Film

NY Mirror

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One of the more magnetic screen presences in years, Samantha Morton cemented her place in art-house consciousness with her against-all-odds performance as the mute laundress Sean Penn falls for in Woody Allen‘s Sweet and Lowdown last year. Not speaking a word, she managed to say a lot—and without making you feel overly icky about it. Currently, she’s gaga for another mess, as the junkie who’s entwined with Billy Crudup‘s oddball druggie, Fuckhead, in the bizarrely rewarding Jesus’ Son. In a phone call from England, Morton told me that what bonds her character and Fuckhead is “true, true love”—though she gracefully accepted my own explanation, “codependency.” (“That’s a more therapeutic way to put it,” she said.) She’s also hog-wild, professionally speaking, for Crudup himself—so am I, even though his phony publicist forbade our meeting—and gushed, “He has no ego, which is a rare thing for a human being. He’s very secure, very professional and focused.”

Impressing Morton must take a truckload of pure talent because she comes across as a no-bullshit type with a refreshing indifference to the shmooze. How did she avoid making that mute babe maudlin? “I didn’t avoid anything,” she told me. “I just played her how I thought she should be.” OK, what was it like to be at the Oscars as a nominee? “It was an eye-opener, to say the least. My eyes opened very wide.” And what did little Samantha see? “The Oscars! It’s very bizarre. I don’t think the idea of rewarding people for their work is negative in the slightest, but people’s vanity and ego have gone out of control and they forget what it’s really about—the truth of film and performance. I’ve got no qualms about people enjoying an entertainment show, but some people are so concerned with the size of their breasts and their face jobs, and I’m from England and I find that remarkable!” I know—I hear Haley Joel Osment‘s already been in for a lift.

Aiming for a rise, if not a lift, I visited L.A. in hopes of unctuously sucking up to those very Oscar types Samantha Morton can’t abide. Alas, all I could scrape up was Nick Lachey from the boy group 98 Degrees, who, when I told him I’d phone-interviewed him for Interview, gave me a blank “Nice to meet ya,” and walked on. I felt so soiled! Cancel the wedding! This was at the Mondrian, whose two restaurant-hangouts were far less dismissive, mercifully enough. In fact, at Asia de Cuba they’re so honest that the waiter advises you to order less! The other joint, Sea Bar, has a wacky hostess who hugs you and tells you you’re sexy (I could just see the McNallys doing this) and a waitress who revealed that when she worked at O2, the oxygen bar, she put nail polish on owner Woody Harrelson‘s daughter, only to have Woody screech, “It’s not natural!” Neither were his last three movies.

But let’s don our oxygen masks and business-class it back to some recent New York cultchah, with hemp seat belts on. At the Chicken Run premiere, they served pizza, hot dogs, and everything but the one fucking thing I can eat—chicken! Still, the free-range film is not at all a turkey, and there’s even a gay moment, for the cock in you. Neil Simon’s Hotel Suite is a weird bird—the cast has to scream over the hack-coughing geriatric audience, plus one character ironically gripes about revivals—but I live for Simon’s sitcom gags, so even if it’s just a dinner-theater-level attempt at being his Fosse, this Suite is not at all lowdown.

I also checked into Straight-Jacket—the most outlandish closeting comedy since Elián González—and though in its own surfacey way it brazenly equates outing with McCarthyism, I’m sure that’s only because it’s a period piece. Jackie Hoffman scores as the Rock Hudson type’s agent who says stuff like “The last time I checked, the all-American boy didn’t suck dick.” Of course not—he’s a top.

I would have bottomed out at the Shaft party at Centro-Fly if I hadn’t been assigned a personable press escort to introduce me to the celebs there, though I still couldn’t even get a “Nice to meet ya” out of them. Models and TV second bananas were readily available, but the handler was unable to offer anyone even remotely associated with the movie, apparently because they were all either fed up or talked out. Wesley Snipes wasn’t in the flick—Lord knows he tried—but he wasn’t talking to press anyway! I got the Shaft all right—though I loved later hearing that Bryant Gumbel asked Samuel L. Jackson and Richard Roundtree, “Are you both resigned to the high probability that everybody is going to compare your Shafts?”

The shafts of drag queens were compared at the eighth annual HX Awards, a giddy, boozy gala hosted by that gay-bar magazine which so thoughtfully runs articles on health upkeep alongside the raunch personals and hustler ads (much like the Voice itself). Also generously, they’d booked us presenters weeks in advance and said they’d later call to iron out which of us refused to present with whom. (The drag world can be just a tiny bit catty, you know.) But they never did follow up, and I was furious to suddenly find I was sharing the spotlight with Joely Fisher, who’s more famous than I am! Still, she was très nutty, and halfway through the night became so free-spirited she was practically interchangeable with the drag queens, which is high praise indeed.

Backstage, she was pointing to her breasts and introducing herself as “Joely and the twins,” while the tit-illating Flotilla DeBarge laid out a huge assortment of cosmetics on a nearby table, explaining, “It takes a lot of makeup to get that no-makeup look.” Soon enough, Joely (late of Ellen, currently in Cabaret) had her own cosmetic concerns, exclaiming, “I’m gonna lift up my tits” and valiantly hoisting the twinsies as she was sucked into a group photo with the night’s glitziest self-promoters.

And then came the ceremony, with presenters like taste expert Brini Maxwell (“So thin, so slight, so anal,” according to MC Hedda Lettuce) and awards-show maven Bruce Vilanch, who cracked to the crowd about his copresenter, Robin Byrd, “She’s gonna be on Hollywood Squares when we do porno week. Last year, Ryan Idol fell out of the square.” When the play category came up, Vilanch mock-cried, “I lost to The Laramie Project!” and then Hedda was beaten for Best Drag Queen by the person she bitterly called “the wonderful Edie—stupid fuck.”

Joely did well, though she kept saying, “Who are all these people?” (damned if I knew), and had developed a huge rip in the seat of her pants after demonstrating how she squats during “Mein Herr” in Cabaret. All the easier for her butt to meet the twins.

Oh, one more piece of gossip just came flying out of my butt: Casting calls for the brilliant Todd Solondz‘s next movie ask for people with cerebral palsy, but who are not confined to wheelchairs. I see he’s stretching. Oh, and so is John Rocker, who’s scarily announced plans to board a New York subway instead of his usual trailer. Funny, the second he said that, one derailed.

musto@villagevoice.com

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