The Bad and the Beautiful
They were two rebels caught in a town that tried to drive them over the edge. Starring Drew Barrymore as the bombshell with the butterfly tattoo and Tim Roth as the tough guy with the soul of a poet. Also featuring Mim Udovitch as the writer.
THE PLACE: The Frolic Room, a funky little bar on Hollywood Boulevard where, as you may recall, everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star. There is red quilted vinyl, there are ceiling lamps that look like an alien invasion as envisioned by Ed Wood, and there are signs reminding the potentially overfrolicsome that there is no dancing allowed. In a booth in the corner sit DREW BARRYMORE, a ray of sunshine in a scoop-neck T-shirt, and TIM ROTH, who is a less easy-to-read climatic condition, maybe a high cloud cover, and is wearing jeans and a blue cotton pullover. They have been friends since they met on the set of Woody Allen's musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You, in which she plays an Upper West Side princess looking for romance, and he plays a newly released convict looking for his own immediate personal advantage, a situation which leads to their characters kissing. Today, in real life, they are affirming the continuation of their friendship with some synchronized beer drinking.
FADE UP: MUSIC, which is, incidentally, selections from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, evidently a Frolic Room CD-jukebox favorite. This is fitting, since Roth was in Pulp Fiction, and it is also representative of the kind of weird cultural permeability experienced by movie actors in a world obsessed with movies and actors. Barrymore and Roth, each in his or her own subversive way, are not just Sunday afternoon beer buddies but icons on a day off. Barrymore's life, cast first as an American fairy tale, then as a tabloid tragedy, and finally as a comeback, has been so widely documented for so long that it is hard to remember that she is only twenty-one. Roth, thirty-five, has a more reticent public profile and a wryer affect, befitting his standing as a leading light in the darker part of the indie spectrum. He was raised by "kind of bohemian" parents in London, where he spent the early part of his stage and film career.
Over the last several years, Barrymore's well-established infant abilities have continued, after some equally well-established eclipses owing to personal turbulence, in a career renaissance that has included Poison Ivy, Boys on the Side, and Scream, a Wes Craven classic in which she meets the classic fate of a pretty girl in a slasher movie. Roth--who has shown his range in an almost alarming number of roles, from the affectless hitman of Little Odessa to the driven, dying artist of Vincent and Theo to the archly drawn archvillain of Rob Roy (for which he received an Academy Award nomination)--will next appear in Gridlock'd, the directorial debut of actor Vondie Curtis Hall, a satire in which Roth, costarring with the late Tupac Shakur, is a junkie who is trying to detox but is stymied by the system.
THE ACTION, since no dancing is allowed, is talking:
DREW: Isn't this great? The lights are incredible. I looove this place. Oh, I really want to smoke. I just quit.
TIM: She's going cold turkey.
DREW: I'm insane. I'm a masochist.
And how else has that been manifested in your life?
DREW: Masochism? Only where my family is concerned. Just kidding! No one in my family can make any mistakes from the grave, at least. From the grave you're sacred, you have no flaws. Of course, I only know the pleasures of being alive, and I wouldn't trade them in. Until my time is up--like they say in Everyone Says I Love You, when your number is up, your number is up.
In what way is making a Woody Allen film distinct from the general run of moviemaking?
TIM: I don't think there is a general run. I've just always wanted to work with him; it doesn't even cross your mind to say no.
DREW: And the consistency he has is flawless. He makes a film every year and they're all extraordinary in their own right. That doesn't happen that often.
TIM: And if you want to be an actor for the rest of your life you do have to stay away from the studio films to a certain extent. You do a bit of whoring occasionally, and you try to make that as pleasurable as possible.
DREW: It's amazing how they try to tear you down. A perfect example is Jim Carrey, who's never done anything wrong, and people are still getting mad at him, just because he's making so much money. Just because this gentleman has been built up and built up and built up--and all on his own real credibility--people now want to take him down. Demi Moore is another example. When you're doing well in such a big arena, people don't like that, and they all of a sudden turn on you. It's amazing when really you're doing the right thing, you're just evolving.
TIM: But I don't think it's the general population. It's not that the people don't like it, it's the people who tell them what to like. You can be destroyed for a film, get the worst reviews in the world, and people still come up to you and say they've loved it. So I think the point is just to be an actor, to keep your eye on your own life, and fuck all the rest. Because the rest, with the media being what it is, is just their self-importance, and their trying to make stars out of themselves.
DREW: And it's about preserving yourself a little bit too, you know, like not being at every function.
That's my favorite thing about Hollywood. In New York they have parties, but out here they seem only to have functions.
