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Fall Sneaks | BRIEF ENCOUNTER: ALISON LOHMAN

A flowering career

The 'Matchstick Men' actress continues her winning streak.

September 07, 2003|Janet Kinosian

Alison Lohman's savory surprise performance opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in "White Oleander" led to her latest casting coup opposite Oscar winner Nicolas Cage, in Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men." In it, Lohman, 23, plays Angela, a troubled, crackling-smart 14-year-old who revs up a relationship with her long-lost, obsessive-compulsive con-artist father, Roy (Cage). Lohman, originally from Palm Springs, is refreshingly humble and immensely talented. Her goal after high school: "I really thought I'd be in community theater my whole life, maybe do a Broadway show one day." Fate had other plans.

Playing opposite Nicolas Cage must have been quite an experience.

He's one of my favorite actors, ever since I saw "Raising Arizona." I love everything he's done. So working with him was wonderful, just to learn from him. He's quiet, but he's really incredibly witty and funny and jokes around.

Did it unnerve you to be playing opposite someone who'd won an Oscar? Some of your roles would be imposing even for a seasoned actress.

Oh, my God, I get so scared and intimidated, but you have to do your job. If you let yourself get intimidated by that then how are you going to do your work and be relaxed enough to play your role? I'm just happy to get work and then to get all these amazing parts, I'm stunned. If I sat down to think about it I'm afraid they might vanish. I just try and do it as it comes in front of me. But no matter whom it is I'm acting with, the biggest challenge for me is to even play the character, to try and nail her right. So, if anything, I'm fearful of not being able to do a good job of playing my character. But it definitely takes it up a couple notches.

How did Angela change from the first time you read the part to the film's portrayal?

Initially, I saw her a bit more -- not shallow, really, but more like a typical 14-year-old. I didn't think she was going to get as involved with her dad as she did. The love she had for him, it actually grew and paralleled my getting closer to Nick. For me, I loved seeing how the character was surprised by how women feel about their fathers; it's just enormous, how much love you have for your dad and how deep that goes. She loved him too, I think, because he's just so eccentric with his little finicky ways and his obsession-compulsion about shutting the door three times. She so doesn't understand that way of life, but she's accepting of him, kind of like Oscar and Felix. That's what opens their relationship door.

Your next film is Tim Burton's "Big Fish," opposite Ewan McGregor and with Albert Finney and Jessica Lange. What do you recall most about the experience?

[What] I remember is Tim pacing back and forth. He actually has one of those pace meters that count how many steps you walk in a day. And literally by the end of the week, I swear, it'd be thousands. I've never seen him sit down. I guess it helps him, thinking by walking.

Many people struggle for so long to get small parts in film. Do you think about this much, and how your path has gone so differently?

I understand how extremely rare it is to get these kinds of parts, let alone work with these directors and actors, so every day I know the luck. I don't really get that deep or philosophical about it. It's all still so new. I would never have imagined any of this, ever. But I'd also never feel I'm carrying anything, carrying a scene; I don't know if I could go through with it if that were the case. I'm just living moment to moment. I can't project -- I've no reason to. It's not like the end-all for me. The way I see it, if you can do what you love and get paid for it and support yourself, what else could you ask for? It's a good life.

-- Janet Kinosian

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