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MY ROOMIE THE INGENUE : Enduring Screams, Sobs, Laughs--All for Art's Sake

November 23, 1986|MARISON MULL

"You get out of my house!" she screamed. "Don't touch me!"

It was my roommate's voice.

A man yelled back: "You little wench!"

The disturbance was deafening. I was scared. I grabbed a broom and broke into the living room. I challenged the man: "I think it's time for you to leave now."

Everything stopped. He looked startled.

"I think it's time for you to leave now," I repeated coldly. I gripped the broomstick, not sure how I'd use it.

My roommate started laughing at me. "We're acting," she said, dressed in a ridiculously old-fashioned, shoulderless tea dress. "We're practicing a scene for class."

Living with a Hollywood ingenue means having to endure this kind of carrying-on regularly. My roommate likes anger and often works it into her improvisations. She gives pop-psychology lessons, expounding theories like expressing anger is the way to emotionally free oneself up to express other emotions. Anger is at the surface in all of us, she says. Conjuring it up is important for an actress.

Recently, during a terrific fight in a room off the hall where two women were going at each other--one forbidding the other to run off to Las Vegas with an Arab, the other insisting that she would go anyway--I knocked on the door and asked if everything was all right. Julie and a classmate were playing sisters.

It's a strange life living with someone in a strange business. Imagine being around someone who considers spending the day crying as a career investment. Once I rushed out at the sound of sobbing accompanied by a pathetic trickling of "The Circle Game" on the piano. I'd heard that song over and over and over until I'd wanted to trash the piano. All for a scene when a girl comes to terms with the news that her boyfriend has been killed.

To me, it's all drivel. Imagining your boyfriend's been killed is not my idea of a good fantasy. I've long been convinced that real life offers weirder tales than any screenwriter can invent and that making sense of reality is a higher discipline than creating your own.

Acting is all fantasy, she says: "You have all the feelings you would need to play a part. You don't have to pretend to be someone else. You just have to imagine you are in the situation and give your natural response."

The sounds of the craft: Shakespeare soliloquies set to pacing footsteps, the "ho-hos" and "hee-hees" of voice exercises, shrieks and moans of her working on how it would feel if a loved one died, if she were having a child or enduring an abortion. For a week, she played the laugh of the Wicked Witch of the West over and over again and I heard her cackling back at it late at night. You have to understand that we live near the sites of the Manson murders and life out there is nervous enough without the cackling.

One day she bounced through the door screaming that she'd won the lottery. She jumped and whirled about, only to collapse five minutes later with . . . "How was I?"

She invented a woman who leaves a seductive message over the phone for her boyfriend. For inspiration, she called dozens of porno hot lines. She told me, with pride, that she'd felt so into the role when performing it that she began disrobing, causing her classmates to squirm and perspire. Her teacher commented uncomfortably that, yes, she had been authentic.

She must be like thousands of small-town young women who come to Hollywood to be stars . . . as I must be like the thousands who wind up living with them.

They have to pump gas or, as hostesses, make a killing selling seats in the right restaurants until they make it or give it up.

Is it worth it?

"You get to pretend the most memorable experiences of life are happening to you," she explained once, flushed from working on a scene. In this one, she practiced the piano for an imaginary concert when suddenly a boyfriend rushes in with flowers, champagne and a marriage proposal.

One day I came home early and saw her raging around the room with a bullwhip to the roar of "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads. She wore a home-made S&M suit--a low-cut black leotard, red-and-black cape and black leather boots that hit the top of her thighs. The house was a wreck.

"Life's a movie," she said, obviously having a good time snapping that whip. "Even when no one's filming us."

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