AN EXCLUSIVE WITH GRETCHEN MOL Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
February 2, 2007
Actress Gretchen Mol is coming off an impressive year that saw the theatrical release of The Notorious Bettie Page, a docu-drama in which she portrayed the title pin-up legend to great critical acclaim. Unfortunately, the film came out relatively early in 2006, and was subsequently lost in the shuffle by the time Hollywood's year-end popularity contests came rolling around, prompting many (ourselves included) to feel that she wasn't quite getting the recognition she so rightly deserved.
In this exclusive interview, we get Gretchen's gracious and upbeat reaction to the whole thing, then zoom out to get the macrocosm of her career--from serving it up for the fast food industry on TV, to tackling musical theatre, to fighting for film roles, we get to know about the professional path that she has taken over the years.
RadioFree.com: You don't seem like the type of person to be upset about getting snubbed by the Oscars and Golden Globes, so I shall be upset for you...
GRETCHEN: [laughs] Oh, thank you!
You also have a lot of fans who were similarly annoyed by those ceremonies overlooking your performance in The Notorious Bettie Page. What's your reaction to that kind of oversight, especially when it is due, in part, to marketing issues?
Well, it's one of those things you don't, as an actor, want to focus on too much. The movie came out in April, and I've been around long enough to see how it works. And then other things come out at the end of the year, and they're being very much directed towards this thing, and that wasn't the case with that movie. Which is fine...I don't think it was a movie, and even a performance, that had that in mind. Do you know what I mean? It just wasn't written all over it somehow. It's sort of a subtle piece, and I think it sort of finds its audience, and will continue to find its audience, over time. And so I'm excited. Nothing can take away that I'm proud of that film and proud to be a part of it, and I'm proud of the performance. The end of the year stuff...All of that stuff is helpful to any actor because it gets your name out there, and it gets you better work sometimes. So those are the things that you sort of [miss]. But then you just have to let it go. Because it does take a village to get one of these things. [laughs] I couldn't just raise my hand and go, "Wait, what about me?" You kind of need a whole team going, "This is what we're going for." It's been interesting to see how it works, in a way. And in a sad way, it takes some of the innocence and fun out of it.
And sometimes it's just a matter of timing. Note: when something is called "the first Oscar-worthy movie of the year," it's almost never remembered by the time awards season rolls around...
[laughs] Yes! But anyway...I so appreciate you saying that. And yes, you sort of let it go. I tried not to ever even let it enter into the bubble, so to speak. And also, I've seen so many great performances that you don't hear about. I mean, for me, my favorite movie of the year was The Good Shepherd. My favorite movie. And this thing just kind of seemed to like [fade] away and you don't hear about it. And I thought Matt Damon gave two amazing performances this year. So there's just not room for everything sometimes.
As a viewer, what are your favorite genres of film?
I like them all. It just is about a movie being well done. I love suspense. I mean, one of my favorite movies of all time is The Shining, but I don't really love horror movies the way they're made now so much. I also love character-driven pieces.
In terms of performance and becoming the character, did you feel Bettie Page was your most transformative role to date?
It is, so far. Physically, of course, there was that aspect to it. I loved doing that, and I hope to find those opportunities in the future, because it really does help you go into the character so much more--just having that wig, and the accent, and the persona of Bettie Page allowed me to kind of reveal things that I thought about her, things that I felt were similar, that I understood about her. There was such a freedom in that--in the disguise, in the playing dress-up aspect.
We've seen you as a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead in your various films. Right now, your hair is brown. Are you looking to just mix it up?
I haven't done that that much. This was totally on a whim. And the truth is, I'm a blonde, so I feel most myself that way. And so I kind of am missing it right now a little bit. [laughs] But it's fun to just kind of shake it up for no reason other than to just do that, [and] not because I have a part to play or anything. But even when I'm reading scripts or looking at what I want to do next, it's funny how hair color has so much to do with people's perception, you know?
You were one of the stars of Girls Club, a TV show that, unfortunately, wasn't given much of a chance at survival...
[laughs] It got better, too! Like by episode nine, we were doing some really fun, great stuff. It found itself.
