Suddenly Bridget Fonda is everywhere-posters, trailers, newspapers, talk shows, personality profiles in national film magazines-you’d think her PR people just hijacked the Jackie Brown hype train and started a whistle-stop tour across America announcing that Bridget Fonda is BACK!
But back from what? If you watch movies regularly, you know that this girl is working. In fact, with 27 films to her credit in the last 10 years, Fonda has quietly become one of the more prolific actresses around. So why is she being re-introduced to the American moviegoing public like an ingenue on the eve of her debutante ball?
Maybe it’s because Bridget probably doesn’t always make things easy on her PR folks. Getting Bridget OUT THERE is likely, at times, to be a bit of a challenge. How much easier would their job be if she’d just spice things up a little-check into rehab for a few days, for God’s sake, or let leak a rumor about a suicide attempt, or at least have the decency to end that insufferably long, snore of a relationship with that Stoltz fellow…
But Bridget won’t play ball. Sensationalism is just not her style. Oh, she’ll do the press thing when she has to, but given her druthers, most nights she’d just as soon stay home and squeeze zits on Eric’s back as schmooze at a big Hollywood cocktail party. The fact is, Bridget Fonda is one of the rare actresses of her generation and ability who’s completely content to let her work speak for itself. And since Jackie Brown is the highest-profile project to come her way lately, the hijackers are taking full advantage.
Still, the comeback analogy is not altogether inappropriate. When she speaks about where she is personally and professionally, you get the feeling she’s recently come back from something-possibly a long wrestling match with herself. She has the weary, happy demeanor of one who’s been through battle and knows she’s emerged victorious. During the years that the match was still going on, though, there were times when she was much harder on herself than she is now. This, after all, is a proud, talented film actor who hails from a family of proud, talented film actors. How must it have felt for a young actress to visit Auntie’s and Grandpa’s on Sunday and see Oscars on shelves the way other kids see Hummels? Not much pressure there.
“I measured myself against those who inspired me. I know there was a time when I took myself too seriously. I used to think ‘God, I’m such a goof.’ Now I can have a good chuckle at my own expense. Self-flagellation is interesting for about a second.” She jokes that for years she’s been afflicted with “Saliere Syndrome,” wherein one can identify greatness, and is moved by greatness, but at the same time strongly feel the lack of personal ability to contribute to greatness. You can’t mine greatness in yourself, she maintains.
“That fact has caused sorrow and frustration in my life. But now I realize you have to give yourself a break. You come to accept that you might not have that in you. Or you can’t see it in yourself. But when someone else cultivates it, what a great feeling.”
Which may explain some of Bridget’s effusive praise for Dr. Feelgood himself, Quentin Tarantino, her Jackie Brown director. “Quentin was great. I’m crazy about him. The way he is defies definition. He has a finer-tuned engine than most people-he runs at a higher RPM. Most people in this business got in because it’s something they were dying to do, but because of all the harsh knocks, that love has faded. Quentin is a refresher course in why you’re excited about making movies.”
Fonda says her Jackie Brown character, the pot-head beach bunny, Melanie, is her most satisfying role yet. “My character is pretty raunchy. She’s Sam Jackson’s kept woman and her ambition is to lay around and smoke dope and watch cartoons all day. But she has to scheme to accomplish that. It was a very pleasant experience getting into her head.
“The toughest part was learning to walk around in platform shoes, a bikini top and short shorts. I’ve done nude parts, and this was harder. I wouldn’t say I’m modest, but I’m a really shy person and I have a tendency to want to hide. I don’t like feeling exposed. The part of Melanie was exciting and sort of frightening at the same time. I have stage fright, which is part of the same group of neuroses, I’m sure. But I had to reach down and find that extroverted side of me to do Melanie.” The role was as challenging as it was fun, she says. And it gave her that adrenaline rush that she lives for when she acts.
“Between action and cut I’m in this stimulated state. It’s the equivalent of a state of arousal. Not strictly sexual, but that animal state of arousal. I won’t take a role that’s boring. I never want to get complacent when I act, so I’m never quite sure if I can do it. The adrenaline jacks everything up.”
Tarantino, she says, shares with Bernardo Bertolucci, her Little Buddha director, an ability to communicate what he wants, and yet come to the set with wide open, fresh eyes. Both men can notice something in your rehearsal, something you’re not even conscious you’re doing, and “illuminate it so that it becomes part of your character and you’re not at all self-conscious about it. But I’m not explaining it properly. It’s so instinctual. Defining always diminishes.”
If there’s one thing Bridget hates, it’s being defined. “I don’t like to be defined because my opinions change every day. Every day there’s something new, some external catalyst that happens to you that can take you in a new direction. I see things around me all the time that move me. Simple things. The other night I was walking and I saw this night watchman playing with a cat. But he was expressionless. I found that very sad.
