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She's Got the (Off) Beat

Lili Taylor is getting raves for her role in 'I Shot Andy Warhol,' but her daring and versatility haven't yet put her on Hollywood's A-list. 'I see the benefits in the struggle,' she says.

May 26, 1996|David Kronke | David Kronke is a regular contributor to Calendar

By all rights, this would be Lili Taylor's year. She has four movies coming out, from the indie pic "Girlstown" to "Ransom," Ron Howard's upcoming opus for which "Girlstown's" $15,000 budget probably wouldn't cover the cost of renting her personal trailer (two more low-budget efforts in which she is featured might also find distribution). The jury at January's Sundance Film Festival (where she appeared in three movies) beknighted her with a special award, for just her being her.

And she's currently collecting rave notices for her work in "I Shot Andy Warhol," a sensation at Sundance. Taylor stars as visionary, if terribly unhinged, feminist Valerie Solanas--playwright, prostitute, lesbian, Warhol hanger-on and founder and sole member of the Society for Cutting Up Men (that's S.C.U.M. to you and me).

Yet at this key moment in the career of this versatile and respected actress, who generally takes on the roles that would be too grungy for Jennifer Jason Leigh or too lucid for Amanda Plummer, Taylor reports that she's currently luxuriating in "no offers, no nothing--things change and yet they don't." Her only certain future paycheck will come courtesy of a return to the stage later this year.

"I'm accepting that's the way it may be for me," the New York resident says philosophically while barnstorming through Los Angeles on a publicity tour for "Warhol." "I like the nothing-more, nothing-less thing. I see the benefits in the struggle. It keeps things real for me, it keeps me very alive, it keeps me wanting. A couple of times a year I really have to recommit to this. And that commitment is healthy. It puts me back into [understanding] 'I want this. I volunteered for this. I didn't get drafted for this. I'm committed to this.' "

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Taylor, 28, was first seen eight years ago in "Mystic Pizza" and has appeared in small roles in films such as "Short Cuts," "Born on the Fourth of July," "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" and the current "Cold Fever," as well as more substantial parts in "Household Saints," "Dogfight" and "The Addiction." She acknowledges that she and the high-profile project have rarely hooked up.

"Clearly, my movies, they make about $10. I'm lethal at the box office--I'd be messed up if I was doing it for big results," she says, laughing. "Believe me, I am avoided [by Hollywood casting directors]."

Which made the accolades at Sundance sweet, if not essential.

"It felt right to me; I felt I had earned it," she says. "It didn't surprise me, but if it hadn't happened, that wouldn't have surprised me either. It was nice, and I realized that with or without it, I'd be OK.

"There are people around me who still don't understand me, but more do, and that's nicer," she continues. "It's just a little bit easier because I don't feel like I'm doing it all on my own. It hasn't been all just fun and games for me, and I haven't just been out doing my little things. I've been meaning something all along. But still people don't relate, and people always just won't relate, and that's OK too."

In that sense, Taylor can relate to Solanas, since few understood where she was coming from as well. Two years before being approached for the role, Taylor came upon Solanas' "S.C.U.M. Manifesto," which endorsed erasing men from the planet and letting automation take over so women could be free to pursue their muses; the actress was able to divine essential truths about women in society from in between the ravings.

"If you had 15 women in a room, Valerie would play a key role," Taylor explains. "She'd be effective to a point, shaking it up and getting to a certain truth, but then it would be time for her to leave.

"She was also a sociopath and a misanthrope, and those things aren't so good," she says, laughing at her understatement. "She's a lot of things simultaneously, which is very uncomfortable. One thing that helped me hold all of her contradictions was 'clear vision and a crippled psyche.' I came up with that late one night, thank God, because I was having problems with so many contradictions, there was no one umbrella they all fell under. But 'clear vision and a crippled psyche' said a lot."

Director and co-writer Mary Harron says Taylor was perfect in the role.

"Even though she didn't look like her much, she had this emotional depth, the sense of an inner life," Harron says. "She was also very watchable and charming, which she needs to be. You have to have somebody who you really want to watch if they're gonna carry a movie like this, with such a controversial, difficult character, and they're gonna be in 95% of the scenes."

Taylor says she had to find the softer side of Solanas, and it was in her relationship with Warhol.

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