Sean Young: Dancing on the Edge
She taps, she talks, she refuses to play it safe. Sean Young is hell-bent on having her say on James Woods, Warren Beatty and almost everyone else she's worked with...
Anyone who has seen Cousins, Blade Runner, or No Way Out knows that Sean Young can be compulsively watchable. Offscreen, she's been compulsively watchable too, of late--her recent past's riddled with crazy-lady headlines and rich, fast-travelling stories. Oliver Stone reportedly fired her from Wall Street, amid rumors that co-star Charlie Sheen won plaudits from the crew by sticking on her back a Post-it note reading: "I Am the Biggest Cunt in the World." Then, James Woods, her co-star in The Boost, accused her of bedeviling him and his fiancée with a disfigured doll. Later, a riding accident threw her off Batman, and Woody Allen cut her out of Crimes and Misdemeanors. And to top it off, Warren Beatty bounced her from Dick Tracy.
Such career-battering upheaval would seem to nominate Young as Hollywood's prime candidate for 24-hour damage control. But now, copping to a new attitude and aerodynamic haircut that mirror her role as a scout pilot in her latest film, a Top Gun-like barnstormer, Fire Birds, (aka Wings of the Apache), about a U.S. air strike against a South American drug cartel, Young--who appears determined to play her film roles out in real life--is fighting back.
We meet at a secluded table at a Beverly Hills restaurant. After a champagne toast and an order of exotic entrees ("I'm trying to be less middle-class and they say spicy food is supposed to increase your sex drive," she says, laughing dryly), Young spends the next few hours proving that it may be impossible for her to be anything but endearingly, dangerously out on a limb.
This is a business full of raunchy people," she declares, then whips out a list of observations about her directors and leading men. She has, she tells me, spent most of her morning preparing these notes.
You would think, after all the bad publicity, Young might take discretion as the better part of valor and recite the bland compliments most actresses utter in interviews-- or at least leave James Woods out of this litany. But she gets to Woods in no time: "... God would have been merciful if he had given him a little teeny penis so that he could get on with his life," she declares.
In case you missed every one of the countless accounts of this fiasco, Woods and his fiancée Sarah Owen (whom he has since married and separated from) filed a civil suit in 1988 charging Young with playing out a full-tilt, woman-run-mad scenario: crank calls, anti-abortion mailings, arranging for an iodine-spattered doll with a slashed neck to be left on his doorstep. According to some co-workers, Woods and Young were enmeshed in a love affair during the shooting of The Boost--an accusation denied by both parties. Days after the voodoo doll appeared on the actor's doorstep, Woods allegedly received an apologetic note from "a friend" of Young's accusing the actress of having put the party up to the deed.
"That letter," says Young, who joined AA and quit drinking a month after the movie wrapped, "was the thing that allowed [Woods] to abuse me and the people that know me. It gave the police the right to fingerprint me, my boyfriend, and the person I was with at the time the doll was left. Why would the person who left the doll identify the only person who could identify them? Because the person had nothing to do with me at all. That note existed to make it possible for the police to do what they did and for James Woods to do his little number. He was masterful in the way he wove together all the facts of my particular personality so that he could use those facts against me."
What motivated Woods to retain attorney Dale F. Kinsella to launch a $2 million harassment suit? "We're talking about a criminal; we're talking about an extortionist," Young says. "[Woods] went to great effort to set me up and do this whole drama for two reasons: jealousy and a love of publicity. He wanted me to sleep with him. I didn't. When Woods met somebody who was as strong internally and, in fact, more powerful, his biggest desire was to destroy that purity and that power. I didn't want anything from him, yet I could still offer all of my good feelings toward him. He thrives on publicity. Here's an actor who shows up on the cover of GQ going, 'Ahhhh, I'm a real actor's actor.' But he's not. He wishes he were Cary Grant and punishes himself every day that he's not." She adds, quietly, "What was so laughable was him wanting to portray me as obsessed. Who can't stop bad-mouthing? Who really is obsessed here?"
But if Young was innocent of the harassment, whodunnit? "He and his girlfriend," she says, flatly. "I'm positive of it. Go to the child abuse houses across the country and you'll hear stories about things that lovers or wives and husbands do to each other that you wouldn't believe. What he really wanted to create was something he could use the press with. It's just this man's pattern. He is the saddest man on earth. What do you say about someone like that? You just pray as much as you possibly can that they'll go away and that their never-ending source of anger may one day dry up and stop torturing the people in his life or anybody that comes across his path. The reason he dropped the case was because he finally had to prove the case. There was no proof. And the reason there was no case is because I didn't do it."
