[Thanks to Cloud 9 for the pic layout -ChrisHerr]
Rude Awakening's Sherilyn Fenn on her light-fingered youth, life inside the box and introducing Barbie to the roller derby.
By Jill Daniel · Photography by Stephen Harvey
Don't think you can define Sherilyn Fenn in a one-hour lunch meeting. Hollywood's known Fenn for 15 years but still isn't sure what to make of the 33-year-old actress, who looks like a real-life porcelain doll with her lily-white skin, small, chiseled nose and deep-set topaz eyes. Thanks to more than 20 diversified film and TV credits, Fenn can neither be categorized nor put on the shelf and ignored.
Fenn's path to a show business career began at age 17, after her divorced mother moved Fenn and her two older brothers from Detroit to Los Angeles. Fenn opted to skip her last year of high school and enroll in drama school instead. At 18 she began working professionally, doing small movie and TV roles.
Six years later Fenn registered in America's consciousness with her Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated 1990-1991 role as the peculiar, attention-starved rich girl Audrey Horne in the short-lived cult favorite, David Lynch's TV series Twin Peaks. After the cancellation of Twin Peaks, Fenn followed Lynch to the big screen in the 1991 dark comedy Wild at Heart, playing a walking-wounded, car crash victim with a windshield through her head.[Untrue! She just had a mortal headwound -ChrisHerr] Then, in 1993, David Lynch's daughter Jennifer attracted Fenn with her script for Boxing Helena. The controversial story focused on a beautiful woman who's forced to live in a box after an obsessed and twisted surgeon cuts off her arms and legs in an effort to possess her. After Kim Basinger dropped out of the project (because of creative differences with Jennifer Lynch, who directed the film), Fenn signed on. What attracted Fenn to the role? The subtext. "Women do feel like they're in a box," says Fenn. "Society, Hollywood, some men ... they want to wrap women up in a neat little package." She adds, "I'd do it [Boxing Helena] again in a second. I'm that proud of it.
Other memorable film roles include a seductive country wife opposite John Malkovich and Gary Sinese in Of Mice and Men; a lesbian who realizes she prefers men in Three of Hearts; and a repressed Southern belle experiencing her sexual awakening in Two Moon Junction.
Fenn admits to being attracted to unusual roles, saying that "at the very least, my tastes are out of the ordinary." Her primary motivating factor in choosing a part? Fenn sighs and takes a long sip of her lemonade. "It's not sometimes realistic to think that something magical can happen, but I think I look for the magic.
"Generally, Hollywood makes the same stories over and over," she says between bites of Caesar salad and lobster risotto at Ivy at the Shore, a trendy, star-watching Santa Monica eatery. "I've never wanted to do the same thing twice. If a script doesn't surprise me in some way, I simply can't commit to the project."
When Fenn read the script for the TV miniseries Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story, she thought the chance to play Elizabeth Taylor would be ripe with magic and surprise ... and there were good surprises and bad surprises. Fenn's priority was to respectfully and accurately portray the Hollywood icon. Hollywood preferred a myopic focus on the scintillating details of Taylor's life. During filming, Fenn (and her lawyers) fought daily to keep integrity in the script, and won. However, Fenn was unsuccessful in contacting Taylor for her thoughts on her life. (Taylor and her own lawyers fought the unauthorized biography until the day it aired in May 1995.) Only recently did a close friend of Taylor's corner Fenn in their mutual dermatologist's office and whisper, "You did a good job, and she'll never let you know it, but Elizabeth thought so, too."
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a marine biologist, then I wanted to be a stewardess. Then I met this lady that was really neat, and she cut my hair once; so then I wanted to cut hair! But by far my biggest dream when I was young was to have the perfect home and the picket fence, and babies crawling around, and I'd be cooking food in the kitchen. I didn't have the picket fence childhood so I always wanted that stability. I don't talk much about that, though, because it hurts my mom to read those things. It's basically that my mom was married twice, and so we moved a few times.
When did you become interested in performing?
I was probably in fourth grade. Me and other kids would re-enact movies in my friend's basement. I remember one specifically, The Towering Inferno. I played Faye Dunaway, and I wore curtains as my evening gown. The cutest boy in the neighborhood played Paul Newman.
Other than The Towering Inferno, was there a movie that had a strong impact on your as a child?
When I was a kid I saw Kansas City Bomber, and I remembered thinking how beautiful and how strong Raquel Welch's character was. So I went home and dressed up my Barbie like her character. I borrowed one of my brother's little toy plastic football helmets and I made Barbie a Kansas City Bomber outfit, and it really affected me. She was a strong woman, and I guess I admired that even then.
When you were growing up, what did you get into the most trouble for?