TIM: And I don't go to any.
DREW: It's true. When I want to go to a movie, I want to be a consumer and sit in a theater for seven dollars and have my own opinions instead of being at a premiere and being asked right after, "Well, what did you think?" I think when you watch movies, you have to understand that you're a voyeur.
So what do you do to preserve yourself and avoid the bad forces?
TIM: I don't have any design. I just enjoy it so much that I keep doing it.
DREW: You can avoid it by being . . . almost a more monogamous person to yourself. The perspective I have to keep, and always will keep, is that the creative process for me is on the set, at work. It's not the before and it's not the aftermath, it's just while you're working. And I think that's why people want to jump to do a Woody Allen movie. That creative process is as intense as it gets. And I don't feel that creative process becoming different--that hasn't changed. It's everything on the outside that changed. It used to be more under the table, and now it's hanging out in the open.
TIM: But is that because you're older?
DREW: No, I feel it's changed.
TIM: It's not just how they view you as you go into sexual maturity and stuff?
TIM: When before it was more of a pedophile's dream?
DREW: No. But that's an interesting perspective.
I think that Drew is still America's girl.
TIM: That's a dark America!
DREW: And you're America's boy.
TIM: Oh, yes. I make a great ambassador for Hollywood. My idea was: "Never come unless you're invited to the party," and that's worked out for me, luckily enough. You meet so many people who are struggling so hard, and even when I've had my down times here, I never really had to struggle. All of my struggle had taken place before I arrived. I was on the dole, selling advertising over the phone, doing theater when I could, and I wasn't very good at selling the advertising. You need a kind of criminal take on the world to sell advertising which nobody needs to people who can't afford it anyway. But I thought, "Well, I'm a pasty-faced Londoner, what would I do in Hollywood?"
So how did you get invited to the party?
TIM: I did a film in New York called Jumpin' at the Boneyard, and I thought, "I'm here, I'll move to L.A. for a couple of weeks before I go back to London." And people seemed a little bit interested in me, and then I got Reservoir Dogs.
And what did you do on your first day in L.A.?
TIM: I spent most of it at the Bel Age Hotel. I turned on the TV and it was the first day of showing the Rodney King video, and I thought, "Well, this feels like home."
DREW: I just think it's worthwhile to go through whatever you have to go through to be at this job where you get to spend fifteen to eighteen hours a day cathartically exorcising every demon or angel you have in your body, and you're actually using some universal schizophrenia to your benefit and getting to be employed at the same time. So the job, although it has its downside, is really an extraordinary occupation.
TIM: What she said.
DREW: I'll speak for both of us on that one.
TIM: I can't do anything else, so I'm happy.
DREW: And that's a good answer. That's my answer too.
So you don't have the oppression of options. Based on the scripts you get, how do you think the industry proper sees you?
TIM: Cheap would be one answer. I get all the new independent projects, and that is mostly what I do.
DREW: But now the studios acknowledge you.
TIM: Now they do, but that only came to me with Rob Roy.
Although if a character has been in jail, is in jail, or is headed to jail, it seems you're the first actor they think of. And Drew, too, has her share of incarceration lurking somewhere in the plot.
DREW: We have the bad-boy and -girl labels going on real strong, that's for sure. But the most important thing, I believe, is that as an actor your duty is to be a chameleon and show your range, to fuck it up, which Tim has done brilliantly. And I think after Poison Ivy and Guncrazy and playing Amy Fisher, I did get all these bad-girl scripts, and I was like, "Well, that's nice, that you think that I do that well, that's a compliment in itself. But it's not the only thing I can do, and it's not the only thing I want to do." And I feel that I worked so hard on range that I now receive a range of scripts.
TIM: People pigeonhole themselves.
And what do you think is the most important thing a movie can do?
DREW: Two things: educate and entertain. Movies can influence people, absolutely, but you have to be reaching someone who wants to be influenced.
TIM: Make me happy. Whether I'm working in it or viewing it. Or make me sad, whatever--give me a genuine emotion.
And what's the worst thing it can do?
TIM: Be predictable.
DREW: Have bad acting all over the place. That makes my skin itch, it makes me so uncomfortable. I like it if you get a feeling like . . . when I walked out after seeing Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia, I wished I could be a musician, I wished I could go play guitar and sing at the top of my lungs. But as an actor, you can't go home and do a scene, you know? I mean, you could, but you'd be an even bigger freak than you already are. When somebody's performance stimulates me, there's nothing I can do about it except go home and say," Fuck, man, the next time I do a job, I'm not even going to give it 100 percent, I'm gonna put 200 percent of my soul in there." But when I walk out totally charged by someone's performance, that's like the best I can ever feel, when I'm totally abrasively sickened by someone's performance, I only laugh.
