Sherilyn Fenn: Fenn de Siecle

It's been over two years since "Twin Peaks" was canceled. Sherilyn Fenn has made seven films since then, one of which she knows will make us forget all about those cherry stems.


Sherilyn Fenn is surrounded by angels. In fact, her house in the Hollywood Hills is lousy with them. They are like heavenly vermin--as small as snails, as big and plump as overfed cats, made of wood, metal and stone. They climb the walls and perch on sills, or gaze out from picture frames. I'll bet she has tiny angel soaps in the soap dish in her bathroom, with bellies of lilac and lavender. They're making me nervous, these sinister cherubs, just hanging around, staring. And some of them are armed...

"Angels," Fenn nods. "You know how, once people find out you like something, they start giving you that thing? Well--everyone's given me angels. You can have too many angels."

But if Fenn has reached the celestial saturation point, the fact is the motif fits her house just fine. This is every inch a girl's house: four cats, an Akita named Yogi a living room of overstuffed couches crammed with cushions and pillows done in Laura Ashleyesque floral prints. A vague hint of incense in the air. Her CD collection: Suzanne Vega, Kate Bush, Annie Lennox. Sherilyn sits amidst it all like a Dresden doll, in white and cream lace, her legs tucked under her. Her skin is china white, her long dark hair swept up on her head, a small cross of pearls around her neck. She looks positively Merchant Ivory.

"It's Good Friday," I note. "I hope I haven't kept you from any extensive church services or confessionals or anything."

"I'll be going to mass later," she says. There's Catholicism in her blood. "Not practicing or anything," she' confesses, "but I put on a dress and go to church once in a while..."

Prince probably liked that. That's it! I'd forgotten until just now that she and Prince were an item, long ago. It was because of Prince that the name Sherilyn Fenn first made waves.

Across the room, Ruth Orkin's famous photograph, "American Girl in Italy," is blown up to the size of a bed sheet on the wall. In it, a dark-haired American beauty walks along a street, on the verge of tears, as a dozen swarthy Italian men catcall at her from cafes or Vespa scooters. Women, I've noticed, love the photo, despite its harassment theme, and are invariably miffed when I tell them it was a set-up. I feel they should know. I'm about to point this out to Fenn, but she beats me to it. "It was sad to find out it was staged," she sighs. "I didn't want to believe that. I fought with the person who told me--I said, 'No! No!'" Sherilyn Fenn, a dark-haired American beauty, has been to Italy. She knows.

Shattered illusions, flowers, angels, church, kitties--true, this is not what we think of when our thoughts turn to Sherilyn Fenn. But we can--we must--blame this on Audrey Home, the bad little rich girl with a taste for saddle shoes, tight sweaters and FBI agents, who turned Fenn overnight from a hard-working-but-obscure actress into an American sex icon.

Or have you forgotten? Don't the words "cherry stem" mean anything anymore? For there once was a place called "Twin Peaks." This short-lived TV series ended--Lord, can it be?--over two years ago. Ended with Fenn's Audrey getting blown to bits in a bank.

Ended not a moment too soon, but, while I've seen Fenn in many things since then, including a few post-"Peaks" movies, I've yet to see her in anything better than that classic first season of David Lynch's mad vision of beautiful Pacific Northwest babes, sex, dope, mysticism and murder. It's a safe bet that the average American hasn't seen her in anything else at all.

Fenn, 28, has been making movies and television for about 10 years, with almost 20 films to her credit. While she waits for a hit movie to take her back to the realm of stardom and acclaim she enjoyed, however fleetingly, with ''Twin Peaks,'' it must be a pain in the ass to be expected to come across like the sultry virgin teenybopper she played in a long-ago-canceled series. Like Tom Hanks finding out that they only really loved him as Kip in "Bosom Buddies."

I mention my Audrey dilemma to Fenn. "Even though you are an actress," I say, "and I do this for a living and should really know better."

"I knooow," she nods sympathetically (how un-Audrey). ''That same thing sometimes happens to me when I meet an actor--I expect them to be like their characters." Okay, but--she's never been expecting to meet Audrey Home. There's a difference.

As for 'Twin Peaks," she says, simply, "I'm happy to have been a part of something that was a success. The only time I was concerned was during the second season when it started to lose its focus and I was thinking, 'What if I get stuck here for five years? I would go crazy.'" (Or what if she went into a spin-off series: "Horne O' Plenty," maybe? ''Horne Blower"?)

It's easy to imagine that Fenn's had problems with typecasting ever since "Twin Peaks" ended. "Of course--they've offered every variation on Audrey Horne, none of which were as good or as much fun. I didn't say I'd never do it again, but..."

