There's a swirl of activity around Jami Gertz--a makeup artist, a makeup assistant, a costume assistant and various other film production types--but there's very little of the unease one might expect to see in the eyes of a 21-year-old actress who is only beginning to pick and choose the parts she wants to play.
Instead, a certain mirth lights up those big browns. She's trying out some facial looks, turning her head this way and that, pouting. If the attention of the entourage is any guide, Jami Gertz has arrived.
"It has amazed me, the way I've kind of taken off over the past couple of years," Gertz says later that day, while waiting for her call to the set. She mentions the movies "Crossroads" and "Quicksilver" and the "Square Pegs" TV series. "In a way, of course, I don't really understand how that's happened. Does anyone, when it happens to them?
"On the other hand," she reflects, "I sort of planned to be here, like any other actor. So when it came, it felt like I had the sense to deal with it and not go nutzoid, freak out and alienate everybody. I felt better able to handle it."
Coming from a no-nonsense household in suburban Chicago has something to do with her sangfroid , too, Gertz attests. The daughter of a successful contractor who never tried to quash his girl's desire to hit the limelight, Gertz says she was encouraged from the beginning "to treat acting like any other career--to apply intelligence, guts and even hope to it."
She makes a dismissive gesture with her hands. "That sounds kind of disingenuous now, huh?" she asks with a laugh. "I've learned a few things since then (about four years ago), such as keeping a real close eye on what's happening with my agent, and I make sure to keep most of my money out of places I can get to easily."
Not a bad idea: Gertz is earning "in the low six figures" per picture now, and her rather high-profile roles in "The Lost Boys"--due out from Warner Bros. on Friday--and in the filmed version of "Less Than Zero," Bret Easton Ellis' 1984 novel of wasted youth (due out in October), can only drive the price up. But Gertz drives a sensible car, lives relatively frugally (doesn't buy a lot of clothes, for example) and leaves the excess for her dad to invest.
Gertz insists that the excesses of past young hot actors are not only unattractive to her but also to her contemporaries.
"We just can't afford to stay loaded on the set and stagger out of the trailer when we feel like it," she says, shaking her head. "Not when there's 10 to 20 million bucks riding on whether you're feeling up to working that day. One of the reasons, I think, that the young stars are getting cast again and again--Tom Cruise, for example--is that not only do they work hard, they--and I--realize what a dream it is to be doing this. The callousness hasn't come into it yet, but at the same time we're beginning to get a clue as to what we're doing in front of a camera."
Like a number of her contemporaries, Gertz made the first steps into show business as a model, and as yet her film assignments have not made untoward demands on her acting abilities. The slim brunette says she's a mite concerned about that: "I've had to do plays to remind myself, sometimes, that I could really do this (act) and not just meander through the motions of it."
Gertz also professes to a distaste for the kinds of role models that Hollywood is providing today's American teen-aged girls. "There are a lot of passive women in the movies; the ones that aren't, are either bad or snatched up by one of the big actresses. Most of the girls I've played have been passive, and I don't like that, because, A-- I'm not like that and, B--being passive gets you into big trouble personally. It's not what girls should be looking up to."
Moving to Los Angeles and aggressively looking for movie roles has left the personal side of Gertz' life "a little cool from time to time." Though she's made some friends on this coast, she finds herself pining occasionally for the guys back home.
"Nothing to be ashamed of there--those are the guys I grew up with," she says wistfully, lowering her sunglasses to peer out at the world for a moment.
Then she picks up her script, pops the shades back on, and heads for the set. Over her shoulder, Gertz hollers: "Besides, I'm a career girl. I live here now. I gotta make this thing last!"