The Graduate


In Lisanne Skyler’s Getting to Know You, which knits together three Joyce Carol Oates stories, the watchful eye at the center of the stormy emotional weather is provided by Heather Matarazzo’s portrayal of Judith, the younger, ostensibly passive child in a peripatetic, rapidly unraveling family. “Her passivity is secretly assertive, because that’s her defining quality—listening, holding back, being the eyes and ears and absorbing everything,” Matarazzo says. She discovered Oates’s Foxfire (first the Angelina Jolie movie, then the book) as a 13-year-old in 1996—on the brink of indie stardom courtesy her now iconic role in Todd Solondz’s acid-bath rendering of junior high, Welcome to the Dollhouse—and took the part of Judith largely because of her ongoing love for Oates’s work. “She has a way of writing that’s gritty and dirty and real. Her words are like little knives that cut you down to size.”

Matarazzo’s plaintive performance in Getting to Know You (currently playing a two-week engagement at Film Forum) and her inhabitation of seventh-grade whipping post Dawn Weiner in Dollhouse provide little forecast of the sunny, voluble young lady who can be found this summer tooling around her sleepy hometown of Oyster Bay in a cluttered Mitsubishi Galant. Now 17, with brilliant azure eyes and shocks of crimson in her shag-cut black hair, Matarazzo has worked steadily for some six years (most recently in the well received but short-lived CBS series Now and Again), but she concedes some anxiety about the aftereffects of her Dollhouse tenancy. “A lot of people still see me as Dawn Weiner. I’m not the pretty, popular girl with the blond curly hair and the legs that go up to my armpits.” Matarazzo might put in a cameo appearance in Solondz’s next, supersecret project, but could she ever see her 30-foot self on a billboard for a Bruckheimer blockbuster? “Sure! I’d love to do one of those, but I don’t want to make it my livelihood.”

The actress hopes her livelihood will someday encompass writing and directing, and this fall Matarazzo will head off to an East Coast college to study filmmaking (she admires Martin Scorsese, Kevin Smith, Solondz’s Happiness, and Being John Malkovich). First up is her high school graduation ceremony, the prom—her chosen gown is “red and poufy”—and, she says, “quote-unquote kid stuff, going to stupid beach parties and doing things I’ve never gotten to do because I’ve never been home for the summer, just hanging out with my friends and my family.” (Big brother Mark, a lawyer, shows up for his sister’s beachside photo session, while mom Camille sits in on a lunchtime interview and later gives a sunburned reporter a lift to the train station.) But Matarazzo’s blueprint for the distant future is as exact as her present designs for a lazy hazy summer. “I’m so excited to have kids, not now, but in 10 or 15 years, I’m gonna have four kids and a nice house in Maine with a farm and a white picket fence and a tire swing on the front left-hand side of the house and a red brick path and a nice pickup truck. That’s the plan.”

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