The Cheerleader Steps 'Out'
Clea DuVall comes out of the obscurity closet

If you're not yet familiar with actress Clea DuVall, you're probably not hanging out with enough surly teenagers. Unlike the swarm of squeaky, triplicate teens like Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Melissa Joan Hart, DuVall has strayed from the NutraSweet sterility of being a Gen-Y spokesperson. If anything, DuVall is less "posterboy," more "postertomboy." To put it in Breakfast Club-generation terms: if they remade Goonies today, she'd be the Martha Plimpton character.

Now, having achieved notoriety in such intensity-fueled flicks as The Faculty, The Astronaut's Wife and Girl, Interrupted, DuVall has finally segued into more sweet-natured cinema. With Jamie Babbit's But I'm a Cheerleader, the actress gets to showcase her romantic side in a film that's as bubblegum as they come. Perhaps, if she continues down this road, she'll be forced to employ a third name after all.

What was your reaction when you first read the script?
Actually, I was very relieved because I already told Jamie that I would do it before I read it. [Laughs.] But I thought it was really funny. I really liked it.

What was most appealing about it?
That Jamie was directing it. It was just a relief that (under) all of the insanity and the Barbie world, there was this beautiful love story.

Do you think this film stands apart from other recent gay-themed films?
I don't know, I really haven't seen much. I saw If These Walls Could Talk. I've seen Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss. I've just never seen this before. I've never seen a story like this. Everything I've seen was always about being gay. Like, gay, gay, gay. And not so much about like two souls connecting. That's what really moved me about it. If you see two people connecting and it's really beautiful, that's what's touching. Because you can watch a love story, and if the people have nothing in between them, then you don't give a sh*t. Excuse me.

That's a demerit.
[Hangs head low.]

Were you initially self-conscious about dealing with sexuality on screen?
I didn't really care. It's not such an issue for me, and it never has been. Maybe it's the way I was raised or the friends I've had. It's not an issue. Somebody's sexuality is as significant as what shirt they are wearing that day.

Why do you think it is an issue with so many people?
Because I think they're insecure. And I think they don't know themselves that well. And whatever they don't know about themselves, they're scared of.

Does Cheerleader respond to that insecurity?
It tells them that it's okay, and that you're beautiful, and you can have a relationship with a person. All that matters is that person loves you and that person cares about you and you care about them. It's so hard to find that. It's so hard in this world to find somebody that you love to care about. And they should just know that that's okay.

Perhaps it's just bisexual-chic, but today's teenagers seem more open towards definitions of sexuality. But I'm Cheerleader certainly reflects that. Any ideas on what's behind this?
People are kinda seeing that it is okay to just be attracted to a person and not so much a body. For some people, that is more (honest) than just "gay" or "straight." I think there is an in-between. I think bisexuality is frowned upon for a lot of different reasons. But I don't like any of those words. I don't like any of those labels. I think they're limiting.

Have you been thanked by any gay teenagers who've seen this film?
Yeah, it was really cool. We were at closing night of the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in San Francisco. There were these two fifteen-year-old cheerleaders and they were girlfriends. It was really cool. They came up to me after the show and one of them, she was just like sobbing and weeping, and I'm like, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry" and she was like, "No, it was just so beautiful." And it was nice.

The football player who came out to his team -- there was something about him on 20/20 -- he as there. And he had a lot of nice things to say. And then there was this thirteen-year-old boy from some small town that had started the first gay/straight alliance in his school. He was there. And there were these girls Mormon girls from Provo, Utah. I mean, it's exciting to open people's minds and show them that it's okay.

What is your strangest encounter with a fan?
This guy in a bar that asked me if I was in Girl Interrupted I said yeah and he said yeah, I saw that movie. And like twenty minutes later he was like screaming really rude things about me at the top of his lungs. And I was just like what the f*ck are you doing? Why are you like tearing me apart in the middle of this bar? And he's like, cuz you're a f*ckin' bitch. You and that Angelina bitch. That was scary. But then I confronted him and then he called me some more names and then he apologized later, and he threw up.

