by Mark Ebner
SHE'S PORTRAYED A RANGE OF WOMEN ON THE VERGE, FROM MENTAL INSTITUTION PATIENT TO A TEEN IN GAY REHAB, BUT ACTOR CLEA DuVALL REFUSES TO BE FENCED IN.
Clutching a pack of Lucky Strikes, a typically skinny Hollywood street kid in ill-fitting, hip-hugging Wranglers, gray wife--beater tank, and brown leather go-go boots shuffles down Beverly Boulevard. Her platinum-streaked, mousy brown bob blows in the Santa Ana wind as she ambles up to her Starbucks of choice. Flopping into a seat outside, Clea DuVall, the adorably freckled 22-year-old indie actress sighs, "I live up by the Hollywood Bowl, but they don't let you smoke at any of the places near there." She lights up and leans in to reveal a tight torso and chiseled upper arms. Boxing lessons - an antidote to the trendy monotony of spin classes and Pilates - have paid off for DuVall. Her intentionally spotty five-year career is another Hollywood story.
What's going on? "Nothing," shrugs the artful ingenue. "It's just slow, and I guess I haven't gone out (on auditions) in the last couple of months. Not getting work." Not that she cares. Call her choosy. She holds out for interesting roles. While other hungry young actors are gearing up for television pilot season, DuVall grimaces at the thought. Pinching herself, running her hands through her hair, and staring transfixed at a frantic street person, the actress is, like the homeless woman she watches, a study in short-attention-span theatrics. "I don't do pilots," she confirms. "Too big of a commitment. Like, l'm gonna almost be 30 in six years. [Actually, she'll be 28.] I have A.D.D. and I can't concentrate on anything [like the average run 0f a successful series] for six years."
Self-analysis aside, DuVall has racked up a smart list of credits in dumb films like The Astronauf's Wife and The Faculty, in which she plays a bitter, cynical outcast. In fact, most of her roles exude an outsider demeanor - a choice that reflects her own social functioning way outside of Hollywood city limits. Last winter, she portrayed a pathological liar in Girl, Interrupted, and she has a cameo as Casey Affleck's roommate in Committed. Character bits become her, but she's particularly head-turning as a young lesbian in love in first-time feature director Jamie Babbit's giddy sapphic send-up of gay stereotyping, But Il'm A Cheerleader, out this summer.
The object of DuVall's affection in Cheerleader is longtime real-life friend Natasha Lyonne, and the film climaxes, per se, with their love scene at a summer-campy "reparative therapy"-based rehab for wayward homosexual teens. Repulsed as she is by the virulent homophobia broadcast by the right-wing wackos and Dr. Lauras of the world, she agrees that the film's subject matter is timely. The love scene did freak her out, though. The film crew "were like, 'Okay, 10-minute warning,' and I was like, 'Oh my God! What am I gonna do? I have to go do a love scene with Natasha!' Sort of like touching tongues with your sister? "It was weird," admits DuVall, an only child. "I felt like a little kid. I felt very vulnerable." But she knows the scene was essential. "Everything we were feeling and all the shyness and insecurity and vulnerability - I think it was all true to the characters."
DuVall can't decide what's better - love scenes with men or women. She's done both. She had fun having screen sex with handsome young comer Gabriel Mann in the obscure festival favorite How To Make The Crue/est Month - in fact, on a whim, she almost married her co-star. But she had a creepy time of it with an older male actor in something called Wildflowers. "That was harder because he was, like, my dad's age," she groans "It was weird. And I was, like, 17 in that movie."
Making out with Lyonne was "tense," but that discomfort was nothing compared to her one stab at onscreen nudity, "That was such a fucked-up experience," laments DuVall. "It makes me flot trust people." In a project she declines to name, the filmmakers promised her that her nudity would be tasteful. They lied. "What the fuck am I supposed to do if I can't trust you, and you're supposed to be protecting me and taking care of me, and you don't?" she asks of her erstwhile guardians. Without question, her next nude scene will be one she's totally in control of - self-directed, maybe? Yes, she wants to write and direct. "I wanna go to film school and I wanna learn how to be a filmmaker," she declares. "And I know aIl actors want to direct, but I really do. I love telling stories, and I love filmmaking. I appreciate it and I'd like to understand it and be able to do it."
For now, though, DuVall will tend to her 10 tattoos (one inked n a dual session with her dad) and find comfort in friends with names like Summer and Radio. Up next? A star turn in another low-budget dark comedy called See Jane Run and, she hopes, a modern film adaptation of Chekov's classic, Three Sisters. Until then, The Geraldine Fibbers await on her CD player, and P. J. Harvey is forever on replay. And this afternoon, the talented tomboy has short-term pursuits: She's "going shopping for some pretty clothes so I can look pretty." On the outside.