Melanie Griffith – actresses – Interview
DRAMATIC, DETERMINED, AND THIS MONTH, AT LEAST, DEMENTED
Don’t let that baby-doll voice fool you: Melanie Griffith has a strength and savvy that go far beyond her sultry bombshell mystique. With her split-second comic timing and her lighthearted, incandescent sexuality, Griffith first caught fire with such films as Something Wild (1986) and Working Girl (1988) (for which she got an Oscar nomination). The forty-two-year-old actress has now made more than thirty feature films and weathered numerous personal storms. But she is in a happier place these days, thanks both to her marriage to Spanish heartthrob Antonio Banderas and to a recent run of edgy roles that include her performance as a veteran Hollywood diva, Honey Whitlock, in John Waters’ delirious new film, Cecil B. DeMented.
In Cecil, Honey is kidnapped by a group of indie renegades making an anti-Hollywood film and becomes their star convert. Griffith gamely sends up the star system and also confronts female insecurities about age–much as she does in real life as Revlon’s “age-defying” spokeswoman. Though she zestfully portrays a prima donna in the movie, the actress, with her irresistible giggle and sweet openness, proves in person to be anything but.
LAURA WINTERS: Tell me, what first attracted you to Cecil B. DeMented?
MELANIE GRIFFITH: It was John Waters. I think he could have come to me and said, “I want you to do this movie,” only showing me my part, like Woody Allen does, and I would have done it. I think he’s of that caliber, like one of the twenty great filmmakers alive today.
LW: What is he like as a person?
MG: I thought he was going to walk in and be all weird or bizarre, but he was so cool and so intelligent. I mean, he’s a crazy man, but the thing about him is that he’s true to his beliefs.
LW: Your character in the film is the consummate star, with all the bad qualities we’ve come to associate with that. Was it amusing to you to send that up a bit?
MG: She is horrible, isn’t she? [laughs] When I went to Cannes and did press for the film, everybody asked me, “Don’t you feel like you were playing yourself?” In a way I did, but really I didn’t. It was fun to do a spoof on myself, but she’s certainly somebody I would never want to be.
LW: Who were your models for the character?
MG: Honey Whitlock is many people I know. She probably resembles what Joan Crawford was like. I just imagined being the biggest bitch and most devious horrible person possible. [laughs]
LW: But she changes during the film.
MG: Yeah, she changes when she realizes that they’re starting to say nice things about her.
LW: The film sets up that whole opposition between Hollywood and guerrilla filmmaking. Cecil B. DeMented, Honey’s new director, is a quintessentially indie figure. Does Waters resemble Cecil in how he works?
MG: No, John’s very methodical, very planned. The shoot was not spur-of-the-moment.
LW: And does the film exalt indie filmmaking versus Hollywood?
MG: I think it’s about breaking barriers, doing things that you’ve never done before, and taking a risk.
LW: I’ve noticed that you’ve done a lot more independent films lately.
MG: Well, try getting a big studio to put up $50 million for a forty-two-year-old woman. It doesn’t happen very often.
LW: So it’s true about the difficulties facing actresses over forty in Hollywood?
MG: This is my summer of forty-two, you know, and age is definitely a factor now. I never thought it would be. And it shouldn’t be that way, because women are just getting good when they’re forty. I feel much better now than I ever did in my life. But people are not used to seeing an older woman on screen, unless she’s playing a character role. Why can’t they make a movie about a woman who’s forty-five who’s falling in love or getting divorced? Why does the leading role always have to be a woman who’s twenty-three or twenty-eight?
LW: But there are a lot of women out there, you among them, who are challenging that issue.
MG: Well, Michelle Pfeiffer is in her forties now, Sharon Stone, Meg Ryan. Everybody in my group is over forty. So hopefully things will change. We’ve gotta push that envelope.
LW: The Revlon campaign you’ve been doing is also along those lines, with that slogan, “Don’t lie about your age; defy it!”