TIM: Disappointment is more what you feel when you go to the cinema now.
Sometimes more than disappointment, because sometimes the movie is evil or bad for mankind. Forrest Gump was that to me. I was very offended by that movie.
TIM: It was very charming, that movie, it was just very, very right-wing. But most cinema is, really. It's mostly like Little House on the Prairie times ten.
Really? I think the politics of entertainment are typically to the left of the politics of politics.
TIM: I think cinema is moving more to the right. The studios are big business, and they always were. But it seems that the story they're telling over and over again is . . . there's a guy, and it's always a guy. And the guy has to have sex with a woman, and not necessarily a woman that he's going to end up with, but just to show that he's attractive and needed by women. Then he always has a sidekick--and the sidekick should be black and could be a woman, but certainly has to have some witty lines--who can't get in the way of the action, and should be saved by the hero at some point. Then the hero has to get to a point where his life is threatened, even though you know he's not going to die. And there should be a child involved--saving a child is very useful. A friend of mine was sent one of these scripts, to play a sidekick, and before we read it, we went through what the story would be, and we got it, we nailed it, every single point, right down the line.
So the patriarchy valorized, in a nutshell.
TIM: Yeah. Well, who runs the studios?
DREW: The studios are moving further into their corporate worlds.
Okay, so let's take a break from the acting and industry talk and talk tattoos.
DREW: Ah, you have some road maps right here.
TIM: I've confined mine to one arm. I have two more coming. They're like a diary, little notes, notes on life. What are yours?
DREW: Mine are also reflections of times in my life. My first one was flowers, by a big Austrian meanie. I was like, "I want daisies!" and he said, "I don't do daisies. Lie down!" And I said, "Okay!" It's still there and it's absolutely my least favorite one. All the others I love. But the thing is, I wouldn't have it removed because I just don't believe in that--you were there at one point in your life. It's as bad as regret. Just keep it, dammit.
TIM: I got my first one in a sweatshop in South London, and I have no idea why this. I didn't give a shit, I just wanted a tattoo.
DREW: It was the same with me, I just wanted one. Really, it's shocking to me now that I heard a guy go, "I can't draw what you want," and I said, "Okay, draw anything."
TIM: And you let him do it.
DREW: I did. I let him do it. And it felt so good. God that pain is like nothing else in the world.
TIM: It's like an itch you can't scratch. Really, really good.
DREW: And it's so sexual too, you know? I mean, after it's done you just want to go and drive a car off a cliff or something, you know? Kids, don't do this at home.
What were the first movies you remember seeing?
TIM: I remember going to see The Sting with my father in a place called Brixton in London which is predominantly a black neighborhood, and people were cheering, the place was full. I was thrilled by it. I was very young, and I was just completely thrilled by the spectacle.
DREW: Foxes. I was really into Foxes. It was at its height when I was little. The way I wanted to die came from that movie. Annie, after she dies, Jodie Foster is sitting by her grave, and she says, "Annie wanted to be buried under a pear tree and have the roots grow right through her, so all her friends could come once a year and eat a pear and say, "Mmm, Annie's tasting good this year." I grew up near this avocado tree and I was like, I need to be buried under the avocado and have my friends come and eat me every year!
TIM: I also remember seeing Man of a Thousand Faces when I was very little.
DREW: Did you ever see Captains Courageous, with Freddie Bartholemew and Spencer Tracy? I remember watching that when I was two or three and crying my eyes out. And actually my uncle's in it.
TIM: I forget that you come from this huge movie background.
DREW: But I never went to the movies when I was little. I watched them at home and they were always old black-and-whites. My mother would rent me videos and say, "This is your family." She was really into teaching me, but I was as much into learning. I would ask for it. I would crave it.
TIM: We didn't even have a TV. We would go over the street to the house that did have one, and be glued, absolutely glued. Of course at that time in England it was just the three channels, with shows like The Magic Roundabout or The Black and White Minstrel Show.
DREW: I've always hated television.
TIM: Oh, I love it.
DREW: I think it's poison. Except for the Discovery Channel.
TIM: And AMC. Turner Classic Movies.
DREW: And the History Channel. Though I never watch it.
TIM: I don't either. I was really excited when that came out.
DREW: And then it just petered out into nothing. Do you remember when MTV first started? It was so different, an hour a day of closet classics, and now you couldn't catch a video that's five minutes old.
