By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
I was horrified on sweeping into the Essex House and seeing the woman I was scheduled to interview. "That isn't Julie Walters!" I shrieked to the publicist, convinced that there'd been some hideous mix-up and I was being made to sit down with a supporting starlet I'd never heard of. Walters plays cigarette-chomping, split-ends-laden hausfraus with varicose veins on their knees. This babe looked like her spiritual granddaughteror maybe Brenda Blethyn's inner ingenue.
"It's her," the flack assured me, and for once a flack wasn't bullshitting. The woman's positively creamy looking in person, and it's a testament to her spunky acting skills that she saves her most presentable character for real life. "I always get drabbed up," the British diva told me over high tea, "but I like a drab woman. Generally speaking, they're the most interesting ones to play, because they have more facets." If fewer gowns.
She drabbed up for the political drama Titanic Town and told me that though the Northern Ireland setting puts people off, "it's not a worthy film about it, really. It's funny!" And she'll soon surface as a drab-alicious dance teacher in Billy Elliot, which is soft and formulaic, but winninga sort of Shinewith tutus. Billy is a coal miner's son who gets hooked on ballet in Walters's ragtag class and tells his disapproving father, "It's not just poofs, Dad." But don't worryhe's nice to the poofs, Dad learns to be nice to him, and things work out just duckily, thank you.
In one of those weird pop-cultural phenomena that crop up every year or so, the upcoming flick Bootmenhappens to have the same exact plot thrust, but when I told Walters that Billy's way better, she laughed and said, "That's good to know. I'm wasting me time here otherwise!" Walters wouldn't want that. She triumphed, if drably, in 1983's Educating Rita, but since then has not always been given movies worthy of her talent (though her overall achievement nabbed her a prestigious OBE last year, the same year I got an OB-GYN). "When we went to Cannes with Billy Elliot," she said, "I couldn't believe itpeople clapped. I'm used to going in and defending myself!"
Walters's character gets a hand for sheer chutzpah. As her deadpan daughter puts it, "She's unfulfilled. That's why she does dancing." In fact, she seizes on Billy with the tenacity of that guy who created 'N Syncand the Backstreet Boys, all while smoking like a Cup-A-Soup billboard. In person, Walters didn't even want to eat too many salted nuts. Her biggest acts of abuse are "shopping and shows," though she never saw Catsand asked me, "Would T.S. Eliot turn in his grave?" "He spun for 18 solid years," I informed her. "Oh God, the poor bloke," she bellowed. "Let him have some peace!" Yeahstop drabbing him up.
Having gone from Billy Elliotto T.S. Eliot, I did a Mama Cass Elliot and made my own kind of music while watching drab woman Dr. Laura Schlessinger's new talk show. Alas, it didn't drown it out. Dr. Laura's premiere program was the expected reactionary screed about how girls "are getting knocked up right and left" and how parents should swab their kids' mouths to see if they've been boozing. Never is it considered that the parents themselves might be the root of the problem. In fact, the esteemed doctor showed her true colors by giggling uncontrollably when an audience member admitted he would slam his daughter on the head if he found out she was on drugs. What's more, the guy was black and named Darwin, prompting Laura to quip, "That's a whole other discussion"! Why did we waste one second protesting this appalling yet somehow profoundly boring morality fest? It'll gleefully destruct on its own.
Frances McDormandkeeps telling her kids, "Don't do drugs!" in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, a really sweet, if almost Wonder Years?y movie about depravity, and one that pretty much had me at hello. The hotel-key invites got us into the after-party at Centro-Fly, which was done over as '70s rock haunt Max's Kansas City, down to the chickpeas, if not the chicks. The aptly named Patrick Fugit, who plays the film's Crowe-like coming-of-age journalist, told me he was nervous about his deflowering scene. "I hated it at first," he said, "because it was described in the script as a sex scene, so I was worried about who was going to be naked and who'd be doing what to whom. Every day I'd drink warm water to calm down, but it turned out to be a lot of funthough hanging out in my tighty whiteys was embarrassing at first."
After shamelessly ingesting a few dozen cruditésthat's mysex sceneI cornered Crowe, who said he probably scared Fugit by admitting he likes the way sex was handled in An Officer and a Gentleman. "He thought I was going to have him cavorting nude like Caligula," said Crowe. "The night before shooting, I realized I wanted to do it like a carousel at the circus. Then he figured, 'Hey man, I get to be in underwear and the girls are in panties. Let's shoot this for weeks!' " Cameron also crowed to me about Kate Hudson, whom he cast as the fragile groupie Penny Lane because "she was sort of angst lite. Her fears and tears were just below the surface. She had that Shirley MacLainequality in The Apartment." He looked down and added, "I gotta stop writing that characterShirley MacLaine in The Apartment!" It's better than Fred MacMurray in The Apartment.
I left the apartment for an open rehearsal of the splashy musical version of The Full MontyI'm unfulfilled. That's why I like dancingwhich isn't a new idea; as the producer reminded us, Billy Crystaldid a short musical spoof of the movie at the Oscars to the tune of Hello, Dolly! But this is the full, well, montythough it remains to be seen if the complete package will be a truly inspired adaptation that'll have us drinking warm water or the kind of thing that made me allergic to T.S. Eliot. The choreographer is the guy who put me way at the end of the line in both a Cyndi Laupervideo and the hoedown scene in the Jeffreymovie, so he must know what he's doing. And one number they showed us, in which the working-class guys realize they could adapt Michael Jordan's court moves to their tighty-whitey dance routine, was a real wowser, both sensational and touching. Alas, though I'm unfulfilled, I don'tdo basketball.
I do expos, though, like the Gay Life Expo at the Javits Center"downstairs and all the way to the back," instructed a guardwhere you were targeted by insurance salesmen, a monogamy magazine, and a lesbian sculptor, as a motley batch of dance divas and drag queens performed in the corner. Club promoter Marc Berkleywas busy hawking his The Chelsea Boy Coloring Book, which has a picture of a jockstrapped stud slipping a bottle of steroids to a pal, with the subtitle "The gym is an ideal source for nutritional supplements." Quick, Chelsea momsget out the swabs!