From Raygun 8/98

LILI TAYLOR

It's hard to say whether the fact that Lili Taylor has often been cast in the role of the ugly duckling or homely outcast instilling of the extremely narrow standards of beauty on the silver screen, or testimony to her impeccable talent for looking the part. It must be both. When she walked into Greenwich Village's Cafe Dante to meet me, I was struck by how irresistibly appealing she is. By Hollywood standards, Lili Taylor has unusual stature for a young female star: she's taken seriously as an actor. Most people associate her auspicious career with the ever-growing independent film market. As the indie film world changes--it's moving above ground and there's a buck to be made--Lili Taylor seems destined for major Hollywood pictures.

Just over 30 years old, her most remarkable role to date is that of Valerie Solanas in Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol (1995), the first work of any kind to examine the radical, lesbian feminist and author of the S.C.U.M. Manifesto, who shot Warhol in 1968 for "a lot of very involved reasons." Dismissed as a paranoid sociopath (who died pathetically in a welfare hospital in 1988, years after she served time in an institution for the criminally insane for shooting Warhol and his dealer), Solanas is actually worthy of investigation. While the movie was flawed--perhaps because it was only about character, not much of a story to tell, really,--Taylor's performance is magical. She becomes this complex, victimized, brilliant street urchin with just the right amounts of charisma and pathos.
That same year, she starred in Jim McKay's Girls Town, which she co-wrote with the ensemble cast and director; and in Cold Fever, co-starring Fisher Stevens. For her outstanding work in these films, the Sundance Film Festival awarded Ms. Taylor it's first-ever Special Grand Jury Prize for Acting.
In addition to starring in two Nancy Savoca films -- Household Saints with Tracy Ullman, and Dogfight with River Phoenix -- she has had parts in movies made by some of Hollywood's most eminent directors: Robert Altman's Short Cuts and ready To Wear, Alan Rudolph's Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Abel Ferrara's The Addiction, Allison Anders' Four Rooms, and Ron Howard's Ransom.
Having recently finished filming John Waters' Pecker with Christina Ricci and Edward Furlong, and Stanley Tucci's The Impostors for release this fall, and keeping her fingers crossed about finding support to make the Janis Joplin bio-pic (there are a couple in the works), Ms. Taylor is catching her breath, reflecting on the state of her career.

Lili: It's been an interesting two years, from 29 to 31 years old, those can be hard times.

RG: Do you feel like you're getting older in Hollywood terms?

Lili: Yeah. And I've been thinking [about] where I am in my career so far. I've had some doubt as to the choices I've made, that I've put myself in a corner. But mostly I feel good about it now. I know I live in the 20th century, there are realities as an actor these days that I face: how can I maintain my integrity, which isn't a principle that hits me over the head each morning I wake up, but it's important to be true to myself. At the same time I want to keep working...

RG: You mean, coming to terms with taking roles that don't necessarily reflect your artistic soul, but you make some money, get different levels of exposure and experience...

Lili: Yeah, without it chipping away too much. I've opened up in a way recently that I've needed to....But I really believe that working on something you don't believe in as an actor is hell. Other people might say, "You should be happy, you've got a job, you're making money," etc. But it just isn't worth it. On the other hand, some compromises weigh out if there's something in it creatively.

RG: You recently guest starred on the "X-Files." How was it?

Lili: It was really fun, like an independent film: They have 2 million bucks [per episode] and eight days of shooting, so it wasn't what I expected, like an easy couple of days. It was very challenging.

RG: Were you a fan of the show?

Lili: No, I'd never seen it before. I don't have a TV.

RG: [gasp]

Lili: The amazing thing was that the next day, I was recognized on the street in a way I hadn't been before...

RG: What's great about being famous?

Lili: Not that much. I think it panders to your lower self, blocks you from spirituality. I think it's important being nothing more nothing less, being like a worker among workers. The price is high. I think the cons outweigh the pros. Being famous gives you a lot of illusions of false self, of self-importance, a grandiosity, it becomes difficult to stay humble and real. You see so many people who don't succeed. It's really a beautiful obstacle. They say the three things that block you from God are prestige, power, and wealth. These usually go with fame. But for me, so far so good. I try to do a lot of things to compensate for it, like I don't read my own interviews, which helps to stay rooted....

RG: Last year you did an interview with Sharon Stone, who was offering up all kinds of (unsolicited) advice, including that you should build up your public persona, because after all, no one goes to see a DeNiro film for the characters he plays, they go to see DeNiro, it seems to me, though, that your great talent is in being the other kind of movie star, the kind who becomes the role, and during the performance the audience can't see anyone but that character. Brando used to be that kind of actor....

Lili: I see my job as an actor to be as good a channel as I can be. Acting is a gift, and I have respect for it.

Sharon Stone also gave Lili even more bizarre advice: "Go to a premiere." Lili Taylor said, "Huh?" "Go to a premiere. Wear a low-cut dress."

RG: It seems like most actors these days, especially women, aspire to direct. Do you think after a certain age women can't get interesting acting roles?

Lili: Yeah, I think at 40 it starts to dry up. They don't want us anymore. I imagine being disgruntled with the lack of opportunity and saying, "Screw this. I'll do my own thing."

By Amy Scholder
Photograph by James Smolka
Styled by Galadriel Masterson at Jed Root


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