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- Graham Fuller -
(2000 Interview)

She delivered a double whammy last year--first the virtuous girl in American Pie then the vampy one in America Beauty--and really got people talking. And that's just for starters ...

A lot of people think that American Pie and American Beauty were your first films, but you'd been acting for a while, hadn't you?
Not terribly long. The first film I worked on was Gregg Araki's Nowhere. I did a part in Slums of Beverly Hills and I was in Kiss the Girls for a moment, and some more. I enjoyed being on different sets and learning the ropes.

Did you have a happy childhood?
Oh yeah. [laughs] Of course. A very happy childhood.

You say "of course," but not everybody does.
Oh, I know.

Do you have brothers or sisters?
I have three older brothers. The oldest one's twenty-nine. The two oldest are in the army and the youngest is in college.

What do they think of your recent success?
They're thrilled. They're always bragging and people don't believe them.

What made you want to get up in front of a camera in the first place?
I don't know. I never sat down and said, Oh, I want to be in the movies. I went to an all-girls school in Charleston [South Carolina] and when I was twelve this representative from a modeling agency came and told us about these different classes we could take and I just begged my mom to let me do them. They taught you how to put makeup on and walk down a runway. I then went to a modeling convention and seventeen out of eighteen agents there asked to see me again, even though they only signed girls who were five foot seven or more--I was only five foot two. Suddenly I'd signed with the Wilhelmina Agency and was off to New York with my parents. I did some print work and then Wilhelmina suggested I go out to L.A. to audition. I had no idea, what the hell lay out there for me, but I got a Rice-A-Roni commercial, which was totally ironic because I thought the casting director hated me, and then I started doing sitcoms.

Has acting become a passion for you?
[long pause] I'm very fond of it but I also see it as a job. When I did American Pie, I was still green, and then by the time of American Beauty, I could really appreciate what I had because I was working with amazing people I never thought I'd be in the same room with. That gave me a different outlook on things. I've since started to look for different kinds of movies that I want to do. It's a weird feeling because the business is so unpredictable. You have people asking you, "Do you like the movie you're working on?" and "Do you think it's going to be really good?" I'm like, "Well, yeah," but I don't know. You're taking all these risks and you just hope you're making the right choices.

It doesn't sound like acting is the be all and end all for you. Or am I wrong?
I don't know. I have a "Who knows?" approach to it. I try to give my all whenever I feel something is important. But the whole experience is so surreal. Even though I go to the set every day, it still feels like I need to slap myself and wake up.

Some actors will tell you, "I have to act, otherwise life isn't worth living."
I don't see things that way. I don't think I'd kill myself if I stopped acting. It would definitely be a sad day, but right now I'm just trying to work my hardest and enjoy everything I've been given because I feel I've been given a lot.

You sure made an Impact with your very different roles in American Pie and American Beauty. In the first, you were-
[laughs] A sweet choir girl.

And then in American Beauty, you come on as this sex-mad schoolgirl who, we find out, is anything but.
That was so much fun to play. In the rehearsals I was urged to come on even stronger by Sam [Mendes, American Beauty's director]. When I first read the script, I thought that the character, Angela, was hilarious in some ways, but also pathetic. I immediately created this vision of how I could see her being played, whether it was me playing her or someone else. I wanted to show people that I could be funny or dramatic but seductive and sexy and more grown-up than the sweet, perfectly combed straight-hair girl with the little sweater sets I played in American Pie. [laughs] When I went into this room to meet the producers and the casting director, I wore my leather boots and my little skirt, and I just let go. In my own life, I've always had fun playing with the kind of flamboyance I brought to Angela. It was like a personality I had already created on my own.

What about the fantasy scene where you're lying in a bath full of red rose petals and vamping Kevin Spacey's character--was that difficult?
With the steam? No, it was funny. It's like, What else would you want to do but go to the set and lay in a big tub of hot water with rose petals and you just sit there and everyone is working around you and changing the rose petals that get soggy?

Presumably, the scene at the end when Angela breaks down was tougher?
Yeah. But we worked on it so much in rehearsals that by the time we did it, it was like second nature. I couldn't have done it if I'd been inhibited in any way.

So, did the movie change your life?
I think the only way it's changed it is with all the publicity and people recognizing me. Like I said, it's all very surreal.

How do you feel about the publicity you've done where you've been asked to project that American Beauty kind of sultriness? Does that bother you?
What do you mean? I don't think I've experienced that.

Well, when you've had to be Lolita-ish or vampy. Is that OK with you?
Yeah. [giggles] Every magazine has its own theme. I've never felt like I was being exploited.

That's good. I hear you've got a boyfriend?
Yeah, I do.

And you're happy?
Very.

And he's a cinematographer, right?
Uh-huh.

You don't want to talk about him?
Um, no.

Well, I have to ask these things. So what are your long-term plans?
I can't think too far ahead in the future, but I often think, Will I ever work again? And that I need to get my act seriously together or who knows what's going to happen. I guess I'm just getting old.

How good an actress can you become?
Oh, gee. I don't know but I'd definitely like to grow, as person and an actress.

 

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