Marisa Tomei: Marisa Darrrling

In the wee hours of the morning, Marisa Tomei lets down her defenses long enough to chat about whether she and Joe Pesci will make a sequel to My Cousin Vinny, the gossip that hounds her, the advantages of dating men who hall from Beaver, PA, and the place where she keeps her Oscar.


Be sure to call her 'Academy Award winner Miss Tomei,' like we have to, because it's in her contract" warns playwright Nicky Silver, grinning wryly. Marisa Tomei, the My Cousin Vinny Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner and featured actress of the recent The Paper, is starring in Silver's limited-run off-Broadway dark comedy, Fat Men in Skirts. The playwright continues, "And do get her to tell you how, since the Oscar, she's turned down everything, including Spielberg's offer for her to play Liam Neeson's part in Schindler's List, because she didn't want to put on all that weight or to play unsympathetic."

Tomei play unsympathetic on-screen? Get real. Offscreen, however, according to the nasty dish that dogs her, could be a whole other story. I'm in New York not only to find out who Tomei is but also why people are saying such terrible things about her. Considering the All About Eve-ish gossip that's hounded her for the past year--that she's become an utterly self-centered, self-enchanted, self-deluded spitfire--I find it amusing that Tomei has arranged for us to meet for the first time backstage after I watch her give her second performance that night in Silver's play. Very Margo Channing of her.

After the curtain falls, Tomei greets me cheerily, then finds herself set upon by effusively congratulatory friends, family members and such certifiably hip actors as Steve Buscemi, late of Reservoir Dogs and The Hudsucker Proxy. Buscemi indicates that their mutual friend, Rosie--referring to Rosie Perez, Tomei's scene-stealing co-star in Untamed Heart--said they'd all get together soon and hang out. "Well, you know Rosie," Tomei quips, assuring Buscemi they'll get together, but apparently no time soon.

Finally, around one a.m., we're hurtling along with a pack of Tomei's cronies toward a nearby post-theater hangout. The chat is fast and cutting when Tomei, looking up at me with her high beams, suddenly pulls a surprise: "I thought it'd be fun if we sat with my friends while we talk, you know?" At the moment, her entourage includes playwright Silver, an actor from the play whose name is Matt, the play's director, plus Tomei's personal assistant and her ex-boyfriend, Ivan. I tell Tomei I think a gang-style interview is a bad idea. As a matter of fact, if it weren't so late, it's an idea that would make me call off an interview on the spot. Laughing, she assures me that if her crowd's too rowdy, we can always move away to talk one-on-one.

When we're seated at the restaurant, Ivan the ex-boyfriend offers, from out of nowhere, "Did you know that I was born in Beaver, Pennsylvania?"

"We've known each other for 10 years, yet you have never before let that be known to me," Tomei says. "That explains a lot, babe.

"We shot the opening of Just in Time near Beaver," Tomei recalls, deftly dropping in the name of her upcoming movie, "and I used to crack up seeing the highway signs that read like, '10 miles to Beaver.'" The whole jolly group gets into beaver talk.

"Whose beaver are we talking about?" pipes up Ivan.

"Mine" Tomei bellows, then covers her face, muttering, "Oh, God, I'm going to come off in this interview like this total whore."

Shouting over Tomei, Silver declares, "Let me tell you, Beaver is an ugly and depressing place, I hear. Which is not the case with other beavers." This with a glance toward Tomei, adding, "I wouldn't know personally, but that's what I hear."

Just now, several more thespians drop by to buss Tomei's cheek and wish her well. She is, after all, a member of Naked Angels, the cutting-edge theater group, whose company includes Fisher Stevens and Lili Taylor. "Ahhhh, yes, darrrling, the theater crowd" Tomei says, making Channing-style moues with her mouth. But she doesn't hold any pose long--suddenly, she's snapping her fingers to oldies like "Too Many Fish in the Sea," doing an impromptu, impressive frug in her chair. But, for all her New York-girl bravado, it's clear she's skittish. I decide we should get on with the interview and broach Topic A. How has she gotten such a rep, so fast, for being a bitch on wheels?

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