“I also don’t like being defined because I like to feel that I’m bigger than what I can define through my inarticulate abilities. “In some ways Fonda is still too hard on herself. She is extremely articulate, though not in the glib, rapid-fire way that a Mira Sorvino is, for instance. Fonda takes her time with a thought, may even make a false start or two, and then comes out with a gem that leaves you stunned with the power of its raw truth and clarity. She’s not afraid to expose herself emotionally, although she doesn’t want you to linger on any one detail or aspect, she’d rather you see her as a whole.
“I have a problem with still photo shoots,” she says. “I don’t like them at all. In that moment you’re being captured and defined. In film, I don’t mind because you’re a moving target. It’s somebody else, and you’re looking in every direction, there’s so many variables about it. I don’t mind because it keeps a lot of possibility and mystery intact.”
Bridget didn’t always want to be an actor. When she was a kid she liked to do “art stuff,” and wanted to be a painter. In fact, it wasn’t until high school, when she was in a play called “Party” that something clicked.
“I was very bad in the play, but in rehearsals one day I don’t know what happened but I accidentally blurted out some lines in a way that connected. It was just rehearsal, but I felt that I had actually made a connection between someone else’s line, my interpretation of it, and somebody else out there got it. And that’s when I thought-ah, I could do this for a living. I love that feeling of connecting to somebody-it helps to break out of that prison we’re all in by being individuals; it’s this idea that we’re always alone. Which is why love is so important, so enticing.
The other reason I love acting is that I sometimes feel a powerful necessity to understand another human being on the deepest level, so much so that you become them, you meld with them, you find your qualities and their qualities that are similar and you sort of shift over into that other personality. That’s really satisfying; it’s a great form of escapism. Even if it’s escaping into something that’s horrific, because it’s still exciting to become something other than yourself. I’ll never get tired of acting, because the more I learn about it, the more I realize I’ll never figure it out.”
If wanting that connection is important, then so is working with the right director. In the past she would sometimes take roles in order to work with a particular director, but says she doesn’t do that much anymore. Besides Tarantino and Bertolucci, Bridget has had the privilege of working with some of the most well-respected directors of our day, including Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather Part III), Paul Schrader (Touch), Alan Parker (The Road to Wellville) and Barbet Schroeder (Single White Female). Each director has a unique gift, a special bag of tricks. With Schroeder, she says he made her feel particularly safe in doing anything that she wanted. With Paul Schrader, she says his light touch was remarkable and that, as with Tarantino and other writer-directors, he was extremely relaxed about other people’s ideas. Rule-bending was the norm.
“I respect it when a director has enough self-confidence that they can let in other opinions. Not necessarily use them all the time, but allow it to happen rather than be a dictator. I’ve been fortunate that most of the directors I’ve worked with are fairly secure in their position as The Boss, but they don’t have to be The Dictator.”
Fonda has also been fortunate that her versatility has allowed her to take on several different genres, all of which she claims to enjoy equally.
“I did a few bad girl roles early on, then the action film, then of course the comedies. Comedy is the thing I keep coming back to. With some things, like slasher films, it would have to be very, very good, or very original. Lately I’ve been thinking I might want to do a horror film.” She says she’d love to work with Italian director Dario Argento.
“Have you seen Suspiria? I’m dying to work with Dario, but it’s got to be the right thing. He’s the kind of director where you can be watching one of his movies and suddenly you slip into his dream. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster with him and I love that feeling.” Her love for movies is as plain as the disarming smile that she’s never stingy with.
“I respect what movies can do so much. I feel a great sense of responsibility and a great yearning to be in the kind of movie that I love. But I’ve accepted the fact that that may never happen. In a way, I’ve set myself up. I can never be in one of those movies that gives me that much pleasure, because once you’re in it you can never look at it as an audience member. So sometimes I think, oh well, why wish and yearn and get depressed about it if it’s not going to happen anyway. Why beat myself up about it?”
“My problem is I want it all, but I want it on my terms. I think ‘Oh, God, I wish I had it in me to go and schmooze, because then I might get offered all the parts, and work with all the directors I want to work with.’ And then I think, how exhausting. If I can’t get it on my terms, then I guess I just don’t want it badly enough to get it on somebody else’s. Maybe that’s what it all boils down to.”
Her role in Jackie Brown may very well be the one that gives Bridget Fonda whatever she wants as an actress. If it does, it will have been worth the wait. It will be on her own terms. If it isn’t this movie that does it, it’ll be another. No matter, she’ll still be having fun and doing it her way. MM