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Wuhrer Has Dreams--But No Illusions

The B-movie veteran is happy, sort of, to continue to appear in films such as the new horror-comedy 'Eight Legged Freaks'

July 18, 2002|MARK OLSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"The stars are the spiders, really. The rest of us take a back seat to the giant spiders."

It's hard to imagine many actresses approaching a certain age talking with such seemingly genuine enthusiasm about starring opposite David Arquette and a gaggle of computer-generated spiders, even harder to conceive such a role underscoring a career renaissance.

Kari Wuhrer is definitely not most actresses.

Her role as a small-town sheriff and single mother in "Eight Legged Freaks," which opened Wednesday, marks something of a turning point. Directed by Ellory Elkayem, and produced by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, the studio-financed "Freaks" is a far cry from the independent, late-night cable fare that makes up the majority of her surprisingly large resume.

Vivacious and candid, with the air of a knowledgeable yet unjaded veteran, Wuhrer seems all too aware of her position in the Hollywood food chain.

Since her emergence on the late '80s MTV game show "Remote Control" (which also introduced to the world Colin Quinn and Adam Sandler), she has picked up a sizable fan base among the ranks of sci-fi/fantasy junkies, Internet shut-ins and B-movie trash aficionados. Over the years, she's done an infomercial, appeared in a video game and been to the brink of a broader, more mainstream stardom numerous times--be it for her work as Jack Nicholson's stripper girlfriend in "The Crossing Guard" or her role on the cult TV show "Sliders"--but Wuhrer exudes a definite sense that her time is now.

"Being a woman in her early 30s," information the 35-year-old delivers with a playful, knowing wink, "it's hard to say how many more chances I'll get.

"I've done 50 movies--most of them not good--but nothing's ever really put me over. But within taking these parts and doing those films, I can never say I didn't get something out of every piece of [junk] I've ever done.

"Because I have. Even if it was just the chance to travel the world. So what if the sets are cardboard and shake when you close a door--I got paid to see Prague. What's wrong with that?"

Long a staple of the Maxim/FHM men's magazine circuit, Wuhrer's freewheeling, top-down, up-for-anything persona in many ways predicated the guy's-girl phenomenon of Cameron Diaz rump-shaking and naughty-not-dirty lasciviousness. That same exuberant "life force," as she calls it, has also at times gotten in the way of growth both personal and professional, and Wuhrer is now determined to change some minds.

"I think people have a hard time defining me because I've a hard time defining me," she explains. "So I've fallen into that B-class category of 'chick with fake boobs who sort of can act.' Which is great for B-movies, but it became too easy, and I stayed there because it was safe.

"I've been given great opportunities--I work steadily, I have a house and a good life because of it--but I've sold myself short, so other people have too. It's not an insult to be thought of as a B-actress, but I'm tired of that now, I'm bored with it. It doesn't feel like who I really am. So I got rid of the boobs and I'm getting myself together to annihilate the image I've created through fear. I just want the stakes to be higher. I'm ready for that."

With a handful of independent roles still awaiting release, after "Eight Legged Freaks" Wuhrer is looking for material to produce herself, hoping to more closely shape and control the image she conveys through her work.

Despite her years of struggle, Wuhrer hasn't lost sight of what brought her to this "kaleidoscope fantasy land" in the first place.

"I love the movie game," she gushes. "I just love it. I've made a million movies, but it's still so much fun to me. It's everything I've ever dreamed of. It's exciting to be on a billboard on Sunset Boulevard, and I'm not beyond enjoying it.

"I've been in this business for 18, 19 years, and the little things still make me giddy. Like when they mentioned my birthday on 'Entertainment Tonight'!"

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