Jennifer Tilly Tells All

By Thom Fowler
Posted 04/22/02 17:07:32

Jennifer Tilly, who is currently starring in Peter Bogdanovich’s Cat’s Meow (written by Steven Peros), laid it down for me and spilled the beans about celebrity journalists, hollywood parties, onscreen sex and “success pheremones”. Tilly plays mega-powerful celebrity gossip columnist Luella Parsons who had an unprecedented lifetime contract to write for the Hearst papers. The film, about the suspicious death of silent film mogul Tom Ince during a Hearst sponsored yachting party, paints a deliciously evil portrait about how Parsons managed to get that contract.

She was wearing an Yves St.Laurent sleeveless shirt that someone gave a few good swipes with white paint and an enormous red glass faceted pendant that she was “test driving” to see if she wanted to buy it. It was a fun and sassy, kind of punk look. She had to outdress Eddie Izzard who came along but dressed casually in black leather pants, a black v-neck ribbed Tee and a leather jacket. I think he should have worn heels since so many of the other journalists had a hard time comprehending transvestitism as different then sexuality. We all would have grown a notch in what we accept (expect) as “normal”.

Take it away, Jennifer.

On Journalists like me who write about celebrites like Jennifer Tilly

It must be hard to be a celebrity journalist. If someone asks you a question like, “What’s your favorite snack?” its not earth shattering to you if you don’t answer it, but you do run the risk of saying something really stupid and you end up in the celebrity round-up with the quote next to an unflattering picture. I was at a party recently and there was a celebrity journalist there and he was kind of glum. He said, “you’re so refreshing, none of the celebrities will talk to me.” so I talked to him for a little while and when the article came out it was really unflattering. I can see why celebrities are so reluctant to talk to journalists.

Preparing for the role of Luella

I didn’t have a lot of time to do research. I was in Dublin shooting a movie and I had been there for a really long time. I was shooting The Magnificent Andersons. I was playing the unattractive spinster Fanny and I was depressed because I was the unattractive spinster and everyday I’d hear, “Oh, she’s not considered singular. Oh poor Aunt Fanny, why can’t she get a man.”

When I was doing a stripper movie I was like, “hey, I’m hot!” I probably wasn’t any hotter then I normally was but I got that kind of characters energy. So when I played poor old Fanny I was like, “I can’t get a man, I might as well eat.” I ate chocolate, cheese, all the really good fattening food they have Ireland.

They called me up towards the end, I had about four days left to go and they said ‘Peter Bogdanovich called and he wants you to fly to Berlin and make this movie about William Hearst.’ And I thought, “oh my god, I’ve gotten so big, how am I going to fit into one of those cute little flapper dresses.” I said, “Which part does he want me to play, Marion Davies?”

They said, “I don’t think that’s the name of the character let me find out. So he calls back and says, “the name of the character is [dramatic pause] Luella Parsons”. Tilly exclaimed with a little bit of “are these the roles I’ll be playing now?” astonishment. I didn’t get the impression she was ready to leave the world of “bodacious bimbo” and “wacky best friend” for spinster and battle axe. “So I started eating again” and with some irony, “For my art, this time.

Getting The Part

I was surpised to get the part. I always thought of myself as a character actress.
She was kind of a battle axe, overweight, unattractive. I personally am not the first person I would think of for the role.

Working It In TinselTown

That scene at the end [of Cat’s Meow] when Joanna Lumley’s character says, “If we stop dancing, then what will we have?” and then she sees herself in the mirror. That always makes me sad. I can relate to that.

Hollywood is this big fake town. This big nasty party. Everyone has ulterior motives. Its not like you are going to party with your friends, throw back a few brewskis and catch up on the gossip. You go to parties to work. When you go, you have goals. I’m going to talk to this person. I’m going to get my picture taken. I’m going to talk to this agent. So and so is casting a movie, I’m going to go let him know I’m alive and coherent.

And going in you are thinking, Maybe I’ll have my picture taken and it will be a flattering picture and it will be in InStyle and someone will see it and say “what about Jennifer for this part”. It’s that ulterior motive thing. You have a lot of unhappy people muttering around saying “I talked to this star and he really dissed me” and “so and so pretended like he didn’t even who I was” and you have that Tom Ince quality that’s very prevalent.

That’s the thing about Hollywood that I think is really sad. A lot of people, it eats them up and spits them out very fast. It has nothing a lot of times to do with losing talent because how can you get less talented. It has to do with people get tired of seeing you out there.

Its really fun when you are on top of the game. They always say if your movie opens really big you need to book a table at Morton’s. More often you are not at the top of your game.

Its really exciting when you are first starting out but when you think you should be a little farther along then you are, you become acutely aware that you are the least important person at the party. People are looking over your shoulder waiting for someone bigger then you to come in. The only joy you get is if there is a good gift bag.

Success Pheremones and Surviving the Actor’s Life

I make jewelry. Stringing beads helps me relax. It’s just artistic. I used to paint and lose track of time. Eight hours would go by and I wouldn’t notice. The same thing with making jewelry. I think any artistic pursuit is very relaxing because when you’re not acting its hard. It’s stressful because the minute you finish a job you are unemployed and you never know if you are going to act again. I mean, you always think “I’m never going to act again.” It’s good to be doing something productive.

Like, say, I’m going to make a necklace its really beautiful and you can look at it and say, “I did that. I made that”.

There’s something called “success pheremones”. When people are depressed they don’t have enough success pheremones. And any time you do something, like, if you tell a joke and people laugh you get a little voltage of success pheremones. So if I’m going to make a cake and it doesn’t fall, I get success pheremones. And those things keep you healthy and if you don’t get enough, you get sick.

I write in my journal a lot. I read. I work out. I think when I’m by myself I guess I turn off. I hope. When I’m not working, I like to be around people. When I’m working and I come home I like to turn on the TV and veg out. But when I’m not working I like to be around people. It’s all about a balance, having a balance in your life.

Scrumping Down On Camera

Most people say “It’s really hard work to do a sex scene. Everyone is standing around, you have to get the angle right and make sure your nose is out of the way” but then
Hugh Grant comes along and says, “It’s fun to kiss other people in movies! There’s something about two strangers being made to kiss.” When you are doing it, I’m always attracted to my co-stars.

You can always look at somebody and its interesting because perhaps it isn’t someone you would normally be attracted to playing your lover or boyfriend or significant other in a movie and look at them and start finding something really attractive about them. You really feel close to them because there’s really sort of an attraction thing going on. There’s only two people in my whole life I got really nauseous when I had to kiss them.

It’s because one of them was a cokehead and he was like [in a raspy voice] “I gotta go do that scene, I gotta snort up”. I’m like “can we practice how we’ll do this” and he snapped at me and said , “Can we just get back to this before my high wears off!” I was like, “oh my god”.

And another was a member of some third world mafia and he never acted before and he said to the director, “When we have a sex scene, do we really have sex?” and he made the mistake of passing that along to me. I was really revolted because I thought he wasn’t doing it in the right spirit, you know.

I’ve heard stories about some actors who really have sex in their sex scenes but I don’t think that’s common. I’m pretty sure it has to be consensual. Lots of offscreen sex, though.

The Kiss

There’s usually almost always tongue. In a comedic love scene, there is not so much tongue but normally, there is.

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