hollywood it's rampant, totally rampant. I have experienced sexual harrassment from a woman. And it didn't even have anything to do with the fact that she was attracted to me. It was a total power trip.

Miller: There's always little hints of things here and there that you can certainly detect, but fortunately I've never been treated that way. I started in the theater on Broadway, and that sort of legitimized me as a serious actress--and the directors I've worked with, they're just not those kind of directors.

PREMIERE: Do you prefer working with women directors?

Amis: Martha Coolidge was the first woman director that I worked with. After that I got a real taste of just how nice it is to have a woman producer or a woman director along with the males in the industry. Any time there's a woman who has written a script, or a woman director, I take the meeting. I am always really curious as to where they're coming from, what the story is, how they got to where they are, because inevitably it's not an easy road. Your defenses are let down too. You're not having to deal with sexuality, for the most part. You're in there dealing with--I guess sisterhood is a good word to use.

Dash: My last two films have been with women and it was a wonderful experience. Penny Marshall and Amy Heckerling, two women from the South Bronx.

Parker: I really actually find every director I work with just vastly different. I honestly couldn't say that Jane Campion is different because she's a woman. If someone is strong and clear in what they do, then you're not going to notice it...except that she might ask me where I got my pants.

Sedgwick: I think women in general are capable of more intimacy than men. And I think that there's a possibility that a woman would understand...emotions... possibly, between people, better than a man would.

Taylor: I've been lucky to work with some cool females. When I'm working with a guy, it's as if I was with my brothers and the sister can't play ball with them. I find with the females that I'm included a bit more.

Scott-Thomas: I don't think it makes any difference. I mean, the boss is the boss.

PREMIERE: Do you think roles get better or worse for older actresses?

Connelly: I wonder if there are as many good roles for young women as there are for older women. As an older actress, you're allowed to be just a human being. As a young actress you're the girlfriend or you're the friend of the guy, or you're the one that has the good figure.

Sedgwick: I think it's an incredible strain and pressure in society for women to look a certain way, and unfortunately it does translate itself to the movies. But to me the most upsetting thing is that older male movie stars are getting paired with 25-year-old women! When someone's talking to me about doing a movie opposite Brad Pitt, and they think I'm too old. I just turned 30, and all of a sudden I'm getting to the age where I could possibly play opposite Richard Gere. And Richard Gere has got to be pushing 45.

Miller: You're more stereotyped when you're younger. You are almost looked upon more like an actress when you have more experience, and you're sort of a little more seasoned in the business--it just seems like then they're looking at you as a real talent, as opposed to 'Oh well she's a hot babe that we can put opposite so-and-so.' I think there are more women's stories being made, and stories that are written by women, directed by women--women are carrying the movie. The movie I'm making now, it's not like I'm playing somebody's girlfriend or mother or sister. It's about a woman who has a profession. That gives me hope. But there was a time, certainly, in the days of Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck and Carole Lombard where movies basically revolved around these women. I like to feel hopeful, in that I think there is perhaps more of that now, because women's movies are making more money--certainly that's how the studio looks at it. There's got to be more of a sisterhood in order for us to succeed in this business. The more women can prove that they can have people line up for them, or that people will go see their films, the more they'll make stories for women. There needs to be a certain mutual respect.

PREMIERE: An acknowledgment?

Miller: Yeah. Women don't deal with competition as well as men do, to be honest. I know that may be a sexist remark, but I think men were conditioned at a very houng age because of sports and so on to learn how to deal with competition. I think women can be horribly jealous, and catty and mean and nasty and vicious. I know I've been guilty of that at times. As an actor you're being criticized every time you take a new job. It's negative energy. I think we can put out more positive energy toward each other and be more supportive and friendlier.

PREMIERE: Are roles generally better for men than they are for women?

Sedgwick: My husband will always have it easier. I want nothing but the best for him and for his career; the only time I ever get a little bit irritated is when I think to myself, 'It's just easier for him.' It's always been, simply because he's a man. Not because of anything else. And the pay will always be disgustingly different.

Connelly: There are some awful roles out there for men as well.

Suzy Amis: I think this used to be a very male driven business. I don't feel that so much anymore--I think that women are having a stronger voice. I think that women's characters are becoming more multidimensional as opposed to two-dimensional.

Sorvino: People say, 'Why don't you do a commercial movie?' You know, I have to play the bimbo in distress, and it's boring to me. There are good roles for women out there but there are far more good roles for men. Many men who write scripts still don't understand that a female character is just as human as a male character.

Taylor: It's the narcissistic, self-indulgent self-centerdness which fuels a lot of it. It's like, 'Who cares about the women? I want her to catalyze the guy's journey, I don't give a shit about how she feels.' Well fuck you--I'm tired of being a catalyst.

Plimpton: Every role I go up for now is the girl who asks the questions. And people like to say, 'Hey, get over yourself, quit whining! Don't be a feminazi.'

Miller: Most of the time there's usually the guy cast, and I go in and have to read with the actor to see if there's chemistry and that whole thing, and usually they say 'Well we're going to cast the guy first.' Once they get the guy, they'll figure out who the woman's going to be. But I don't think this world is necessarily fair. I think that once we start to accept that, we'll be a little happier. I think the women's movement has helped us in some ways, and I think it hurt us in some ways. Before men always paid because they made more money and that's just the way it was, and men supported the women financially. But then women still want to have a guy take them out. I like it when a man picks up the check, or buys me little gifts or whatever, so it's a little bit hypocritical.

PREMIERE: Do you think it's the responsibility of an actor to be politically active?

Taylor: If it's done anonymously.

PREMIERE: But if you have a name people will listen to you.

Plimpton: Just because you're famous doesn't mean that people value your opinion more. In fact I would say more often than not they think you're full of shit. What are we but individual citizens, and when we start to use our name or our face or whatever as a tool to spread some sort of message, who does it really serve besides ourselves ultimately? The Academy Awards is the one place where you say something like that and it falls like a lead balloon; nobody wants to hear it, that's not why we're here, we are not here to hear your political opinions.

PREMIERE: Who do you admire? Who would you love to work with?

Dash: Woody Allen. Jessica Lange. Melanie Griffith, I love her.


Miller: Meryl Streep--she seems to have a lot of dignity. There are certain actresses from the past who I've admired like Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Arthur and Carol Lombard. They were feminine, they were real women, and they were elegant, and yet they were also very funny and weren't afraid to make fun of themselves.

Parker: I would work with John Turturro on anything. I'd like to work with Patricia Arquette. Mary Stuart's great, Whoopi's great, Drew's great. I just really like to work, you know?

Original document is found here


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