FINDING THE FLIP SIDE OF LILI TAYLOR
So who is LILI TAYLOR? And why do we care? what we like about Lili Taylor, if you really must know, is what she's not. She doesn't give us weird-slut, irksome vibes like Heather Locklear. She doesn't try to woo us like Neve Campbell, so saccharine-cute and coquettish. She doesn't pull any faux eco-,socio-politico-concerned shit like Linda Evangelista or all those PETA models. Lili is actually our type of celebrity-a talented, differently lovely girl who's never been anyone's prom queen.
There's a genuineness in her acting that--well, as trite as this may sound--we can relate to. (I mean who can forget Lili in Say Anything painfully singing "Joe Lies," the anthem for all who have been screwed by love. Joe lies..., Mary cheats...,Mickey steals....) But there is something--we'll call it an enigma--about Lili,too. Inasmuch as we love what she does, its hard to know who she really is and what it is about her that makes her seem at once so ordinary and so extraordinary.
Perhaps it is partly the range in her acting ability and the roles she chooses(or picks from those offered). She's starred in commercial hits, such as Ransom, Born on the Fourth of July, Short Cuts, and Mystic Pizza, and indie fare, including I Shot Andy Warhol, Girls Town, and Pret-a-Porter. We sent the good sort of Dave to New York City to get more answers from Lili on what she's not, so we can figure out what she is.
Siren: How do you feel about doing things like this, like photo shoots and Interviews? You're not like a glam queen.
Lili Taylor: This is fine.
Siren: I ask because it seems kinda of contrary to your personality. Half of your charm is that you're not flashy.
LT: It's what I have to do. I guess I could cut off my nose to spite my face, but what would that accomplish? I see some artists where they just won't participate at all, and I understand why, but there's a price to pay for that.
Siren: Do you foresee more high-profile roles eventually coming for you?
LT: You have to understand, there aren't that many parts for women--there are half as many parts for women as men--and what is available is just not that good. If I was a guy, I'd be working a lot more and I'd be doing bigger movies. I'd play a gangster, I'd play a robber, but that comes so seldom. The female roles are boring.
Siren: Why do you think that is?
LT: I think that's the way that a woman has to fit into the formula. I Think to make a woman complex and so on does not fit into the grand scheme.
Siren: Do you get a lot of scripts sent to you from filmmakers--Indie or Mainstream?
LT: No, I don't.
Siren: That's really surprising.
LT: I guess I hadn't realized how much [the industry] had changed since I started. I guess I thought I'd just go along and keep doing all these great films, and they'd just keep coming. I thought I was set. And then I realized that it's all about money.
LT: I mean, they need names, they need stock. They need names that are going to bring in money. People have bigger names than I do. If there's an actress that has a bigger movie out or whatever, and we're both up for the same independent. She's going to get it.
Siren: I thought the whole point to independent films was the integrity, the art, not the money.
LT: Yeah, the whole point is that they're for a few people. It's antithetical. I think we need to redefine the word "independent." But if that's the way [the industry] is, then I'll make the changes that I need to. Whatever it takes. I don't care.
Siren: You mean by Compromising?
LT: It's not a compromise to me to do something a little bit bigger with a little bit more commercial value if it's going to help me get the films I want to do.
Siren: Like Ransom? That's where a lot of people know you from.
LT: That's right.
Siren: So are you doing anything now? There are rumors that you might play the part of Janis Joplin.
LT: Yes, I helped on the script, the last rewrite. [Director] Nancy Cevokak is filming something at the moment, but we're working on it.
Siren: Will you sing, like in Say Anything?
LT: We're attempting to have me sing. Voice lessons.
Siren: I also hear your working with John Waters.
LT: Yeah, I'm filming, at the moment, a movie called Pecker.
Siren: What's Pecker about?
LT: It's about a young kid who takes pictures and lives in this working-class neighborhood, and his subjects are like a Diane Arbus-type. He does it real innocently. So I come in, and I have a gallery and, ohhh...his life completely changes for the worst.
Siren: You Jinx him?
LT: Sort of--like one of his subjects is this guy who steals, and he gets caught because someone saw a picture in my gallery, things like that.
Siren: A lot of your roles are memorable. I've always wanted to know how you managed to nail that Latina accent in
LT: Well, she actually started off Italian and, I don't know, everybody said she seemed Puerto Rican. I don't know what I was doing--I really don't. You see, we were in this little room improving for, like, two months, and I'm not sure what I was doing, but the director just kept saying,"Go with it."
Siren: You sort of co-wrote Girlstown?
LT: I did co-write it, it's all improv. The director transcribed all of these tapes [of conversation we had].
