In the teen horror flick The Faculty, she was Stokely, the misunderstood loner who
turned into a deadly alien. In Girl, Interrupted, she was Georgina, a misunderstood loner in a hospital full of
misunderstood loners (including Winona Ryder and Oscar winner Angelina Jolie). In her new film, But I'm A Cheerleader,
she plays Graham, a - wait for it - misunderstood loner who falls in love with Natasha Lyonne's titular cheerleader
at a homosexual rehabilitation camp.
Spot a trend? There's probably a reason Clea Duvall keeps getting cast as quiet, stand-offish types, and it probably has to do with the fact that, in person, she is quiet and stand-offish. Chalk it up to shyness, but Duvall's ability to articulate her thoughts is not yet the equal of her (considerable) ability to bring life to characters rejected by life and love.
Her new film, But I'm A Cheerleader, is the bastard child of John Waters and Ivan Reitman, an audacious, sometimes rude comedy about the lengths some parents will go to make sure their kids turn out "normal." Natasha Lyonne plays Megan, a cheerleader whose parents suspect their daughter of being a lesbian and force her to attend 'True Directions', a "homosexual rehabilitation" camp (don't laugh, they exist), to curtail her urges. Their evidence: Megan is a vegetarian, has a Melissa Etheridge poster on her wall, and hates kissing her football captain boyfriend. At camp she meets Graham (Duvall), a rich girl with no intention of rehabbing, and they begin a lesbian relationship. Famous drag queen RuPaul plays a repressed camp counsellor out to "straighten" Megan out, while Cathy Moriarty is Mary Brown, the head of the camp.
Duvall (no relation to Robert) grew up in the "scary" parts of Los Angeles. Now 23, she turned professional at 18, starring in local theatre productions of "Night Mother" and "Cabaret" before winning guest spots on TV's Buffy The Vampire Slayer and ER. She first gained recognition in the independent feature How To Make The Cruelest Month, which was one of 16 films in dramatic competition at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. Later that same year, her starring role in The Faculty garnered her nominations for a Blockbuster and Teen Choice Award for Breakout Performance. She also co-starred with Rose McGown in Cheerleader director Jamie Babbitt's short film, Sleeping Beauties, and played Charlize Theron's sister in The Astronaut's Wife.
She also recently completed the dark comedy See Jane Run, in which she plays the title role of Jane. The film, which examines relationships in Los Angeles, is produced by Doug Liman (Go and Swingers). Access spoke to Clea Duvall during last fall's Toronto International Film Festival.
Tell me about your character, Graham.
I really liked her a lot. I was very, very enthusiastic, very excited and very proud of Jane. Watching it last night, it was the first time I could really step back from a character that much and just watch the work and just watch myself, not from a 'oh God, I'm so bad' or 'that was so stupid what I did' [perspective], but really, honestly watch it to see what I did. I feel like it was the first character that I really did that changed consistently and went through a whole transition.
Are you critical of your work?
Of course. Every time I see something I think, 'oh, I could have done that better' or 'I could have not done that or added this or added that and it would have been better.' But it's how you learn. Was it a difficult decision to play a gay character? When I look at a script, I read it for the story and I read it for the character. I don't read it as 'oh, I'm going to play a gay character, I'm going to play an angry character, I'm going to play a happy character.' You're playing a character. It's just a quality, it's just something about that person and I don't focus on that. And in life I don't say 'oh, that's my gay friend' or 'hey, that's my straight friend. That's my bisexual friend' or 'that's my black friend.' I think it's silly to put those kinds of labels on things and it kind of limits you. Because to say 'oh, I've played a gay character,' it's kind of judging it in a way or giving myself a pat on the back or something. I didn't think I was doing anything extraordinary or unusual or risky by doing that. We're just telling a great story.
Are there perceptions in Hollywood about what kind of roles you should and should not accept?
I like good scripts, and if it's a good script then I'm more than interested and more than happy to do it. There are always going to be roles that I'm not right for that I'm going to want to do. But you can make anybody to look like anything, and I think that's part of the exciting thing about acting is that you can become anything and you can play anything. It's just a test of your abilities and your range.
Were you familiar with Jamie Babbitt's work?
Yeah, I was in her second short, Sleeping Beauties, and I've known Jamie for a long time now. I think she's great.
How did she do as a first-time director?
You couldn't tell that it was her first film. She did very well. She had a very clear vision of what she wanted and it's exactly what she got. She's just one of the most brilliant people I know. Such a smart person and very confident.
Is there a difference between working with male and female directors?
Yeah, working for women is different from working with men, and it's not necessarily better or worse either way. It's just different. Men are different and women are different. People are different, everybody's different, and I've worked with a lot of female directors and some were really, really amazing and some were not, and the same with men.
What was filming Girl, Interruped like?
It was really intense. We were all in this small city in Pennsylvania together for three months working in a mental hospital every single day for fourteen hours a day. We made a really special film and I'm very proud of it.