But she didn't do it in the big-screen version of "Peaks" (nor has she seen the film), because at the time she was off making movies that were worlds away from Lynch-burg.

Diary of a Hitman, Ruby, Of Mice and Men, Desire & Hell at Sunset Motel--these independent films of wildly varying quality barely made a ripple anywhere, but Fenn was clearly in a rush to exorcise Audrey from both her psyche and ours. Since then she's completed three more films--all radically different, she says, from each other and from what she's done in the past. They are: the much litigated Boxing Helena, Carl Reiner's Fatal Instinct, and last spring's Three of Hearts.

Few films in recent times have had the twisted history of Boxing Helena, an unapologetically outrageous, hallucinatory "love story" about an ice princess--played by Fenn--who falls into the hands of a demented, obsessional surgeon who removes her legs, then her arms, and keeps her in a box. Yowsa! And I've read the script--believe me, it's weirder than that. Jennifer Lynch (David's daughter) wrote it five years ago, when she was 19, at the behest of French import-exporter/fast-food chicken baron/film producer Philippe Caland. The script made the Hollywood rounds, where it disgusted and/or intrigued many, but was often dismissed as the vanity ramblings of a director's brat daughter. Unphased, Helena's producers asked Jennifer to direct.

That was three years ago. As if an independent film about a limbless lass, directed by a first-timer barely out of her teens didn't have the odds against it from the get-go, the producers couldn't seem to keep an actress in the title role. First Madonna said yes, then she said no (imagine what that means: Madonna scared of something). Then Kim Basinger took the part per a verbal agreement--but pulled out shortly before filming was to begin, leading to an astounding $8.9 million legal judgment against her that, among Hollywood actors at least, has given new, recycled life to the moribund phrase "Just Say No!"

"My agent sent me the script. She said, 'Oh God, oh God--but it's great. Read it.' I'd heard it described as a woman whose boyfriend gets mad, cuts of her arms and legs and sticks her in a box, and I thought, 'Well, that sounds ridiculous.' But I read it-- and it was about a million other things too. I met with Jennifer and we talked about what the story meant to us as women."

Such as?

"The idea of a woman being in a box--women do feel like they're in a box. The idea of having to be this woman who's very hard and doesn't let anyone near her and relies on her physicality, and then that's taken away from her. What it means to become handicapped and to rely on somebody that much. It scared the hell out of me. I could see this character. I tried to make her real."

The film was finally finished, with Fenn, and with Julian Sands as the doctor. But Boxing Helena doesn't yet have an American distributor. Will we ever see it here? "I think absolutely it'll be released, but they might not get the distribution they would like." That's a safe bet. No matter how you slice it, Helena is not mainstream American movie fare.

But Fenn remains optimistic about what the film could potentially do for her image. "I'm sure Boxing Helena will eclipse 'Twin Peaks' and Audrey Home for me. If," she adds, "people here go see it." While she waits, Fenn keeps her sunny side up and calls the film a "personal success. I'd do it again a million times. I'm very proud of the results."

Fatal Instinct, on the other hand, is definitely being released. It's an MGM film, directed by Carl Reiner, the television and movie legend responsible for "The Dick Van Dyke Show," All of Me, Rob Reiner and plenty more that says mainstream Hollywood/box-office potential/high profile. The film's a spoof of Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, et al. and, says Fenn, "it made me laugh. It's intelligent. Not like Airplane!"

Although Fatal Instinct satirizes noir detective flicks and modern day sex thrillers, Fenn says she doesn't play a femme fatale, but her detective-boss's "Girl Friday. Sean Young plays the vampy one."

And what was it like to work with legendary bad girl/set wrecker Sean? "I like Sean's work," demures Fenn. "In fact, at the beginning, I was one of the people who told Carl that he shouldn't listen to her reputation and should give her a chance. He ended up doing that, and she's funny in the movie."

Three of Hearts doesn't sound like it was an amusing film to make at all. I heard reports of trouble on the set of director Yurek Bogayevicz's love-triangle drama (Fenn and Kelly Lynch as estranged bisexual lovers, Billy Baldwin as the boy-toy), and I ask Fenn to elaborate. "Actually, speaking of verbal commitments, in Three of Hearts they were angry at me when I wasn't really happy with the project and was thinking of leaving. It was pretty wild because the director was confused and we were rewriting every day. And Mitch Glazer [one of the screenwriters] came on and started rewriting and silently directing and basically saved the movie--from my perspective."

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