I used to steal candy and gum in stores. I was very good at it. I would how my friends what do to. As I picked up two packs of gum, I'd gentry push one into my sleeve while pretending to look at the other one -- then I'd put that one back. It was horrible! I remember getting caught stealing very young -- stealing a Tootsie Roll. But then I just got better at stealing things. Later, in middle school, I started to steal clothes. My girlfriend and I were always stealing shirts from stores. We'd layer them under our clothes. One time there was a horrible spree and then we never did it again -- all the middle school girls were at this mall stealing! We were so-ooo bad! At that point, we realized this habit had really escalated and it had to stop.
How do you get yourself into trouble today?
I'm honest. I say what I feel. I try to be tactful, but I can't not say what I feel. I have a really big problem with that.
How do you have a problem with that?
Well, I was told once that I didn't play the Hollywood game, and that's why I wasn't a big star. What they meant when they said that was that I don't go to parties, and when I go to an audition and I don't like the script, they know it. I don't flirt and I don't play the people that I'm meeting with. In the next breath, this person said to me, "When you're passionate about a role, there's nobody that can touch you, but you have to learn to do this also..." But I don't know how to sit there and pretend I love something when I don't -- I'm not that good of an actress! If something inspires me, I can talk about it. I can tell you how it parallels things in my life. Also, it's the simple fact of you meet somebody, and you either connect or you don't. If a director makes me feel unsafe, and I don't like their energy, there's no way I'm going to sit there and schmooze.
Let's talk about your new Showtime series Rude Awakening. You play Billie, a former child star who's grown up in Hollywood and is now trying to restart her career and stay sober. What attracted you to this part?
I liked the hard-core truth of Rude Awakening. But when I first read it, I was scared of it. Part of me was, like, it's so unattractive! Does she have to vomit on herself? Does she then have to fall in it? God, What's going on here!? But I liked that it didn't glamorize alcohol. And what's admirable about Billie is that she's a straight shooter. She doesn't have a lot of pretense. It's like, "Take me as I am. You like me, fine! You don't, I don't give a [damn]! There's something quite empowering about somebody who doesn't care what other people think. Billie is learning about herself. She's recognized that she has a problem with drugs and alcohol, and she's trying to straighten it out.
How did your personally relate to Billie and her problem?
At times, we all have a way of looking outside ourselves for our power. We reach for something lower rather than something to build us up. People in life aren't perfect. Everybody has a dark side, a negative side that's not easy to be around. Everyone exhibits destructive behavior in one way or another: It can be cigarettes, it could be food, it could be drugs, alcohol, bad men, whatever ... I wanted to explore that element of a character. And Billie laughs her way through all of it. I love her because of that. That's something I want to do in my own life -- learn to laugh and smile more. My acting has always been about doing things that I can grow from, that say something, or should be heard.
Describe the humor of Rude Awakening.
Our show has a truth, a base, and the comedy is on top of that. I don't think I could ever do a network sitcom because the humor is often based on some trite circumstance. I don't want to be a part of a show where it's mostly about coming up with the jokes. If the comedy comes out of what's real, it's much more appealing to me.
Now is the time for making New Year's resolutions. What's on your mind in that regard?
You know what's been on my mind lately? Yesterday, I had this really great youga class ... In it, my teacher was talking about the idea of getting out of your own way when it comes to making good things happen in your life ... that there is something that's at work that's bigger than us. That doesn't mean to be lazy. It's about having a trust in life and being at peace that things are happening the way they should. You do what you do as well as you can do it, and then you don't worry or agonize about the outcome. When you eat food, you don't think if it's going to be digested, it just it. When you plant a seed, you water it, but you trust that the sun and the earth knows what it's doing and makes it grow. It's also about being in the moment of your life, really living in them -- like being here right now, focused on this interview, or when I'm with my son, [Fenn is the single mother of a 5-year-old named Myles] I'm hopefully giving him my full attention. This is something I'm working on within myself. It's something to strive for.
Having that kind of Zen attitude in angst-ridden Hollywood must be a challenge.
Yes, but it's not just in Hollywood. I think there's an anxiety in life where we automatically tend to look to the next thing or we're complaining about he past. like somebody recently said to me, "Well is your show going to get picked up? Aren't you concerned about that?" I said, "I don't care. I don't want to worry about that that because worrying is not going to make it happen or not happen." I want to trust that if it does, then that's what's supposed to happen and if it doesn't get picked up, then that's okay, too. It's just a more peaceful way to live. Right now, in my life, I'm really striving for peace and more of a calm outlook.
Yoga is helping you do that?
Yes, I do Kundalini yoga, which I'm such a devotee of. I've been doing it on and off for about eight years. What I like about it is you keep your eyes closed through almost all of it, and so you're not competing with other people. You're just competing with yourself as you try to get past your mind, which is usually saying, "Sto-oooppp! you cant do this!"
Do you have a fitness goal in mind for yourself?
Well, I don't want my body to look like a man's. I'm not into the three-hour-a-day Madonna workout thing. I just want to tone my body and feel stronger in my body.
Who would you really want a New Year's kiss from?
John F. Kennedy Jr.! He does yoga too! (She laughs.)
OC Jan 99
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