Psycho Sexual
Jennifer Tilly -- from alluring to eerie

Whether playing brassy molls or sassy psychos, Jennifer Tilly never spreads her flirtatious, full-bodied personality too thin. The one-time Oscar nominee (Bullets Over Broadway) gained cult status playing a sly and seductive but murderous dyke in the Wachowski Brothers' debut Bound, and compounded that cachet with her role as Tiffany, Chucky's other half, in Bride Of Chucky. She also has a picture in the works (provisionally titled Cord) with Vincent Gallo and Daryl Hannah. Her trademark helium tones will also be heard later this year in the animated kids' movie Stuart Little.

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... by Chris Campion
... in the Dirt section
... from August 3, 1999

GettingIt: You've made 44 movies in 15 years. That's more than Brando's made in his whole career.

JENNIFER TILLY: Yeah, but when you look at the movies...I remember once in Variety they had this graph and it showed who were the busiest actors. There were four men ahead of me. I was the busiest actress in America! And that was before I was famous, too! I was astonished. But if you think about it, if you're making a film like Titanic, which takes something like eight months to film, you can only do one a year. But if you do what I do, you work on one movie this week, and another that week. Last year I did four movies, but when you put them all together it only adds up to two weeks' work.

GI: Your resume lists a regular role in Hill Street Blues as one of the first things you did.

JT: I played this girl Gina, who was married to this 500-pound man who was in the Mafia. He died in the holding cell. I was this gold-digger who then had a romance with Joe Spano before they killed me off. I did one episode and they really liked me so they wrote more. Then one day they called my agent and said, "We love Jennifer so much we want to kill her off!" My agent told me it was a compliment because when the viewers get really attached to a character, they like to kill them off quite violently to show that it's real life. I thought, well, I'd rather not be so flattered and still have a job.

GI: And you got typecast as a gangster's moll after that?

JT: Yeah, that was the first and after that I played tons! And I'm not even Italian.

GI: Doesn't it bother you that the roles you're playing seem to be increasingly unhinged?

JT: Actually, I like the parts that are really out there because they're really fun. When you're playing a character who's a psychopath, you can come up with something and they can't say, "Jennifer, that's stupid!" Because I say, "What do you mean? She's a psychopath!"

I've always played characters that were a little bizarre and eccentric. When I first started out I was playing characters that were Marilyn Monroe-y, they weren't bright but were highly sexual. Then as I got older I started to play characters that were a little more psycho, loud and opinionated -- for example, Liar Liar and Bullets Over Broadway...sorta sexy, but scary sexy. When you start to do one particular thing in Hollywood, then people really do start to see you that way, but I think I alternate between waifs and bitches!

And actually it's more interesting for me to play characters who are really geeky and out there, because then you don't have to worry so much about your makeup. When I did Bound, I was really concerned with the look of Violet. She was a high-maintenance, highly lacquered person, and I thought it was really important that the makeup girl should duck in every three seconds and make sure nothing was dripping or falling off. But with the character I played in Cord, it was fun because her appearance deteriorated the wilder she got; her mascara started running and her hair started sticking up. One night we were actually crawling along the road looking for twigs and stuff to put in her hair! Her physical appearance started to illuminate how unstable she was.

I think sometimes it's really good to eschew vanity because if you try to play characters who are really glamorous and you're badly lit or your lipstick is crooked then obviously you have not succeeded. But when you're trying to play a character that's out there, you go "Wow, I look terrible. That's what I wanted! I'm a really good actor."

GI: Playing Tiffany in Bride Of Chucky must have been a breeze, then, because you didn't have to have a look at all.

JT: Actually, my hair and make-up people were annoyed about that, because they made the doll first and then they cast me. So when I showed up on set, they had to make me look like the doll. The hair and make-up people were complaining. They said, "Well, they want your hair to look like the dolls, but her hair isn't styled at all. It looks like shit!" So when she's a human she has styled hair and when she's a doll it's like she's going crazy and has let her appearance go to hell like Howard Hughes.

GI: So how was it playing a doll?

JT: It was mostly a voice-over. About four weeks after I got cast, I went into a sound studio and recorded almost the entire movie in one day with Brad Dourif. So when I look at all the things that the doll has to go through, I was really glad that wasn't me! She's thrown around, burnt up, does sex scenes. Now I know why actors really like voice-overs because it was the easiest gig I ever had, and it was so much fun.

GI: Had they shot all the doll's scenes before you came in?

JT: No, they actually had the cameras trained on us while we did the voice-overs. They would say, "This is just so the puppeteer can get an idea of your movements." But when I do voice-overs I either put my hands over my headphones or stick them underneath my sweater! So I had to say, "Well, this isn't how Tiffany would move!"

GI: What have you been filming recently?

JT: I've just been in Amsterdam for a month and a half. I've been making a movie with William Hurt and Dennis Leary. I went straight from there to Winnipeg where I made Cord with Vincent Gallo and Darryl Hannah. Me and Vincent play these two psychopaths who want to have a baby, so we kidnap Darryl Hannah, chain her to the basement and he puts my fertilized egg in her to make her have my baby.

GI: Do you choose roles that gel with your character or ones that are the flip-side of it?

JT: Well, my ex-husband [TV series creator Sam Stone] worked on the Tracey Ullman Show and he said that she found it really hard to act in her own voice. I think that's the same with me. I never wanted to not act in my own voice, but I don't think I've ever acted with my real speaking voice.

To me, the further a character is from me the easier it is to play. And I think that's why I like to play these eccentric, highly-sexual psycho women, because that's not something you get to do a lot in real life. It's hard for me to play the girl-next-door. It's much easier for me to be dragging Darryl Hannah around by the hair in a basement.

Chris Campion lives and writes in London, contributing to (among others) The Daily Telegraph and Dazed & Confused. He also produces his own degenerate art for his t-shirt company, Cloak&Dagger