Rather than defend herself at the time, Young says she chose to "suffer with humility." She explains: "I took the pain, did my yoga, saw my shrink, went to co-dependency and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings." Perhaps not surprisingly, considering her background and predilections, part of Young's new persona is shot through with a mix of est, Catholic doctrine, and New Age-ism. "Throughout it all, no one could destroy my faith," she says. "Remember when Christ is on the cross and he goes, 'Why have you forsaken me?' When God stepped away from me, it was my first opportunity to exhibit a forceful faith."
According to Dale Kinsella, James Woods's lawyer, "The case was settled and there were financial terms in the settlement which cannot be disclosed pursuant to a court order." But Young insists that she is more concerned with the repercussions in "the cosmic court" than in any court of law. "I have a faith so great that there is really no fear in my heart about the damage that was attempted. By virtue of my being able to forgive, I have already conquered. The story, as it will unfold, is something I don't have to and don't want to be a part of." Still, Young asks that her industry colleagues "consider the source of whatever is said about me [and] think about [the stories] and consider their plausibility. I would ask that the industry become long-term thinkers, rather than gossip-mongers of the moment." Woods, says Young, "will end up coming face to face with that karma and it will be a bad day. He will undo himself. And may God have mercy on him when he does. But, you know, he must have really loved me to get that crazed."
Having exorcised Woods for the moment, Young begins to generalize. "It's time that the fallacy of difficult leading men be exposed," she says. "It's a disease that should be discouraged because it has run amok and is not positive for anybody. There are a lot of difficult leading men, but that's not talked about much because we're in an industry where men occupy most of the powerful positions. What's really sad is that some leading men would be much happier if they had a job on a farm or at a rodeo."
Actresses, according to Young, "are much more activist, much more aware, and terribly solid as individuals... They have to be or they don't survive." Survival skills probably came in handy for Young when Warren Beatty fired her, after only seven days, from her role as Tess True-heart in Dick Tracy. Young characterizes the 53-year-old hyphenate as "impossibly self-centered, more vain than any woman I've ever met, and obsessed with sex, his penis, and conquering women." After she apparently "shocked and bugged" Beatty by admitting that she had seen none of his movies except Splendor in the Grass (which she mistakenly called Tender Is the Night), Young compounded her sins: "I made him look too old and didn't respond to his endless hitting on me." Then, the coup de grâce. "One day, [Beatty] said to me on the set, 'When I get too old, I'll just direct.' I turned to him and said, 'Oh, really? And when will that be?' "If Beatty had a comeback, Young was canned too fast to get it. "After having someone like [Beatty] just fire me, I [thought], 'Is everybody in the business like this?'
Young reads aloud from her notes scrawled across folded pages she holds in her hand: "Good directors are talented, communicative, and still possess humility and kindness." Grinning drolly, she adds, "Not a very prevalent group of characteristics among directors." But Young isn't quite as hard on everyone as she is on Woods and Beatty. Kind to James Ivory ("very sensitive, very courteous"), who directed her in her small-scale debut, Jane Austen in Manhattan, which was shown on the BBC and in limited theatrical release in 1980, she is less so about herself at that time: "Thank God the character was a space cadet because I knew nothing."
Making Stripes taught Young that scripts are expendable when one's leading man is Bill Murray ("funny, a little rough, extremely intelligent") and one's director is Ivan Reitman ("a funny Jewish businessman"). Recalling her "phony, plastic, uncomfortable, clichéd" reading for Blade Runner, she credits "painter and visionary" Ridley Scott with helping her hold her own with Harrison Ford, whom she remembers as "funny at a moment's notice," but also "rude and unfriendly."
"Very funny and, at times, very inexperienced" is how she describes Garry Marshall, her director on Young Doctors in Love, a lowball farce in which she played an intern who almost swills urine from a beaker. David Lynch, who cast her as girlfriend to the Dune messiah, was "a creative brat." Young reportedly alienated her co-star, William Katt ("athletic, a real nice guy," she musters, for posterity), and co-workers on the set of Baby... Secret of the Lost Legend. ("She was awfully full of herself," says a crew member of that movie, in which Young played scenes with a family of mechanical dinosaurs. "In 110-degree weather, after two weeks of rehearsal, she'd ask the director, 'What's my motivation?' and she'd play her goddam flute till we were ready to strangle her.")
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