Greta Scacchi: This Year's Import

She's sleek, she's fast, she's high performance, but will Americans buy her? History suggests European-made Greta Scacchi's got a tough road ahead of her.


It happens every season. A beautiful, bosomy european actress--one whose work has to that point consisted largely of films that went either unseen or unrated--is whisked across the Atlantic, plopped down in Hollywood and ushered into the gaudy suites of leering studio executives. If these actresses are lucky, they are offered nothing, and they go home. If they're unlucky, they nab a minor part in a lousy studio picture, nothing comes of it, and they go home. If they're really unlucky, like last season's import, Lena Olin, they get nominated for an Academy Award, get cast opposite Robert Redford in a Sydney Pollack picture, and are thoroughly deluded into thinking they will have long and prosperous Hollywood careers. It won't happen. It hasn't happened since the days of Garbo, Dietrich, and Bergman, when the studios literally created stars. Sophia Loren, you say? She tried Hollywood, all right, but had to high-tail it back to Italy to win an Oscar--so she stayed there and became an international star. The last foreign import with real staying power was Audrey Hepburn--and that was 30 years ago.

Greta Scacchi, an actress of Italian/British heritage with several European screen credits appears poised to make 1990 her breakthrough year in Hollywood. She makes her American film debut in the high-profile Presumed Innocent, (based on the best-selling novel) opposite Harrison Ford, to be followed by major studio productions Shattered (directed by Wolfgang Peterson) and Fires Within (for director Gillian Armstrong). But quick--can you name the American movie debuts of Isabelle Adjani, Jeanne Moreau, Marie-Christine Barrault, Catherine Spaak, Melina Mercouri, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Greco, Anna Sten, Capucine, Stephane Audran, Virna Lisi, Romy Schneider, Anouk Aimee, Monica Vitti, Bella Darvi, Irina Demick or Brigitte Bardot? All of them scored impressively in European art house films, but that indefinable je ne sais quoi got lost in translation. True, they spoke far from flawless English--a very real problem in a town that's frightened of accents heavier than, say, New Jersey. But that's not the only reason none of them went on to Hollywood stardom.

And what of the imports who share our native tongue? Oh, a few of them, like Julie Andrews and Julie Christie-- and Joan Collins on TV--have had their moments, but for every Julie you can point to dozens who never quite caught the ring. Rachel Ward. Lesley-Anne Down. Honor Blackman. Diane Cilento. Olivia Hussey. Jackie Bisset. Susannah York. Charlotte Rampling. Samantha Eggar. Sarah Miles. Diana Rigg.

Of course, it's possible that their eyes were simply not on the prize--that they did not give a fig for Hollywood stardom. But we are operating on the premise that actresses who cross the pond to act in domestic product do care, passionately, about making it in Hollywood (regardless of what they say). For a swimmer, it's the English Channel; for a climber, it's Everest; and for movie actresses, it's, let's face it, Tinseltown. So indifference is not the issue. Rather, there are built-in aspects of the system that act to stymie the aspiring Hollywood movie star.

In the movies, as in any other business, networking is a vital tool for catapulting ahead of the competition. Actors who arrive early in Hollywood or, even better, are raised here, have the chance to develop a hive of Industry contacts. Foreign actresses may have admirers in high places, but they lack a nest in the infrastructure.

And, of course, living in Hollywood helps to develop the requisite thick skin and aggressiveness. Foreign actresses, regardless of their experience in the European community, simply don't encounter the kind of big-time dirty pool played in Hollywood.

In the past, the big studios could help fill in the gaps with their star-making apparatus, but today the studios lack the power they once wielded; the Industry is far too fragmented for anyone to create a lasting star purely by fiat. Yet the search for new imports continues. Why? Because the movie business, like any other, must have something new or improved to sell. Movies, qua movies, will never be new. Nor, in most cases, will they be improved. What is and will continue to be new, and thus marketable, are the actors.

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