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Wanted: More gutsy film roles

September 15, 2006|Ellen McCarthy | The Washington Post

Every once in a while, in a coffee shop or on the streets of Los Angeles, Robin Tunney runs into a ghost from hard times past.

She was naive and 19 and working the tampon commercial audition circuit the day the ATM gave her one more rejection notice. A neighbor lent her $60 to fill her gas tank so she could drive to a casting call, where she landed a small part in that 1992 Cro-Magnon teen flick "Encino Man."

Not exactly a ticket to the big time, but enough to repay "Sixty Dollar Joe" and keep her from crawling back to a set of parents in Chicago who preferred she go the college route.

As for that big-time ticket, well, do interesting tickets count? At 34, she has racked up a fair number of those. There was that shaved-headed malcontent in 1995's "Empire Records." The aspiring witch in "The Craft" (1996). And isn't it every little girl's dream to play a star-crossed shoplifter with Tourette's syndrome like she got to do in 1997's "Niagara, Niagara"?

And now -- drum roll -- Miss Leonore Lemmon! She's the vampy, conniving, hellacious beauty who steals Diane Lane's man (Ben Affleck, who plays a guy who plays Superman, incidentally) and does or does not kill him in "Hollywoodland," a noir reimagining of the death of 1950s TV star George Reeves.

"My piece of the puzzle is a very small piece, but it's a very classy puzzle," said Tunney, who has the voice of a just-grown-up Shirley Temple and the eloquence of an old-time storyteller. It was three days before his scheduled marriage to the real Lemmon that Reeves died of a gunshot wound in 1959. Lemmon died 30 years later.

If some, including Tunney's parents, liked her best in the role of a lawyer on the Fox TV drama "Prison Break," that's fine. Her character was killed off at the start of the second season, but it was good money while it lasted, which now gives her the freedom to wait for good roles.

"I've been impatient in the past and, like everybody, have done things 'cause you need the money," she said from the garden of her house in Los Angeles. " 'Prison Break' put me in a position where it's not like 'Oh, my gosh, I gotta go do something right now.' "

What she wants to do is find more quirky roles in the type of indie films that already dot her resume. And no surprise then that she "lovvvved" playing the cinched-waisted, big-boobed, deplorable Miss Lemmon.

Or that she wishes she had been around to be a contemporary of Lemmon's, back when there were a few more brassy female roles to go around.

"They were these naughty, conflicted, awesome characters," she said. "Those don't come along so often anymore. But you keep trying."

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