Looking back, was the show's speedy cancellation perhaps a blessing in disguise that freed you up for film roles that might not have been possible with a lengthy TV commitment?
Yeah. I mean, early on in that process, I wasn't feeling comfortable. I've never needed a lot of money for my life--I don't have a lifestyle that's so extravagant. So I'd rather have a life. I'm sure if you're on a show that's successful and everyone's like a family, [it's easier on you]. But I'm married, and I want to have a family, and I just didn't see where you have the room for that with that kind of a life. I've been sort of shy to go back into those waters because of remembering that feeling. And I know when you're starting a show, it's weekends, it's everything--and so it was just a huge adjustment, and I ultimately didn't think that it was for me. But that being said, never say never! Because I think, also, there's times in your life where you have that kind of time to dedicate to something like that. And also, yes, I love films. And I love the finite experience of them, and I love working with different directors and playing different characters. It may be tortuous sometimes when you're in the in-between moments, but it always does pay off, being able to look back on last year and say, "Wow, four different characters that I got to do...And I still had time for vacation!" [laughs]
That sounds like a pretty good deal, actually...
Yeah, it's great. And you win some, you lose some. Some of the films are going to be great and some of them aren't, but that's the playful aspect of this job that I want to hold onto, you know?
Is it true that you have been in a Coca-Cola commercial? And was that your first acting job?
I have been in a Coke commercial! But before that there was McDonald's. But before that, the first time I was paid professionally was a summer stock job in Dorset, Vermont doing [the musical] Godspell. And that's how I got my equity card and everything. So I would never discount that because that was so important. But when I first got an agent and was being sent out on things, early on I got two of these national commercials. And it was kind of a moment just because all of a sudden, the legit agents started going, "Okay, well, maybe we can send her out..." It was just one of those domino effect things. [laughs]
What disgusting amalgamation of animal parts were you advertising on the McDonald's commercial?
[laughs] I don't even remember! It was such a simple commercial. I had the visor and the whole outfit, and I was behind the counter, and I think I just handed the person a bag and said thank you. But I don't remember what it was really for.
Is that the clip they might dig up on a talk show to playfully embarrass you?
Yeah! I think they did that once. I would think maybe it was David Letterman or Conan or something. I've seen it before. It's always like, "Where did you find that!"
How did you first get into acting?
I always wanted to do it. When I look back now, I can see I was never shy. When the earth went around the sun at the science fair, I wanted to be the sun. [laughs] It was that kind of longing to perform and be the center and all of that. And I was very unselfconscious about it, which is the gift of childhood. [laughs] And I think around seventh grade, I started to feel like, "Hmmm...This is something that I want to kind of pursue." And I saw a girl that was a grade older than me taking singing lessons, and she was very serious about it, and she'd go off in the summers to theatre programs. And I remember she was very inspiring to me. And so I studied with her music teacher and took singing lessons. I just loved to do that stuff. And I think by the time everyone was deciding "what they wanted to be," it sort of seemed like, "I don't know anything about this, nor does anyone in my close circle, but I'll try it."
You've played Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago. Did you stop because of other career opportunities, or because you simply wanted to move on? I assume it's grueling to play the same role night after night...
Yeah, it's a really hard schedule. But when I went into it, I actually had this sort of finite thing. And I could have extended it, but I had been waiting for Bettie Page. And it was funny because I had auditioned so long before--even before I did Girls Club. We were waiting to get it going, and [writer/director Mary Harron] trying to get it financed with me attached was a whole thing where she just went around in circles. So by the time it was ready to go, I was actually worried that I would be too thin, because I had been doing the Chicago stint and I lost so much weight. [laughs] And then about a month later, we were going to start Bettie Page.
Wow, I don't think I realized how long you had been involved in the Bettie Page project...
It was like a stop/start kind of thing. And once HBO Films decided they would like to make it, they still had reservations about me. So [Mary] did a whole other search, but she always, in the back of her mind, was saying, "Gretchen's who I want, but I'll do this." So there was a lot of nail-biting for me. And then I went back in and did a screentest and did the whole make-up and wig. And I feel like I practically acted out the whole movie. [laughs] So it was great, because by the end of it, when I got the part, I definitely felt that it was mine.
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.