Jena Malone Declares: Teenagers To Become Complicated in 2022

By Thom Fowler
Posted 06/17/02 23:52:02

Jena Malone stars as Margie Flynn in Peter Careís Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. This is the second film sheís made with Jodie Foster, the first was in 1999ís amazing science fiction/psychospiritual thriller Contact. Maloneís career has been fraught with acting awards and prestigious nominations. She has a lot to say about not just making a career as an actress but making a life as a person and she tries very hard to bring her interests as a person to the roles she now chooses for herself. Her sense of the cultural import of her work is mature and accessible to her peers whose film fodder normally skips happily on the edge of light hearted fantasy rather then gritty sophistication. This is a teen actress that breaks all the rules for a generation that is beyond The Breakfast Club but is still afflicted with all the awkwardness of adolescence and growing up in a society with a multitude of personal possibilities.

Did this feel like a grown-up movie to make?

Jena: Iím usually the token child on the set. I knew all my scenes were going to be with younger people my age. I didnít feel like a young person going into an all adult world.

Did you feel like you connected with the script?

Jena: It was hard not to connect with the script. Iím not a young 14 year old boy at all although I was 15 when I shot it. Unconsciously you donít know you are going through things and you do something and you donít know why you are affected by it but you are just sort of affected by it. The dialogue was so natural. I could already see these characters in my head. I was already invested as an audience member.

Peter Care told us when you came in the audition, you sat on the edge of the couch slightly slumped over and looking forlorn and thatís when he decided to cast you. Was that on purpose?

Jena: The whole audition process for this film was a torturous one. Itís so weird, all the projects that I really care about, the ones I just canít get out of my head they are the ones that I always feel like I blow in the audition. I never really get it right. I remember sitting on that couch and being completely terrified not knowing what I was going to do.

You really wanted the role at that point?

Jena: yeah, absolutely. I think I kind of blew it a couple of times but then I came in the last time and I did an okay job.

The way I saw it and the way I would like this character to be and what I think is beautiful and complex about this character is that she is accountable for her actions, sheís not falling victim to being a sexual victim. I think its harder to take but I think itís a stronger point of view to take. I want you the same and you want me the same and Iím going to be accountable for my feelings and my actions. And Iím not going to lower myself or yourself to a sense that Iím going to feel victimized by what Iím doing. Margie did some things that I [as Margie] donít even really know how I feel about it but at the same time I did them. I love my brother and you strip it down to basically, essentially what it is. Wanting to touch and wanting to feel whether itís with a teddy bear, or your boyfriend or your father or your best friend. Itís so important at that age to know there is someone that is safe and secure, that you can go there with.

Margie may shock a few people. I live in a world that alienates me from the people who would look at Margie and be shocked so it never occurred to me to think about the shock value, as if the character is intended purely to shock. Because its not a cheap shot like Howard Stern. How hard it is to say, ďhey Iíve got a naked woman in the studio, isnít that just SHOCKING!Ē. It is much harder to tell the truth about the world and the truth is often times shocking for people who have conveniently glossed over all the parts of their life that donít fit the ideal of the person they are ďsupposedĒ to be or the life they are ďsupposedĒ to have. Jena doesnít think you should go into the film to be shocked by a controversial point of view. She is, rather, interested in the repercussions of her role beyond the screen.

Jena: If I was sitting in the audience and I was watching this and I didnít have any prior recognition of what it was, I would be so excited to see a young female character like that in existence. As soon as you create it, its in existence and you can learn from it and its out there and its not just some sort of idea in your mind.

Is there a shortage of roles like that for young actresses, roles that are as deep and complex?

Jena: Absolutely, I donít think its going to change all of a sudden. I donít think twenty years from now people are going to want to look at teenagers as complicated creatures. I think that anyone that says a teenager is not complicated doesnít really understand them at all.

I read a lot of [scripts], the stuff thatís supposed to be marketed towards my age range. The easy accessible, tied up in pretty bows, the cheerleader, the daughter. Itís all of that. When I was a teenager I felt like I had some sort of obligation to myself in what Iím representing and what Iím putting out there. I donít want people to think that we are these easily pushed over, easily whatever, young people.

I think there is room for scripts that are complex and complicated and beautiful and painful and light and dark and all of that. There are a lot of scripts you have to read, there are a lot of things you have to go through. Itís a conscious process. You donít have to work at everything. You can find things that you are really into it and that you understand fully and that you believe in. I donít need there to be 70,000 different projects about young people that are really great, I just need a couple. Just intrigue me for a couple days out of the week and Iíll be happy.

When I was younger, I did a lot of crazy roles that I donít think I really knew what they were until afterwards. They are always these weird things that have to do with Divorce and child abuse and hunger and all these huge, important issues and I just happened to be 11 or 12 and doing them. Looking back on it now and seeing that and seeing the situations I put myself in, Iím really excited that those movies are out regardless of whether they are on TNT or you know, some made for TV/Video, they are in the consciousness, people can see them and Iím psyched for that.

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