Siren: It seems writing is almost as important to you as acting. Would you write your own script?
LT: As a matter of fact, I'm writing a story about my parents. I want them to be in it.
Siren: Are your parents actors, too?
LT: No, but they'll act in it, and I'll produce and direct it. The script's called Park and Marie--which are their names. It's just a day in their life. I'd love to see a day in their life.
Siren: Is there anything extraordinary that occurs?
LT: Well, it's extraordinary within their context. They start out not really desperate but in trouble, and they need to use their talents in an interesting way. In that way, I think it's extraordinary.
Siren: Do you think it's time more women started writing good scripts for women?
LT: Well, the good scripts are out there, but getting them made is another story altogether.
Siren: Would you ever consider producing a film?
LT: That takes a lot of money.
Siren: Charlie Chaplin managed with United Artists. It was the talent that drew attention then, and you've got the talent
connections. Maybe there are other indie actors who feel the same frustration you do.
LT: Yes, I know there are.
Siren: Well, maybe the time is right?
LT: You know, I really like that....
CITY: "NEW YORK, DEFINITELY. NEW YORK'S THE PLACE. I MEAN THINGS JUST HAPPEN HERE THAT DON'T HAPPEN ANYWHERE ELSE. IT HAS TO DO WITH THE HISTORY, I THINK, THE PEOPLE WHO CAME HERE, THE IMMIGRANTS--VERY INTERESTING PEOPLE.
FILM: "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE."
BOOK: "A CONFERERACY OF DUNCES--I READ IT TWICE."
AUTHOR: PROUST, I LOVE HIM. I STILL HAVE A WAYS TO GO WITH IT, BUT EVEN FROM WHAT I'VE READ I CAN SEE WHY THEY CONSIDER HIM TO BE ONE OF THE GREATS."
Forcing a survey of Lili Taylor's films into the processed-data, easy-answer, spreadsheet format that Siren has used for film reviews in past issues is like making a belly dancer perform in a go-go cage. Instead, we've chosen several Taylor-made classics that highlight the talent and the sometimes poor judgment of this complex actress.
It's a philosophy survey course and vampire film noir rolled into one. Philosophy doctoral candidate and urbanite Kathleen Conklin (Taylor) is bitten by a sophisticated lady (Annabella Sciorra) in a dark stairwell. Within days, Kathleen finds that she's become a blood junky. Her new hunger converts her from an austere pacifist to a bloodthirsty hedonist. Almost every character has relevant quotes from the great thinkers up their sleeve and is ready to attribute them, including Christopher Walken who is fabulous as the vampire mentor trying to cure Kathleen of her blood dependency. Unable to withstand the withdrawal, Kathleen runs away from the mentor's detox hold to stage a trap for a spectacular feeding frenzy.
Miracles, visions, and sainthood are explored in all their ambiguity and subjectivity in this sentimental tale of special people perverted and destroyed by the narrow-minded ones who love them. Teresa Santangelo (played by Taylor as both teen and adult) sees apparitions and prays fervently as did her oppressive grandmother, whose death seemed to have made a healthy pregnancy possible for Teresa's mother. Teresa's mystical tendencies are not appreciated by her parents (Vincent D'Onofrio and Tracy Ullman) who dreaded the similar tendencies demonstrated by the old bat. She is determined to accept the limitations put on her by her parents and finds a bliss that everyone around her perceives as insanity.
A lot of readers need no introduction to Say Anything. As lazy as it might be to use a cliche, this movie really did project the zeitgeist of a generation. Most of us probably identified better with the expressively angst-ridden Corey Flood (Taylor) than with the transparent, too-perfect object of John Cusack's desire, Ione Skye. And it is satisfying almost ten years later,(let me repeat that for those whose shock made them lose consciousness--ten years later!) to see that Ione Skye is nowhere near as present in the public's mind as is Lili Taylor. Let's refresh our memory on some of those great lines Lili had in the movie:
"You're not a guy. The world is full of guys. Be a man."
"Brains stay with brains. The bomb could go off and their mutant genes would form the same cliques."
(At a graduation party)"I wrote sixty-three songs this year. They're all about Joe. And I'm going to play every single one of them tonight."
(Singing)"Joe lies. Joe lies...when he cries. He lies."
When one of a group of four high school friends commits suicide, the other three steal the diary that she had closely guarded. They learn from the diary for the first time that Nikki(Aunjanue Ellis) had been raped shortly before taking her own life and begin to open up to each other about their anger toward men who have wronged them. Then they become giddy with a new sense of power as they unleash their rage on a dumbfounded neighborhood, through small acts of property damage, theft, and physical violence. Lili Taylor plays a plucky but secretly unconfident young mother aspiring to be an auto mechanic and to eventually graduate from high school, surrounded by intellectual college-bound friends. Her performance is understated, sincere, and believable, as were those of the others in the ensemble: Ellis, Bruklin Harris, and Anna Grace.