I liked it back when they used to have tables being overturned in slow motion in every video. I miss "Hungry Like the Wolf."
DREW: Remember when she screamed in that video? I don't know why, but that used to turn me on so much. Duran Duran was a major sexual thing for me growing up. We were just bashing the '80s earlier today, but they did have a major sense of eroticism that the '90s don't have at all. You could watch Duran Duran, or even Prince, whatever his name is now, and it was tremendously erotic. Maybe I was just younger.
TIM: No, it was sexier.
DREW: It's funny because I've had two television crushes in my whole life, and the first one, until I was seven years old, was on Ted Koppel. I was so in love with him, I couldn't stand it. I couldn't wait until 11:30 every night, I was just smitten with him. I like the smart, nerdy, interesting men. And then one night the channel was turned, and at 12:30, Dave came into my world. And all of a sudden I had a new man. Not that I ever went off Ted, I still love him. He still looks great.
So you have a big heart and there's room for all the men of late-night. What were your first acting jobs?
TIM: I was Dracula in a school play.
Your first professional job.
TIM: Oh. I played a Nazi skinhead in a British television film called Made in Britain. And then I did Meantime with Mike Leigh.
And what was your first nonacting job?
TIM: I worked in a supermarket filling shelves, I actually really enjoyed it. That was around the punk time.
DREW: And it was all about when you got off. Work, that is.
TIM: Fuck yeah.
DREW: My first job was when I was ten months old, it was a Gainesburger puppy food commercial.
And you can remember that?
DREW: Oh yeah, I remember everything. I'm surprised I don't remember being born. When I was little I used to say that I did, that I remembered beeps, but I don't know if that was just bullshit or not. It either was bullshit or I've lost the memory just in age. But I remember everything about the puppy-food job. My mother brought me to the audition and the puppy bit my nose. And everybody froze and the whole room got quiet, like: "Oh my god! Freaked-out baby! Lawsuit!" And I just started laughing. I threw my head back and was clapping and laughing, so it was like, "You're hired!" And I just kept on working.
So no nonacting job.
DREW: No, my first nonacting job was at a Music Plus, because, if we all remember, there were a few years there where I was not around. It was, as Hollywood used to call it in the old days, the blacklist.
TIM: You were on a blacklist? Excellent!
DREW: I know, it was excellent. It is so cool to be on the blacklist, man.
TIM: Especially if you've gotten off it.
DREW: That's the part that's cool! But even if I hadn't gotten off it, it would have been fun. So I worked at a Music Plus and I had this asshole boss who wouldn't let me smoke because I was underage, I was thirteen, but yet would give me the job. And then I worked in a coffeehouse, and nobody realizes when you work in a coffeehouse you do everything: You scrape the toilets, you wash the floor, you wash the donuts, you are the only person working. And it was six o'clock in the morning, before I opened, and I was washing the plastic cases that go over the pastries, and all of a sudden I hear my boss, who I didn't know was coming in, going, "No! Not with the abrasive side of the brush!" Because it would mess up the plastic so you couldn't see the pastries. And I was like, "Man, I have to go out and get back to work." And I remember he said, "Why don't you go chase your dream?" and I especially remember the phrase "chase your dream" because I was laughing at it, it seemed so funny at the time. But it's true.
And what are the advantages and disadvantages of being an outsider in Hollywood?
TIM: I'm an insider really. I'm just inside what I like. And there's an advantage in that, which is . . . doing what I like. I wish I'd been around in the '70s to make movies like The French Connection, or even like Car Wash. American films then were some of the best films ever.
DREW: I just think it's phenomenal how many people's tastes rebel against the mainstream, yet that's where we're headed. And it is actually amazing the way the times are changing. We're going into the first millennium when women are going to be equal with men, and technology is advancing, which I don't even agree with, I must say. I'm a total hippie and I don't want it to be that way. But it is amazing, everything is based around a goddamn computer now. It's a time we've even made films about for years and years, and now that we're here we're all hating it, and I find that kind of ironic, because if we really do hate it that much, why are we still moving so fast?
TIM: Because it's a gravy train. But you get burned out, that's what stops the computer age. It's very addictive for a while, and then you burn out.
Given that you like what you do, what's your biggest point of anxiety about work?
