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Rosanna Arquette: Desperately seeking Rosanna Print-ready version

The Independent (UK Newspaper)
March 22, 2005

The eldest of the Arquette clan, Rosanna has spent three decades on the big screen. But, as she tells Sholto Byrnes, the camera doesn't reveal what she's really about.

Rosanna Arquette is tired. She is stressed out from finishing her new documentary. She is very, very hungry. And the traffic on the way from central Los Angeles to Santa Monica has not improved her mood. "I feel so cranky from driving. The energy was just, like, raaaaaaaah!" she says. "Give me some make-up!"

Once she's been made up and feels ready to face a camera, she's a little calmer. But not much. At 45, quirky, off-beat Rosanna Arquette is as sparky as ever, if not more so. At times one can see why David Cronenberg, who directed her in Crash, described her as being "fierce to the point where you're almost afraid to unleash her on your enemies".

Hers is a name that is both familiar and yet not. Because she comes from a large clan of actors - her grandfather Cliff was in The Jack Paar Show, her father Lewis in The Waltons, and her siblings Patricia, David, Alexis and Richmond are all in the trade too - the name Arquette has won recognition through the family's cumulative efforts.

What they've all actually been doing comes less easily to mind. In the case of Rosanna, apart from Crash, in which she memorably and notoriously allowed James Spader to make love to a wound in her leg, the film with which she is most associated is Desperately Seeking Susan. You may also remember that she had a small part in Pulp Fiction, and played Matthew Perry's wife in 2000's The Whole Nine Yards. Or you may not. For someone who's so watchable on screen, and who received an Emmy nomination very early in her career, in 1982, she seems to have a curiously empty CV. What has she been up to all this time?

"I'm not a top-of-the-A-list actress," she says, "but I don't think anyone stays there longer than 15 minutes these days. I've just always been working, continuously, for the 27 years I've been here. I was a leading lady for a long time, and then I took the different path. People say you should have done this or that [she was offered and turned down more commercial pictures including Top Gun] but I went for the little artistic films that no one ever saw, which spoke to me. And I still feel that way."

In fact, she's been very busy. She has a major part in a new television series, What About Brian?, is going to direct a feature film with some "very big" actors, and has made a number of appearances in US hit shows such as Will and Grace and The L Word. Over the past few years she has also been making documentaries, investigating the kind of areas where Hollywood does not care to tread. She has just completed one on the state of the music industry today, a subject close to her heart.

For her previous documentary, 2002's Searching for Debra Winger, Arquette interviewed leading actresses about the pressures they face as women in the film industry, issues relating to work/ life balance, and ageism. (The title relates to Winger's decision to quit Hollywood when she was 40 to spend more time with her family.) Although the film was generally praised, one female columnist in the UK criticised it for featuring "deafening bleating" from older women who complained that younger women were offered roles instead of them.

"They weren't complaining," says Arquette. "It's just real. Men want girls. Most men want little girls. They want them in film. They want to look at them. They want to fuck them, and that's all they want. An evolved man is not going to look that way. But most men are not that evolved. Huh!

"It's not a bitchfest. But I do resent that when you're in the most cool, powerful time of your life, which is your 40s, you're put out to pasture. I think women are so much cooler when they're older. So it's a drag that we're not allowed to age."

She may claim that her 40s are a "cool" time for a woman, but Rosanna Arquette doesn't seem to be totally convinced by her own assertion. "I just turned 45," she tells me at one point, letting out a loud hoot that combines disbelief with extreme trepidation. Consistency is not the primary virtue to expect from her, however. She cheerfully admits that the members of her family are "all a little bonkers". "We're all fiery and very, very eccentric. We all just dance to our own rhythm. We're never going to follow the straight line, me and my brothers and sisters. We're always going to zig-zag and have our own way of doing things."

Given their upbringing, that's not surprising. When Rosanna was small, the family was part of a commune in Virginia. "The cabin that my whole family lived in was a little smaller than this room," she gestures to the boxy studio around us, "and that was five kids as well as my parents." How did the commune work? "Well, I don't know if it really did work that well," she says. "It was a bunch of actors, musicians and artists who bought a plot of land that was an old summer camp. So we were living in cabins that were meant for the summer in the winter too. It was just crazy. But as a kid it was kind of great, because there were so many other kids. I'm still close with everyone I grew up with."

