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The Jealous Kind?

Eric Stoltz, who shot out of 'Mask' to fame, produces and stars in new film about envy.

June 04, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ever since his acclaimed performance in "Mask," Eric Stoltz has become one of cinema's most prolific actors and a favorite of independent filmmakers.

Stoltz made his first big impression in that 1985 hit as a sensitive boy who was disfigured by a rare disease. In 1992's indie hit, "Waterdance," Stoltz received acclaim co-starring with Helen Hunt as a paraplegic writer. He demonstrated his comedic side as a scuzzy drug dealer in Quentin Tarantino's Oscar-winning "Pulp Fiction," and played a documentary filmmaker in the 1997 action-adventure "Anaconda."

He's also appeared in such films as "Sleep With Me," "Bodies, Rest & Motion," which he also produced, "Rob Roy," "Two Days in the Valley," "Grace of My Heart," "Naked in New York" and "Little Women."

His latest is "Mr. Jealousy," which opens Friday. The romantic comedy re-teams Stoltz with writer-director Noah Baumbach, who directed the 36-year-old actor in the 1995 comedy "Kicking and Screaming." Stoltz is also executive producer of the film.

In "Mr. Jealousy," Stoltz plays Lester Grimm, a charming young writer who has one flaw--he's incredibly jealous of the former beaus of his new girlfriend, Ramona (Annabella Sciorra). The more he becomes involved with Ramona, the more jealous he becomes, especially of one old boyfriend (Chris Eigeman), who is now a best-selling author.

"Mr. Jealousy" also features Stoltz's girlfriend, Bridget Fonda, in a cameo, and "Mask" director Peter Bogdonovich as a therapist.

Stoltz, who will be seen later this year in yet another indie comedy, "Hi Life," and the Showtime drama "The Passion of Ayn Rand," recently chatted over the phone about his latest project, his strengths as a producer and why he decided to do "Anaconda."

Question: Isn't that Georges Delerue's score from Francois Truffaut's classic "Jules & Jim" that's heard throughout "Mr. Jealousy"?

Answer: We stole from the best! Isn't that a beautiful score? We had in our minds from the start to pay homage, not only to the French New Wave, but also to the screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s. We wanted to steal as much from those films as possible because we love those films.

We actually set out to make a smart, funny, romantic farce. Even though the theme of jealousy is certainly a darker one, it also lends itself to some really funny, silly situations.

Q: So is your character of Lester Grimm autobiographical? Have you ever been that jealous?

A: Oh, lord. I would hate to think it was anyway based on me and, if it was, I hope no one would admit to it. There are a few details [about the character] that are lucky coincidences, shall we say. Other than that, it was a complete work of fiction.

Actually, I have been jealous in my life, I shudder to admit. It's never pretty. It's never an easy thing. It can actually be quite funny when it involves someone else. I really am amused by jealousy when one of my pals is going through it. When I am in the throes of it, it is like having the stomach flu.

Q: What was it like being executive producer of this movie?

A: It was literally the inmates running the asylum, and it was one happy asylum. We all got along famously and had a great time.

I was the first one Noah had brought the script to. I had worked with Noah before and I wanted to get involved in a deeper level. I like being included in all the key decisions to casting and crewing to scheduling and even certain financial decisions. I like making sure that what the director wants to get on film is going to get on film. That to me is an enjoyable process. I really enjoy producing, I must say.

I did "Three Sisters" [on Broadway] at night while I was shooting "Mr. Jealousy." That's another reason to be a producer--to make sure we got all of our shots by 7 so I could get to the theater. I was wiped out, but the crew loved me. Since I was almost in every scene in "Mr. Jealousy" and I had eight shows a week on Broadway, they knew we were going to wrap at 7 p.m. There is something to be said for that. I think we hustled a little bit more.

Q: Have you ever thought about directing?

A: I have given it some thought and have been approached a few times about it. I suppose I am getting closer to actually doing it. But I feel there is a great deal to be learned as a producer that could only help me when I decide to become a director.

Q: You recently received the Indie Support Award at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival. Why do you prefer doing independent features over mainstream commercial films?

A: I don't know. To be honest, I don't really think of a film as small or large or independent or studio, much to my accountant's chagrin. If something about the film appeals to me, then I try to do it.

Q: You also don't seem to be scared of working with first-time directors. Your next film, "Hi Life," marks the directing debut of Roger Heddon.

A: ["Hi Life"] was one of the funniest scripts I had read in a while, laugh-out-loud funny, which makes you feel pretty foolish when you are on a cross-country plane flight.

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