TIM: I'd prefer not to analyze. I think the demystification of acting has become really tedious. I'll tell you one thing I think, which is that an actor doesn't have to know everything about his character to perform it. I don't beat myself up about character anymore. I used to think you had to. But you can't live in a tin shack on the tundra to become an accountant. Most of it is really instinct. And it's that thing Quentin [Tarantino] talks about a lot, that it's much more interesting what an audience reads into a situation than what the actors will. The stuff that we know is "true," that we talked about in rehearsals and when we were filming, is just what gets you there. I get asked what was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, and I know what it was supposed to be, and I say, "A lamp and a battery." The theories are so much more interesting, why in the end talk about it and give the game away? But I enjoy the work, even the frustration. It makes you feel alive. The worst thing that can happen to you is when you're waking up and not wanting to go to work.
And how often are you happy with the work that you've done?
TIM: Sometimes I'm not happy when I'm seeing it, but when I'm doing it, mostly. You can work on a great film, having a great time, and it can turn out to be shit, but it doesn't matter. You're in the hands of the director and the editor after.
DREW: I agree. When you're crying on the way to work, you're fucked, and that's happened a couple of times. Not too many, but a couple, absolutely.
TIM: And did you see the films afterward?
DREW: This particular one that I'm thinking of, no. I don't want to say what it is, but it was the only film of any film I've ever done where I just did it for the money. And I only made about $50,000, which is about $10,000, if that, after you pay everyone and pay taxes. You know what's funny is, if you make like $100,000, because of taxes it's really $50,000, then when you pay your agent, and your manager, if you have one, and your publicists, lawyers, accountants . . . basically the generalization is it rounds out to 25 percent. So you get--
TIM: Basically three bucks on the ten.
DREW: And what's funny is people mistake it, and you even mistake it yourself, thinking, "Ooh! I'm about to make money!" And you never see three quarters of it.
If the media are the disadvantage, what are the advantages of being a celebrity?
TIM: Access. You get to be a tourist, in a really good sense, to parts of life where most people, if they're not directly involved, wouldn't get free admission. For example, I spent six weeks in a sex-offenders wing of a British prison for Captives. And I hated every second of it, but at the same time it was interesting. It's like a free admission card.
DREW: And whenever I start to feel this business is shallow, which it is, I remember that I can use this to go out and do philanthropic work. I'm an animal activist, I did a condom campaign, I can help tell people to vote, and I can get involved. It's not that I wouldn't without Hollywood, but it gives you such a base to work with. The thing about Hollywood, and the reason I hate it when I do, is very simple: People act like it's universal, and it really isn't. It has nothing to do with the world. You can use it to convey things, but it's not politics.
TIM: I think I'm just desperately unhappy when I'm not working, so I try to keep myself working.
DREW: Do you have anything you want to fight for?
TIM: I don't really do that. I used to do a lot of it.
DREW: But not even politically. What is the thing you believe in the most?
TIM: I believe in . . . well, for example, I'm going to direct a film about incest. And it's a great story. But when you consider that two out of ten or three out of ten people are molested as children, if you put an audience together of a hundred people, which is probably all the audience this film will get, thirty of those people will have been molested as children, and that's the audience I want it to go to anyway. So in a sense you can be philanthropic, I'm just more self-obsessed, I suppose.
DREW: But you're not a meanie in any way.
TIM: I'm not a meanie. I just . . . I just need to work.
DREW: That was so real, by the way. I will never forget the image of you as you said that, as long as I live.
Okay. We're almost done. Seen any good movies lately?
TIM: I saw Trainspotting. I loved it, I thought the acting was seamless.
DREW: I just saw Romeo & Juliet, and I went into it thinking, "How can they make this modern?" But I must say Baz Luhrmann has my highest respect because he has done it, and I know he must have done it in a way that was scaring studio heads out of their minds. It must have sounded so scary what he was doing, and he executed it beautifully. And that was another movie I watched compulsively when I was little, Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. But the new one is good. I cried. I went by myself, I took myself on a date and cried.
TIM: It's good to have a weepie.
DREW: But the last time I really remember going to the movies and having a blast was Welcome to the Dollhouse, which was just brilliant on every level. So that one, and I would have to say Kingpin.
TIM: The bowling movie?
DREW: Yeah! You will think it is the stupidest, stupidest comedy. And it is, but it is deep. All of a sudden certain scenes will turn on you in a comedy. I watched the movie in shock half the time. I didn't want to go, I went as a favor to a friend, and it was a complete revelation.
TIM: A deep bowling movie. I want to see that.
DREW: It's funny that I would pick two comedies, Welcome to the Dollhouse and Kingpin, because my two favorite movies are both Jean Cocteau movies, which are anything but funny. And I love art. But I think every once in a while we've got to just drop the bullshit and have a good laugh. We're all trying to be so serious and arty, but fuck it, have a good time, laugh.
TIM: Right. Have a blast.