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'Preying' for a break

Gina Gershon and Cheri Lovedog put heart and soul into a movie about a band of riot grrrls before there were riot grrrls.

September 24, 2003|Andre Chautard | Special to The Times

Gina Gershon recalls how nervous she was meeting punk rocker Cheri Lovedog. Gershon was playing her alter ego in "Prey for Rock and Roll," based on Lovedog's semiautobiographical play about an all-girl band struggling for years in the L.A. music scene. They met in a recording studio, where Gershon came to lay down vocals of Lovedog's songs for the film.

"I thought, 'What if you don't like me?' " Gershon says in a schoolgirl voice, and Lovedog quickly adds, "And I thought, 'What if I don't like her?' "

The two laugh about it now, squeezed into a booth at El Coyote, since they immediately got along so well. Reunited to talk about their film -- Lovedog lives in Santa Cruz, Gershon "all over the place" -- they gab about everything from their love of guitars and Christopher Guest movies to visits to psychics and the friendly competition between their upcoming rock tours.

Lovedog, 45, having seen a slew of wannabe rock films featuring actors who lip-synch, made by filmmakers who know little or nothing about the music world, wanted "Prey for Rock and Roll" to be authentic. (The film opens Friday in Los Angeles before expanding to other cities.) "So many times these rock 'n' roll movies, especially [about] all-girl bands, they can be very sorry, just really lame and corny," says Lovedog, who was on set during the production. "I said, 'We have to cut all the cheese out.' "

Writing the play, Lovedog drew upon the professional and personal trials she and her band, named Lovedog, went through during the 1980s and early 1990s, opening for the likes of Jane's Addiction, Hole, L7 and X. She spun tales of low-paying gigs, difficult childhoods, substance abuse, personal loss and unfulfilled dreams into the story of the fictional band Clamdandy, weaving in her songs, some of which were written 20 years ago. In the film's centerpiece performance, Gershon growls through "Every Six Minutes," a seething rebuke to sexual assault.

"Everything that happened in the movie has happened to someone I know, or me," Lovedog says. In casting the film, Lovedog thought it essential to get a lead actress who would sing. Alex Steyermark, making his feature directing debut after having worked as a music supervisor and music producer on several films, was intent on Gershon after seeing her perform on Broadway in the seedy revival of "Cabaret." Lovedog approved.

"I'm like, 'Gina Gershon, man. She's hot.' I thought of 'Bound,' and I thought she could pull it off and look cool."

Gershon, 41, who early in her career sang and danced in musical theater, had been looking to sing in a rock film for some time. When Gershon starred in the short-lived David E. Kelley series "Snoops," she was given a few numbers to perform, but "it wasn't really until doing 'Cabaret' that I remembered how much I love to sing," she says. Kander and Ebb tunes, she concedes, aren't exactly punk rock, but "I got pretty dark in 'Cabaret' in my last number. My friends said, 'You're like the Sid Vicious of "Cabaret.' "

"Prey for Rock and Roll" originally was budgeted for less than $5 million and announced with a different supporting cast, but some of the financing fell apart during pre-production. Gershon had recorded the songs and by that point was determined to perform on screen, so she came aboard as a producer, intending to find investors while in Cannes to promote one of her films.

Gershon thought, "How hard can $2 million be to raise?" She quickly found out. She then suggested shooting the film digitally, which kept the budget down to $1.5 million. Gershon pushed strongly to get Drea De Matteo for the role of bass player Tracy, a hard-living trust-fund baby. De Matteo, in fact, had wanted to play Tracy on stage but couldn't because of her shooting schedule for "The Sopranos." Lori Petty as lead guitarist Faith and Shelly Cole as drummer and Faith's girlfriend Sally round out the film's band.

Lovedog schooled Gershon in punk music, and for the songs Gershon is seen performing live in the film, her vocals were recorded during shooting -- no lip-synching. Gershon, who knew how to play guitar a little, also took instruction from rockers Susan Hyatt, Tia Sprocket and, briefly, Joan Jett, who had played lead guitar in the recording sessions and also was supposed to cameo in the film. After disagreements between Jett and the producers, she left the production and her guitar tracks were replaced.

For the film, Gershon had more than three dozen fake tattoos applied each day; the actress doesn't have any. "I really like them," she says. "I just can't. I have commitment issues."

A few days before the premiere of "Prey for Rock and Roll" at Sundance in January, Gershon was asked to perform live at the film's after-party. She turned to her friend, Matt Sorum, who helped recruit fellow ex-Guns n' Roses members Slash and Duff McKagan. They had half an hour of rehearsal.

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