Beyond the boundaries of the commune, however, lurked less enlightened neighbours. "We had to go to school in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it was this hideous, horrible, racist, creepy, backwards kind of state education. I definitely rebelled against that. I was kicked out because I wrote 'black power' on my hand."

Rosanna was sent to live with a family in New Jersey to attend a more liberal, urban school, but when she was 15 she ran away and hitch-hiked across the States to get to Hollywood. "I was still very young," she recalls. "My daughter [from her second marriage, to the restaurateur John Sidel] will never be doing that. Uh uh. She has discipline, boundaries. But I didn't really have a structure when I was growing up, which has been really challenging as an adult."

Does she blame her parents for that? "No, I don't," she says. "They're both dead now, so it wouldn't do me any good to blame them for anything. And I was complete with them before they did die. My mother was a therapist, and we worked through a lot of stuff."

Once in Hollywood, Arquette quickly found work in television, breaking into film in 1979 with More American Graffiti. Other notable films in her extensive résumé include 1983's Baby, It's You, 1988's The Big Blue and Martin Scorsese's segment of 1989's New York Stories. Many of her other appearances, though, have been in forgettable and often critically panned productions. She didn't take the harsh judgements lightly. "Criticism really used to hurt me," she says. "Most of these critics are usually frustrated artists, and they criticise other people's art because they can't do it themselves. It's a really disgusting job. They must feel horrible inside."

Arquette has solved this problem by not reading reviews any more. After The Whole Nine Yards, when her meticulously learnt Montreal accent was slated for sounding insufficiently French ("It's different from a French accent," she insists), she took all the reviews that Warner Brothers sent her and put them on a fire. "I'm never reading a review again," she says.

Her new documentary, All We Are Saying, is a series of interviews with figures from the music world, including Joni Mitchell, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, her close friend Chrissie Hynde, Sting, Patti Smith, Mary J Blige and Outkast. "I just interviewed people that I dug," she says. "It's where they're going, what it means to be an artist today, the state of the art of music, and inspiration and muse. It's going to be at the Tribeca Film Festival in April."

Music has always been important to Arquette. "I grew up around it. My father was a conga player and percussionist, and also a great ukulele player. I was at Woodstock, although I can't say I remember Jimi Hendrix because I was little - I was playing around in the mud. And I was at the Newport Jazz Festival when Dylan went electric. I don't remember it - but I was there. It's a part of how I prepare for a role, putting on whatever music is good for the character." She doesn't play an instrument, but she DJs at private parties "for lots of money".

Most of her major relationships have been with musicians. She went out with a member of the band Toto, whose hit "Rosanna" was named after her. Her first marriage was to the pop composer and arranger James Newton Howard, and she went on to have a long affair with Peter Gabriel, who also wrote a song for her, "In Your Eyes". Her current boyfriend, Jonathan Elias, in whose studio complex we meet, is also a musician and producer.

Her forthcoming feature project, Access All Areas, is inspired by her relationship with Gabriel. "It's the story of a girl and a musician, and what happens when she gives herself up for somebody else's art." It's not at all autobiographical? "No," she says. "I have a very close relationship with him and his kids, and his ex-wife, whom I adore. It's just inspired by that time."

Cranky and stressed though she may be - several times she asks if she's making sense - Rosanna Arquette tells me that she's now "in the best place" she's ever been. "I'm really comfortable in my own skin, where I wasn't in my 30s. I've never been in the forefront of Hollywood, and it wasn't important to me to be a big movie star. I've always been a rebel, doing my own thing. I'm directing films, producing music with my guy, and it makes me happy."

She still needs to eat, though. "I'm, like, really hungry," she tells me. "I was stuck in the traffic. How long are we going to go on for? We could go on for ever." Then she wouldn't get her food, I say. "No," she agrees. "And you're going to go back and edit this piece and make me look like an idiot, which is what usually happens when I do interviews." I tell her I won't. She's far from being an idiot. Charmingly loopy, perhaps, Rosanna Arquette is a talented actress. And at the moment she's also a fierce little creature who really, really needs to eat.

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Added to Library on March 23, 2005. (3627)

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