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Patricia Arquette

The Call of the Wild

"Human Nature," a new film by French director Michel Gondry ("The Letter," numerous Bjork videos) from a script by Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich"), wryly observes behavior encompassed by the title through the interactions of a scientist (Tim Robbins), an extraordinarily hirsute naturalist author (Patricia Arquette) and the man they discover living in the wild (Rhys Ifans). David O. Russell, writer-director of "Spanking the Monkey," "Flirting With Disaster" and "Three Kings," volunteered as an astute observer of human nature to go into the woods with Arquette and Gondry, separately, for Calendar.

April 09, 2002

David O. Russell: Did you like walking around in the woods naked all the time making this film?

Arquette: Well, I am very uptight and shy about being naked, so it was hard for me to get comfortable. Luckily, we had the sweetest crew, but it is still shy-making to be naked and hairy. Plus to be naked and hairless, yet disguising a case of poison oak. I made mugwort packs with vinegar for the cast and crew.

Russell: You looked very comfortable, and sexy even, with the hair on your chest and elsewhere. Did it take long to apply?

Arquette: A long time, like six hours ... very itchy business. And, I couldn't sit or my ... glue would crack. So It was pretty intimate and awful.

Luckily the makeup guy, Tony [Gardner] and I found a way to survive. We spent a lot of time talking about Michael Flatley, "The Lord of the Dance."

Russell: Michael Flatley's been a lifesaver to so many actors meeting a creative challenge.

Arquette: Yes, also at a certain point I would freak out and start thinking about whose hair was on my body. What was their life like, and what sadness befell them to make them sell their hair?

Russell: You were putting on the desperation of those victims of commerce. The movie's about desperation, it's so original and unconventional and funny and good. It's the role of a lifetime for you. You get to sing; you go through an amazing emotional change.

Arquette: I was so excited to get to play Lila and to work with all the people involved: Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Tim Robbins, Rhys Ifans, Rosie Perez and Spike Jonze. I loved that journey, from being yourself to changing who you are, wishing yourself into someone else's idea of perfection, then being found out as a fraud and floundering in loss of self and loss of love. And on to reclaiming yourself and self-acceptance.

Russell: It's about so many things: What is beauty, what is love, what is sex. The nudity was refreshing because it's all in the woods, and it doesn't feel naughty or unnatural like other movie nudity.

Arquette: My character, Lila, has this condition where she has abnormal amounts of hair. There was a time when her sleek coat would make her more desirable to males, but that time is long gone. Lila is now left with the loneliness of hiding her true self to have love.

I think even though many of us don't have that amount of hair, we have this secret voice that tells us if we were only more or less of this and that, we would deserve love. So we trek out into the world, trying to be this something, this more desirable thing. Only to find you have lost yourself, your truth, and very often you are still not enough for the person whose love you long for.

But those kind of people, those kind of lovers can never love you, because they are blind in some way and they themselves have their secret aspects that aren't enough.

When Lila is nude in the woods, it is more her true self, and I wanted her to be more comfortable being nude with hair. Later, when Tim comes back at the end, although she is hairless, I wanted her to be shy. So she is hiding more behind Rhys and covering herself because she wants Tim's character to want her, but she is still impacted by his criticism. So when he returns to the woods, with him comes society.

That's what I wanted for her and for me and for whatever women are watching.

Here is a normal human specimen, not obsessed or self-indulgent in being some gym Jones. I want us and me and Lila to get to a place where we see and accept that we are made like this by God and we have nothing to apologize for. But our own self-judgment and that of society is so harsh, it is hard to ever find a place where we can be free.

Russell: Did making the film affect how you feel about yourself?

Arquette: Yes, I was in some conflict just in knowing the nature of this business and hearing how great actresses aren't hired for movies because some single-cell amoeba-like executive decides she is not [desirable] enough. I knew I would have a harder time of it in that arena.

Russell: Because you're hairy and it's the kind of thing that will sicken Howard Stern?

Arquette: That is a practical concern. But, my career has always been on my terms, and I saw what a beautiful story it was and I loved Lila and her hair. But, yes, I have an ego and want to be desired by my man. So, yeah, I had to get past my own ego trap.

Russell: You never felt beautiful when you're running through the woods naked with your hairy body? It's a nice, soft, flowing blondish kind of hair, isn't it?

Arquette: I was going for a Brad Pitt look, and at the end of the day I'd say there was a certain resemblance. There were moments when I felt beautiful. And some of the crew would try to make me feel nice, they'd say things like, "I never thought a hairy woman could be so attractive," but the drivers would be harsh, they'd say, "What the hell did they do to you?"

Russell: I love the scene where your wig slips, and you're nervously trying to please Tim Robbins, it's heartbreaking.

Arquette: Yeah, when my sister saw it, she said she almost cried because it reminded her of our mom. And Lila really reminded me of my mom, so I wanted that.

Russell: Your mother was a nudie model for soft porn magazines, wasn't she?

Arquette: Cheesecake. Very tame. Very voluptuous. My mom was an open book, she changed so much in her life and she had no apologies and she taught me to accept myself.

Russell: Then how was she like Lila?

Arquette: I saw her transform that way in the course of her life.

Russell: When Tim Robbins' character has Lila, he wants Gabrielle [Miranda Otto]; when he has Gabrielle, he wants Lila.

Arquette: There are lots of people like that. My dad didn't really see my mom till after she was gone.

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