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COVER STORY

Hollywood's New Love Scene

Rock hellion Courtney Love turns to acting and lands a role in a major movie as the stripper-turned-drug addict better known as the late Mrs. Larry Flynt. Quite a stretch.

December 15, 1996|Patrick Goldstein | Patrick Goldstein is a regular contributor to Calendar

It's never too early to be typecast in Hollywood. Just ask Courtney Love.

"You should see the scripts I've been seeing--strippers, whores, addicts, all of them," she says, sipping coffee and chain-smoking by the pool at the Chateau Marmont. "I was reading this Janis Joplin script that was awful. It's a pathetic baby boomer fantasy about the wild and crazy Janis. You don't see any of the vulnerability and sadness in her life, just the stupid excess."

She waves her cigarette in the air. "There were 20 sexual innuendoes in the first 10 pages. Yuck!"

Love, 31, is already earning critical raves for her portrayal of the late stripper-turned-junkie Althea Flynt in Milos Forman's "The People vs. Larry Flynt," which opens Dec. 25 and co-stars Woody Harrelson as the embattled Hustler porn kingpin. But getting good reviews, even talk of a longshot Oscar nomination, isn't enough for the rock hellion best known for punching out rival female rockers, admittedly using drugs, contemplating suicide, feuding online with her critics, surviving the 1994 shotgun suicide of her husband, Kurt Cobain, and--oh, yes--making Hole's 1994 "Live Through This" that year's most acclaimed rock album.

Never one for false modesty, Love has a better leading role in mind for herself.

"Too bad I'm not a guy, because all I want to do is play Hamlet," she says. "It's always been my favorite Shakespeare play. It's such a sexy, androgynous part. All the guys I go out with have to be able to play 'Hamlet.' "

She rocks with laughter. "Even if Arnold Schwarzenegger said to me, 'I want to do "Hamlet," ' I'd tell him, 'You know, it's not really you, but you're very cool for wanting to do it.'

"Hamlet was the ultimate rock star. Maybe that's why I identify with him. The torture he goes through--it's very attractive to me."

She exhales a big cloud of cigarette smoke. "Of course, I've had my Ophelia and Lady Macbeth phases, too."

*

Hearing you are going off to interview Courtney Love, a friend recommends a visit to a local newsstand. "Give yourself 90 seconds," she says. "You'll find a magazine with Courtney's photo somewhere on the cover." It takes less than a minute to locate a copy of Might, an alternative pop culture magazine, which has a picture of Love on the cover, below a much larger photo of Alanis Morissette. When Love is shown the magazine, she reads the cover line aloud.

"Alanis Vindicated," she snorts derisively. "What could vindicate her? Only a nervous breakdown."

Love needs no vindication. She's the ultimate postmodern media icon, a celebrity more conversant in celebrity journalism than most journalists themselves. When you see a recent interview that describes her as timid and nonplused, you wonder if the reporter was bamboozled by an impersonator. Self-taught smart, catty, crafty, obsessive and always unpredictable, Love can't help but give a performance, whether she's onstage with her band or prowling the Chateau, looking for matches and cigarettes, acidly assessing a pair of models in the lobby.

Full of apologies when she arrives 40 minutes late for her interview--that's not bad; Larry Flynt says she was three hours late to their first meeting--she launches into a three-hour monologue, stopping only long enough to light fresh Marlboro Lite 100s, dropping the old butts to the ground and grinding them into ash with her shiny Dolce & Gabbanas. "They're my lucky shoes," she says. "I've played every show for the past three years in them."

Persuading Love to focus on any one topic requires considerable persistence. Her mind is agile, but crowded with an exotic clutter of ideas. Even a simple question about acting can provoke an impassioned discourse on feminine archetypes, disgusting baby boomers, such nemeses as Morissette and Lynn Hirschberg (author of the Vanity Fair piece that revealed Love was shooting heroin while pregnant with her daughter, Frances Bean, now 4) and her current obsession: the importance of birth order in shaping personality types, a theory propounded in a recent New Yorker profile of historian Frank Sulloway.

"It will ruin your life," she says with almost giddy enthusiasm. "I've been faxing it to every studio executive I know. He deserves a Pulitzer. I'm a little bit dysfunctional, which makes me an honorary later-born, but I'm a classic first-born--very conservative, a real traditionalist."

This is met with considerable disbelief. "Really, I'm very stodgy," Love insists. "It's probably why I hate Alanis Morissette so much!"

Love reaches out and makes a grab for the reporter's notebook. "Don't write that. I didn't mean that." As the interview progresses, it becomes obvious you are in the presence of a new Courtney Love, one who often bears little resemblance to the punk provocateur on display in previous media encounters. When she uses profanity, she apologizes, playfully trying to prevent you from writing it down. Asked about her experiences in Hollywood, she frequently goes off the record, determined to avoid offense.

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