MG: Yeah, it is. And I’ve never been able to lie about my age because I told the truth in the very beginning, like an idiot. [laughs]
LW: Do you feel you’re entering a new stage of your career, in a sense?
MG: You know, I don’t think about it that much. I’ve got my husband and my kids to think about, and we have a production company where we can actually produce our own movies. That’s what we did with Crazy in Alabama, which Sony did with us. And now we have a film that we produced called The Body that Antonio’s in, which was shot in Israel last year, and one coming out called Forever Lulu, which I’m in.
LW: Tell me a little bit about Lulu.
MG: It’s me and Patrick Swayze, and I play a paranoid schizophrenic, which was actually really easy to do. [laughs] I was surprised at how well I knew that character. It’s about a woman who’s a paranoid schizophrenic who tries to work something out from her past.
LW: How do you prepare for a role like that?
MG: I met several paranoid schizophrenic women. I think more people are like that than we know. It’s when you’re extremely sensitive and can’t deal with reality.
LW: You know, speaking of reality. you’ve been a star from your early days. It’s not always easy, is it?
MG: I’m so mad right now. I was up in Aspen this weekend with my daughter Dakota, who’s ten, and my son Alexander, who’s fourteen, and we’re all in the market buying things, and there’s the National Enquirer saying on the cover “Melanie in Divorce Something-or-Other.” And the kids are going, “What’s that?” Being with Antonio has been the best part of my whole life. My life has been beautiful since I met him. So why do people want to say horrible things about our relationship?
LW: How have you adjusted to living with someone who’s from a different culture?
MG: I speak Spanish now a little bit, definitely better than in the beginning. Our daughter Stella, who’s three-and-a-half, is already bilingual. We have a beautiful new house in L.A. and a house in Marbella, in Spain. We want to have another baby, too.
LW: You seem to have a lot of projects!
MG: You know what I’m having the most fun with? I’ve co-founded an Internet company called OneWorldLive.com. It started with a bunch of women, five of us, on the board. And now it’s getting really big.
LW: What kind of company is it?
MG: It’s an online community where you can get all kinds of information quickly: health and fitness, beauty transformations, e-commerce. It’s not just geared towards women. And I have my website there, too. It’s sort of become like my new job.
LW: What interests you in it?
MG: To break boundaries interests me. With all the knowledge that is available now in the world, it should be accessible to everyone. You can get so much information on the Internet now, and yet there are so many places in the world where people just don’t have the education.
LW: As well as reaching them through your acting?
MG: Well, that’s why I’ve been acting all these years, in order to make people feel.
LW: You seem to have a particular affinity for comedy.
MG: I just think that everybody loves to laugh, and there are things that happen every day that are hysterical.
LW: You know, you’ve always been open about your past troubles with alcohol and drugs. Why did you choose to be so candid, when so many people are not?
MG: I felt like I had to be very honest about the whole thing. Other people have probably been smarter because they didn’t say anything. But I do know that my kids are never going to try drugs, because of what they know.
LW: You mean, you protect them that way.
LW: Well, you’ve gone through a lot, and with a great deal of grace. Do you have certain things you think about that have helped you be strong?
MG: I just try to be a good person. I’m not trying really to make any statement. If I’m brave enough to put myself out there, I have to be brave enough to handle what comes back at me. I just try to do it as elegantly as possible. I think we get more interesting as we get older, and our time shouldn’t be wasted.
Laura Winters is a freelance writer in New York, Melanie Griffith. who can be seen this month in Cecil B. DeMented. Opening page: Top by Christina Perrin. Opposite: Shirt and pants by Tom Ford for Gucci, shoes by Sonia Rykiel. This page: Top by ROBERTO CAVALLI, skirt by Dior, shoes by Sonla Rykiel. Stylist: Roberta Wagner/Celestine. Hair and makeup: Kim Goodwin/Cloutier.
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