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Bonet's 'Angel' Heartache

February 26, 1987|VICTOR VALLE | Times Staff Writer

Until the rating battle over the movie "Angel Heart" erupted, sloe-eyed Lisa Bonet, who plays Denise Huxtable on "The Cosby Show," was just another of the "youngsters" the nation has come to love in its favorite TV family.

During that three-week period when the film's director Alan Parker waged his battle to remove the X rating imposed on "Angel Heart" by the Motion Picture Assn. of America, however, the 19-year-old Bonet received new fame, but not necessarily for the best reasons.

"I think the whole scandal is ridiculous," she said. "They (the news media) are trying to steam it up."

What has amazed her and others involved with the Tri-Star production is that some of the media have focused on the involvement of one of the "Cosby kids" in a controversial love scene rather than on the debate over whether "Angel Heart" deserved an X rating. The issue was resolved Tuesday when the MPAA changed "Angel Heart's" X rating to R after Parker cut 10 seconds from the offending scene.

The incongruity between the "Cosby's" Denise playing a voodoo priestess whose love scene with Mickey Rourke concludes with them bathed in blood was just too much for some journalists to resist.

"It is just easy journalism," Parker charged, blasting what he viewed as the media's trivialization of Bonet's talent as an actress and of "Angel Heart's" significance as art. "That she is on 'The Cosby Show' is not relevant to the movie. It is relevant to journalism.

"I didn't hire her because of 'The Cosby Show,' " Parker said. "I have never even seen the show. I hired her because she was right for the role."

Bonet, speaking at length for the first time about "Angel Heart" during a lunch interview at a trendy vegetarian eatery in the Fairfax district, said she was glad the rating controversy was over.

"I'm pleased that we finally made an R," she said. "But it's a shame that we had to get penalized for doing a job right."

"Angel Heart," due for release March 6, is a supernatural thriller in which Rourke plays a down-and-out detective hired by sinister Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find a missing band leader.

"It's nothing that hasn't been done before or that hasn't been seen before," Bonet said, comparing the brief glimpse of one of her bare breasts and Rourke's posterior to the R-rated frontal nudity in films such as "Blue Velvet."

But still, questions remain. Will her love scene with Rourke hurt her wholesome TV image on "The Cosby Show," which she will take to her spin-off series on NBC this fall? "It's a Different World" will feature Denise Huxtable at college, with Marisa Tomei, Dawn Lewis and Phyllis Stickney as her roommates.

"I was not concerned with how Denise was going to feel," she said, responding to the speculation. "Nor was I looking to destroy her reputation. Instead, I felt obligated to my career and my (freedom of) artistic choice."

What has disturbed the slender, wavy-haired actress most, however, was the media's preoccupation with her TV personality and the repeated references to her age.

"I think, before you become a certain age, you are constantly being questioned because (adults) assume you have no intelligence, no direction in life," she said. "Obviously that's not right, since Emilio Estevez (24) can write, star, direct and produce his own movies and then stick his fiancee in a film."

Officials at NBC refused to discuss the issue, saying that what Bonet did off the "Cosby" set was her business. The producers of the shows refused to comment.

Bonet said that before she took the role, she consulted Cosby and told him there would be nudity. He encouraged her to do what was best for her career, she said.

What most of the media has failed to notice, she said, is that her TV role as a teen-ager in a well-adjusted, upper-middle-class black family has little to do with her actual upbringing. Born of racially mixed parents, she was raised by her Jewish mother in lower-middle-class Reseda and never knew her father.

Ironically, the thoughtful Bonet credits "The Cosby Show" and its positive portrayal of blacks for helping resolve her own identity crisis she experienced while growing up in a mostly white community.

"I was stuck in the middle," Bonet recalled of her days at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys. "The black kids called me an Oreo. The white kids didn't talk to me. When I went to temple, I was miserable."

As a consequence, she said, she grew up as a loner with a sense of independence that later served her well when she lived alone while working on "Cosby" in New York.

"I did not have one date in high school," she said. "My biggest worry in high school was who was going to take to the prom, since I didn't have a date. I never went. My problem was solved because I got to 'Cosby' in New York."

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