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Her Salvation? : Mimi Rogers has taken a chance with a role in a movie about faith and sin. The question: Will 'The Rapture' redeem a career bedeviled by typecasting?

October 06, 1991|KRISTINE McKENNA | Kristine McKenna is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Wearing no make-up, jeans and a denim jacket and ornate Indian turquoise jewelry, and with her mop of long, curly hair tied in a bandanna, the 34-year-old actress looks the earthy antithesis of the wealthy sophisticates she played in "Someone to Watch Over Me," "The Mighty Quinn" and "Desperate Hours." "I don't know why I got typecast that way--maybe it's because I'm tall and have big breasts," she says with a laugh. "I hope I've broken out of that with this film."

"I'd never been naked on screen before and it made me feel like throwing up," says Rogers of one of the risks she took in an effort to break out of the typecasting she'd been saddled with. "I think the human form is beautiful, and if somebody walked by a window and saw me naked, it wouldn't freak me out, but it's intensely unnatural to be on a set simulating very ugly sex. And the sex in this film is very ugly in that there's no love or tenderness to it--the sex scenes really reveal the deadness of this woman's life.

"However, the scenes showing Sharon as a blissed-out convert were even harder because I had no understanding of that experience whatsoever, and I was stumped as to how to show this change in her," she continues. "During the period when I was trying to figure out how to play those scenes, Michael and I went to a Catholic church service and the sermon dealt with the idea of transferring one's burdens to Jesus and it hit me what an amazing rush that would be! That sermon sort of gave me a way into the scenes."

Although Rogers says she's had no personal experience with religious conversion, she did grow up with a firm grounding in spirituality.

"My father is Jewish and my mother's Episcopalian, and in the early '50s--before I was even born--my father became involved with Scientology," says Rogers, who was born in Coral Gables, Fla., the daughter of a civil engineer. "So, it's not like I ever 'converted' to Scientology, rather, that philosophy was simply part of my upbringing. And, I think it was an excellent system of belief to grow up with because Scientology offers an extremely pragmatic method for taking spiritual concerns and breaking them down into everyday applications.

"Scientology is controversial because it doesn't deal with traditional concepts of God," she adds, "and people are always threatened by anything that veers away from the accepted norm. However, I've never been disenchanted with Scientology because the basic philosophical tenets I grew up with have proven to be sound."

Asked if her father has seen "The Rapture," she smiles apprehensively and says, "I'd like him to see it, but it's fine if he doesn't because I don't want him to be traumatized. I've warned him that I'm nude in the film and do things that may not be pleasant for him to watch."

Rogers is quick to point out that "my own religious views didn't affect my approach to the picture at all," and Tolkin agrees. "Mimi's background in Scientology played no role in my casting her, nor did I see it as a problem--we never even discussed it," he said.

As to how the two of them went about developing the character of Sharon, Rogers says: "Michael and I had about two months together before we began preproduction and we went to lots of church services of different denominations, and he asked me to study the Book of Revelations in particular, as the events foretold in that chapter of the Bible figure prominently in the film. He also gave me a fascinating book called 'The Unvarnished Gospels,' which is a version of the Bible written in modern-day vernacular without any of the interpretation it's been given by born-again Christianity. I also read a novella by Mark Twain called 'The Mysterious Stranger,' which--like 'The Rapture'--makes the point that we make a mistake in judging God from the point of view of human morality. Twain's book is an inquiry into the morality of God, and asks the question: How does God perceive us?"

Rogers says that her interest in such questions, as well as her affinity for the gypsy life of filmmaking are the result of a childhood marked by the upheaval of repeated moves.

"My family moved every year," she recalls, "and when you're always the new kid, you learn to adapt or you die. I learned to adapt very well--to the point that the movie character I relate to most viscerally is 'Zelig.' Because of my experience as a child, I can go to a movie location and feel acclimated very quickly."

The continual disruption of Rogers' high school career resulted in her graduating at age 15, at which point she embarked on a career in social work in the Bay Area that occupied her for the next six years. In 1977 she married her first husband, a Scientology counselor named Jim Rogers, and after their divorce in 1980 she moved to L.A. to try acting.

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