Watching Short Cuts, which runs just over three hours, is like watching three back-to-back episodes of a tacky soap opera. The stories of a few days in dozens of intertwined and troubled lives are told in short scenes that fade into each other at each dramatic turn. The three things the characters(played by a supersaturated ensemble cast including Huey Lewis and Lyle Lovett) seem to have in common are alcohol abuse, marital infidelity, and general lack of purpose. One of the few entertaining threads included Tim Robbins's delightfully derogatory portrayal of a self-important L. A. policeman who is a pathological liar. You'll find yourself laughing out loud when he struts outside during the big earthquake denouement to make a useless annoucement to the neighborhood through his LAPD megaphone, his hand on his hip and his chest inflated. Lili Taylor plays the meek, aimless, fish-loving daughter of trailer-park denizen Lily Tomlin. Her boyfriend is a philandering, horror-makeup artist played by Robert Downey, Jr., who loves to make her up as a violent-abuse victim and then take pictures of her posing sad or dead. It "makes [him] chubby."
Directed by Allison Anders,AlexandreRockwell, Robert Rodrigues, Quentin Tarantino
In this poorly executed comedy, Tim Roth plays a capricious bellhop with outrageous luck, both good and bad, who manages to earn some unusual tips one New Year's Eve. Cooperation is lacking among the superstar cast. In each of four subordinate films, taking place in each of four rooms in the hotel, personalities such as Madonna and Bruce Willis struggle to make their short appearances memorable while sacrificing any hope of continuity in the film. The most obvious upstager is Quentin Tarantino, who fails to carry his role even though the character he plays is based on him. Lili Taylor has a small part as a mellowed-out hippie witch in a coven of incompatible sorceresses.
Lili Taylor made her impressive film debut in this tale of one summer in the lives of three young women in a small New England town. Fearful of domesticity, Jojo(Taylor) would rather continue furtively fooling around with her boyfriend in her parents' living room, replete with eerie Catholic iconography, than marry him. She faints at the altar, then calls the whole thing off. Kat(Taylor's fellow indie regular Annabeth Gish) is about to go to Yale and is embarrassed by her family's modest fishing-industry means and her "townie" status. She sacrifices her hymen to her married baby-sitting patron and breaks down when his wife returns to town. Daisy(Julia Roberts) is her sexy, confident older sister with a chip on her shoulder, who is used by a rich boy. All three work at the local pizza parlor where the owner safeguards the much-discussed secret ingredient that makes the pizza so unforgettable. Of course, we're expected to draw the obvious pizza spice/spice of life analogy, but don't let this sermon's minor presence in the film discourage you from enjoying the intimate connection you can feel with the characters.
Ransom adds several twists to the basic high-profile kidnapping scenario. It plays with two questions: What if lawmen were corrupt, and what if victims refused to cooperate? The web of intrigue is well presented and the story progresses with some unpredictable turns of events. Lili Taylor's role as one of the kidnappers could easily be overlooked. The lines with which she had to work were flavorless. It is more in her silent moments on screen that her ability as an actor shines through. One of her glances at her small victims adds layers of humanity and depth to the typical crime leader's girlfriend role.
Lili Taylor did no great thing for her career by accepting this role. Any actor whose face and demeanor could pass for lower middle-class Catholic could have played her role of childhood sweetheart to the athlete with a dream. The part was superfluous to the story and the undeveloped character gave her no opportunity to show off her proven abilities. The movie itself is sweet and at times really involving. Good editing saved audiences from yet another true-life flick that must examine the minutiae of a mediocre athlete's struggle to play one game for his family. Relevant issues such as the value of an education and the late diagnosis of Daniel Rudiguer's dyslexia were glossed over. Any athlete or sports enthusiast watching this movie can identify with its portrayal of the inner turmoil Rudy feels from being part of a team and wanting one moment in the sun.
READY TO WEAR
Little good can be said about Ready to Wear. It's difficult to critique a film that ridicules the narcissistic industry of fashion with a holier-than-thou attitude. The one scene where Altman actually hit the nail on the head is when Lili Taylor's character, a fashion reporter, is interviewing the British Vogue editor, played by Tracy Ullman. The editor asks the reporter to ask a "less inane" question. The young reporter quips, "How do you feel about the fact that 50 percent of the world's pollution is caused by textiles?" In that brief second, Taylor's character takes on a depth that surpasses the ken of this movie's intended audience.
Siren Magazine February 1998