Boston Globe (22/Dec/1988) - Melanie Griffith poised for stardom
- article: Melanie Griffith poised for stardom
- author(s): Jay Carr
- newspaper: Boston Globe (22/Dec/1988)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Grace Kelly, Marnie (1964), New York City, New York, The Birds (1963), Tippi Hedren
Melanie Griffith poised for stardom
Lions in the bedroom, mom in a coffin. Even by Hollywood standards, Melanie Griffith's childhood was unique. So unique it almost capsized her. But, at 31, Griffith is, as they say, poised for stardom. She's been on the verge of breakthrough roles before — as the nubile porn starlet in Brian De Palma's "Body Double," as the danger-courting ding-aling in Jonathan Demme's "Something Wild." But as the star of Mike Nichols' sophisticated new Wall Street Cinderella comedy, "Working Girl," Griffith, wearing her hair in a French roll reminiscent of her mother, Tippi Hedren, can't miss.
Hedren occupies an odd niche in film history, having starred in two Alfred Hitchcock movies, "The Birds" and "Marnie." Hitchcock fell obsessively in love with Hedren, whom he intended to make his new Grace Kelly. When Hedren did not respond to Hitchcock's attentions, he ended her career, telling other directors she wasn't available. On Griffith's seventh birthday, she received a birthday present from Hitchcock. "It was a wooden box and it had a doll that looked just like my mom, a Barbie doll," Griffith recalls during an interview in a Park Avenue hotel suite. "I didn't play with it at all."
The lions, actually, were one of the nice parts of Griffith's life after she was brought from her native New York City to Los Angeles at the age of 4 by her mother. "I grew up with lions," Griffith recalls. "I got my first lion when I was 13. He slept in my bedroom with me. He was a baby. When we moved to the ranch from Sherman Oaks, we had six. They were getting too big for the house." For the last 17 years, Hedren has maintained a 180-acre wildlife preserve in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.
"She came and stayed with me for a week while we were shooting," Griffith says. "Did I talk abut getting into character with her? No, not really. We work in very different ways. For me, it's a very private thing. I don't discuss it with anyone. I seek out people I can get information from, like I met and talked with women who worked at Wall Street jobs like my character, Tess, does. But no, I don't talk to anyone about how I'm going to do a role. I hung out with secretaries, and just talked to them about their lives and their ambitions, what they want."
On screen, all Griffith and her mother seem to have in common, besides a physical resemblance, is the fact that each began professionally as a model. Hedren was cool, distant, statuesque. Griffith is immediate, cuddly. Hitchcock discovered Hedren on TV, in a Pet Milk diet drink commercial. When Griffith got her first film job in Arthur Penn's "Night Moves," she thought she was being called to a modeling audition. "It was an accident that I went to the interview in the first place. I thought it was a modeling job. I was modeling because I needed money because I wasn't living at home. I was living with Don actor Don Johnson, her first husband. And I was trying to make some money because we were so broke.
"So I got this message on my service. And I thought it was a modeling interview, and it was for this movie. And, um, I said, 'Oh, God, I don't want to do this.' But Don worked with me on it, and I got it. Then once I started doing it, I really liked it. I didn't know what I was doing. And then I got hooked on it. I started to study it when I was about 24. Now I really love it because I understand what an art form it really is. No, I can't say I was influenced much by my mother's career. As a child, what I saw was her being made up, and her clothes. And me not allowed to be on the set. So I guess I kind of resented it, and didn't understand it. But, um, my view of it changed. Obviously."
In "Working Girl," Griffith plays a secretary from Staten Island who has the right stuff but has to resort to Goldilocks-like subterfuge after her bright idea is stolen by her boss, Sigourney Weaver. The role brings her into Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Holliday territory. She combines brassiness with heart, the way Harlow did. Her breathy, baby-doll voice recalls Monroe's, except that it's not as calculated; Griffith sounds more impulsive and vulnerable. "Vulnerable? I think it's probably just part of me. I mean, you never get away from yourself when you play a role. There's always going to be Melanie in everything that I do. Vulnerability doesn't mean irresponsibility or stupidity. I think I'm sensitive to other people's feelings, um, to my feelings, to, um, a lot of things. I just do what I feel is right when it happens, you know? I think it's very flattering. I mean, God! I'm just myself. I don't think about being like them, or anything like that.
"I read this script before they had a director. I went to the studio and said, 'Please, please consider me for this role.' It was kinda like, 'Yeah, we'll consider you.' About a year and a half later, Mike Nichols decided to do it, and I tried to get in to see him, and apparently he didn't think I was right. He didn't know who I was. And then he saw 'Something Wild.' And I got a call saying, 'Be in New York tomorrow and pick two scenes.' I was, like, totally freaked to read for Mike Nichols anyway. And so I said, 'Listen, I'm terrible doing readings, and besides I can't pick out two scenes. Can I just read the whole script?'
"Now I see all kinds of things that tie together between me and the heroine I play. My struggle, and my work, and being acknowledged, being able to look for roles. I got scared when I read it. Like, 'Oh, God, can I do it?' I still don't think of myself as wanting to be a movie star. I hope this film will just enable me to do more work, you know, and people will get off this star stuff. Because that can be very detrimental to your health. It's nice to be acknowledged, but I have my life, my family and my work. I love my work, but it's not about going into the street and signing autographs."
Nichols, meanwhile, has been turned into a Griffith convert, calling her "that rare creature that is made for the camera. Her face, her eyes are transparent; you can see right into her feelings, and you can see what she's thinking. She's a little like a very small, carefully shielded atomic reactor, with a kind of intense power or glow in the middle of her. She doesn't act, she just arrives alive."
Says Griffith, who has a 3-year-old son, Alexander, by her second husband, actor Steven Bauer (from whom she is divorced): "Since I've become a mom, everything's changed. Because in this business, you can have a tendency to only think about yourself, to be very self-involved. And, um, Alexander just really brought so much of an, um, awareness to me that I really didn't mean too much, you know? He just made me realize
what's really important. Real life. And love. I hope Alexander doesn't choose to be an actor. Whatever he chooses to do, I'll support him. But I just think — I would wish for him to learn and grow and experience kid stuff and young man stuff.
"I just think that for a child to be an actor, it doesn't help them to get to know themselves very well. They're pretending. You know, when you see little kids that are acting how awful it looks? It looks painful to me. It looks as if they're in pain and being phony. I'd wish for him the country, and animals, and games, and sports. What's important to me now is my child. My boyfriend. Working out. Sports. Is he in the business? Yeah, it's Don, Don Johnson," she giggles. "That's all I want to talk about on that." What turned it around for her? "Um, I went into rehab in May. I knew that I had a drinking problem three years ago, but then I started to do it again. It's a disease, alcoholism is. And so, um, I have it pretty much — well, I can't ever say I'll have it under control. It's just ... today, I don't drink, you know?"