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Many-sided Melanie Griffith

November 10, 1986|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Melanie Griffith was ordering some tuna sushi, mee krob and sake when she saw her luncheon companion reach for a glass of iced tap water. "You're not going to drink that, are you?" she said incredulously. "You know what's in that?"

She eyed the water suspiciously, like a diner who's spotted a clump of algae in her soup. "It's terrible for you. I haven't drunk any tap water for eight years!"

Of course, no one's perfect when it comes to avoiding health hazards. After obtaining some bottled water, the young actress lit up a cigarette. "I know, I know, this is just as bad," she said sheepishly.

Consistency may not be one of Griffith's greatest virtues. But then that's what makes her such an intriguing character. At 29, just coming off "the best role" of her career in the new film "Something Wild," she's a fascinating jumble of contradictions.

She's a child of Hollywood (the daughter of actress Tippi Hedren), who's been in the media glare since she had her first shot at stardom at 15. But she can't wait to move away, at least by the time her year-old son, Alexander, is "old enough to know what it's like here."

Yet despite her frequent appearances in sizzling roles, she complains about "all the unneccessary nudity" in Hollywood films. She's also frustrated with all the parts that merely use women to "decorate the screen," so much so that she even momentarily balks at having her picture taken astride her child's rocking horse, worried that "it'll make me look like a sex symbol." But when she spots a still of Jamie Lee Curtis in a Hollywood memorabilia store later in the day, she blurts out, "Geez, what great (breasts) she has!"

A willowy blonde with short, tufted locks, Griffith was outfitted in a salmon-colored T-shirt with a black sweater and tight, tiger-striped slacks. Armed with a mischievous grin, she's alternately shy and thoughtful, though a bit nervous about discussing acting.

After seeing Griffith in "Something Wild," it's easy to envision her as an '80s update of Judy Holliday. She's not only a seductive comedienne, but she has Holliday's girlish voice, too--the kind of exotic purr that you'd expect to hear from a mermaid who grew up listening to Smokey Robinson records.

In the Jonathan Demme-directed film, Griffith plays Lulu, a spacy prankster who uses her giddy charms to spirit a strait-laced tax consultant away from his job and into a loopy series of misadventures. It's one of the rare Hollywood films where the woman--not the man--gets to call the shots, both in terms of sex and emotion.

That's quite a leap from most of the roles Griffith has been accustomed to playing, where she's frequently been cast as the object, and often the victim, of male fantasies.

"People still try to type me, and of course, I don't like it," she said. "I just try not to get upset about it anymore. I take all my energy, put it into my work and then let it go.

"Someone once told me that acting is a child's game played by adult rules. And it's true. It's a way of creating a person and giving yourself to that creation. You can't be afraid to be that person. When I'm working, I've learned to lose my inhibitions, and really be like a child."

Griffith grew up so fast that you get the feeling she didn't always have a chance to play those child's games. Perhaps that's why she's so fiercely protective of her son by "soon-to-be-ex" husband Steven Bauer. Young Alexander already speaks both Spanish and English and, according to Griffith, loudly shows off his vocal skills everywhere, "especially in the wrong places, like a bank."

When he took a nickel and wandered into another room, Griffith immediately followed him to make sure he didn't swallow the coin.

Griffith wasn't so sheltered, growing up surrounded by Hollywood. For Griffith's sixth birthday, Alfred Hitchcock, gave her a typically ghoulish present--a tiny pine coffin in which a miniature of her mother was laid out.

At 16, she was already playing nymphet characters in films like "The Drowning Pool" and "Night Moves." Later, she had a widely publicized bout with drugs and alcohol. Though she says she's kicked her habits and slowed down considerably, her past still occasionally comes back to haunt her. Playboy magazine, for example, recently made a big hoopla over a spread of nude shots featuring a teen-aged Griffith and long-ago husband Don ("Miami Vice") Johnson.

It's no wonder that Griffith is a little skittish about meeting the press. She has a sly sense of humor--when she sent back a bad bowl of soup at lunch, she whispered, "It tasted like octopus!" But when she noticed her visitor taking notes as she was spinning a tale about her history of allergies, she stopped short, saying, "You're not going to write all about my allergies, are you?"

And when a visitor complimented her on some of the birds that decorate her airy West Hollywood apartment, wondering if she identified with their soaring spirit, she immediately assumed the reference was to "The Birds," one of her mother's best-known films.

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