What do you do to avoid stresses of Hollywood?
I don't go to the parties. It's my job. I'm working when I'm working, and when I'm not, then I don't. I don't make it more important than it is.

You don't just get more tatoos? A lot has been written about those.
I know. It's really irritating. It's really old by now.

Are you in competition with Angelina Jolie?
No, I think we both have the same amount. We both have ten.

If she goes up to eleven, are you gonna have to up the ante?
She's got the Oscar. I have to have something.

How did you start out?
I went to an arts high school and I did some theater there, not that much because they hated my guts. They didn't cast me in anything. When I got out of school, I got an agent and did a bad B-movie and went to the Sundance Filmmakers lab and met Robin Tunney who introduced me to her manager at the time. And from there, everything happened. I did Niagara, Niagara. I did a Kudos commercial. I started doing guest stars, and I started doing movies and stuff.

Why didn't they like you at that school?
It just didn't work for me. I don't think there's one set way you can teach somebody to act. And I don't know that you even can teach somebody, I think it's something that's in you or not. You can learn to be good, but I don't think you can learn to be great unless it's in your soul. I think that's how it is for all arts. But I had a job, and I had an apartment, and I had a lot going on when I was in high school. I didn't have time to always go to school because I had to pay my rent, and I had to eat.

Were your parents instrumental in getting your career going?
Wait. You don't think my dad is Robert Duvall, do you?

Not unless you brought paternity tests.
Okay. Good… Shelley Duvall is my dad.

Yeah, (my dad) is the only one that really did (believe). My mom didn't believe me and didn't care until I started getting work and then she was like "Oh yeah, I've always been supportive." And I'm like, "Really? Really." But yeah, he's been like the biggest influence in all of everything. I think he's the reason why I am the way I am in a lot of different ways.

You weren't the peppy cheerleader girl?
Well, I'm an only child and I'm just a real loner kind of person… and yeah, kinda dark. But I'm happy. Not sad. I'm just shy and nervous.

So what kind of roles does a shy and nervous girl look for?
I just like to do movies that challenge me and allow me to do things that I've never done before or explore things I've never explored that interest me, that I have passion for. They're all different. I don't like doing the same thing over and over again because that means I'm being lazy.

I am going to be doing a movie, Ghost of Mars, that John Carpenter is directing. It's like a sci-fi, space 2176 (thing). I play a cop.

That's your third sci-fi movie. Is this an interest of yours?
Well, all of my fans are like fourteen-year-old boys so…

Is your role in Ghost of Mars physically intense?
Yeah. My whole life is working out and shooting guns right now. I'm learning how to fight people with, like, sticks in my hands and disarm 6'5" men.

Any injuries?
I had bruises all up and down my forearms. There's this technique of trapping where somebody blocks your punch and you grab their hand and basically just punch them in the face. It's a beautiful, beautiful art.

Did they make you stop smoking to train?
No one has that power over me. Am I pregnant? Then I'm smoking. That's my rule.

Do you get to act with any cool costars?
Ice Cube and Jason Statham from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Pam Grier is in it. She's the coolest lady alive.

What makes her so groovy?
What doesn't?

What's the biggest sacrifice you've had to make for your success?
I don't think I've had any (major) sacrifices. Everything I do is for a purpose. I've been lucky that I haven't had to do that yet. I haven't been doing it that long though. I'm sure in the future, it'll be different. It's not like I'm Julia Roberts.

What's the one thing about you people have a hard time believing?
I'm not that girl that they turn me into when they write those articles.

Can you describe her?
"Cool, Clea DuVall walks in, in her oversized jeans and ten tattoos and smoking her Lucky Strikes…" I don't know who they think I am. I think they think I'm like James Dean or something. I wish I were, but I'm not.

What would you like me to write?
"That bitch, Clea DuVall walked in the room wearing these ugly jeans…"