Elisabeth Shue: Shue Shines Again
Leaving Las Vegas was five years ago. But no matter, Shue Shines Again in Hollow Man.
Elisabeth Shue's career can be divided into two phases--before Leaving Las Vegas and after Leaving Las Vegas. Growing up in South Orange, New Jersey, with divorced parents--her lawyer father and bank executive mother split when she was nine--and three brothers, Elisabeth had clean-scrubbed good looks that got her the part of a perky salesperson in a series of Burger King commercials, after which she played sweet suburban kids in The Karate Kid and Adventures in Babysitting. When she entered adult-role territory, she still played the sensible good girl (in Cocktail and in Back to the Future II and III). She went slightly edgier to play a driven actress in Soapdish, but she returned to goody-two-shoes parts in The Marrying Man and Heart and Souls. So it was a surprise to everyone when she nailed the dark and extremely challenging role of an emotionally destroyed prostitute in 1995's Leaving Las Vegas. When she didn't win the Oscar for that remarkable performance (Susan Sarandon won that year for Dead Man Walking), there was still every reason to believe that she would now step into the best roles Hollywood had to offer. Instead, she proceeded to star in a series of mediocre misfires (The Trigger Effect, Palmetto, Cousin Bette, Molly), a so-so Woody Allen comedy (Deconstructing Harry) and Phillip Noyce's big-budget, big-screen version of TV's The Saint, which was at best a moderate success. With the big-budget Hollow Man, a special-effects-fueled update of the premise of The Invisible Man that stars Kevin Bacon and is directed by Paul Verhoeven, who has the hits Total Recall and Basic Instinct on his resume, Shue has the chance for a huge audience-pleaser that could accomplish what The Saint should have.
Improbably enough, Shue is studying for her finals at Harvard University when I meet her. She's gone back to finish one last semester so she can get the dual degree in political science and government that she started working towards 19 years ago, first at Wellesly College, then at Harvard. When I meet her in the lobby of the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she looks like any other harried senior. Unlike most students, though, she's 36, has a potential summer blockbuster to promote, and has a family--her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Miles, and Davis Guggenheim, her director-husband (Gossip)--waiting for her at home. And unlike any student, she has nearly two decades of Hollywood experience on her resume.
LAWRENCE GROBEL: What made you want to finish up at Harvard?
ELISABETH SHUE: My brain was starting to dry up. In Hollywood, you're fortunate if you get a role where your brain is engaged, but those experiences are rare. I felt I needed to do more with my life. I wanted to be more connected to the world, so that may be there was something I could do to give back.
Q: What would you want to give back?
A: I want to be involved with young people in some way. Teenagers. Because that's the most vulnerable time. I have a fantasy of becoming a teacher one day.
Q: You would give up acting to teach?
A: I see myself at a certain age as not being able to play the kind of parts that would keep me stimulated and I can't imagine my life ending professionally the moment that I've got to go to the plastic surgeon and have my face rearranged.
Q: A lot of older actresses turn to producing and directing.
A: I'm interested in making documentaries. One of the other reasons I'm at Harvard is that I was inspired by my husband's decision to do a documentary on first-time teachers. He's doing it for no money. It's always better to do something that makes you happy. I've watched my husband flower as a person and that made me reassess what I was doing with my life.
Q: Do people recognize you on campus?
A: I don't know. When I was younger it was definitely something I thought about--do they recognize me or not? Now I walk around thinking nobody knows who I am. If you're someone like Julia Roberts, there can be a frenzy, but don't really create a frenzy.
Q: Do you think by now you should be creating one?
A: No, not at all.
Q: Besides finishing Harvard you also have Hollow Man coming out. What made you want to do it?
A: At first I was a little skeptical of the genre. I was having a tough time finding a part like the ones I played in Molly or Leaving Las Vegas, so I made a firm decision to do a film like Hollow Man. I'd never played a woman who becomes physically heroic.
Q: How did it work, playing opposite an invisible character?
A: It wasn't the kind of special-effects movie where I was going to be acting with nothing in front of me. What's brilliant about this movie is that Kevin was actually there in every scene. I'm looking right into his eyes. For a lot of scenes he'll be taken out [in postproduction], but he had to be there when it was shot because in most of the scenes something is attached to him.
Q: Does he come in and out of invisibility?
A: Once he's invisible, he stays invisible, though he comes in and out of it once when we're trying to bring him back, and then towards the end there's a reaction to a flame thrower--I burn him and that creates a chemical reaction so that he can be seen for the rest of the movie.
Q: Bacon stalks you when he's invisible--how frightening is that?
A: There's also a sexually challenging aspect of our relationship. We had a past relationship and now I'm involved with a fellow scientist, which he doesn't know but finds out.
Q: Do you have sex with the invisible man?
A: We don't actually have sex, but we have sexual moments.
Q: Would you define this as a horror film?
A: It's got some horror moments in it, but it's not horror-horror. There's definitely a lot of blood.
Q: What movie most scared you as a kid?
A: Jaws, because I thought it was real. And The Shining.
Q: What about as an adult?
A: [Laughs] When I was doing the looping for this film I had to turn my head. It's scary. It doesn't become really scary until toward the end, so it's scary in a more psychological way, not just gore-and-blood the whole time.
Q: If you could be invisible, where would you go and what would you do?
A: If I could be invisible, I'd go visit some past boyfriends to see what their lives are like.
Q: How did you like working with Paul Verhoeven?
A: He's an extraordinary director, but he's excruciatingly frustrating at times. He's one of those perfectionists that you read about, and though there were times when I could barely take it, I don't think I would've enjoyed the filming as much without that perfectionist part of him. Paul's also a very affectionate man, much warmer than people think.
Q: Your big moment in the spotlight came when you were Oscar-nominated for your performance in Leaving Las Vegas. Did you assume that by now you'd have made another great film?
A: No, no, no. I did assume things would the a lot easier than they've been. But it's just been a mirror of the way my career's been from the beginning, so for it to have changed would have been strange. My career's never been perfect.
Q: Analyze it.
A: Every film is a crapshoot. It's a mystery when a movie comes together. I've never been able to figure it out. I don't know how I make my choices. The only thing you can do is know there's something about a character that you really want to experience.
Q: Do you ever envy decisions other actresses make?
A: I try every year to figure out what pans I wish I could have done and I'm hard-pressed to figure out what they are. So I don't think I'm missing out on that much.
Q: Let's talk about some of your choices. Do you think your follow-up to Leaving Las Vegas, the indie The Trigger Effect, was unfairly ignored?
A: I admire the director, Dave Koepp, and I feel lucky I got the chance to work with him. Who knows why films don't get attention?
Q: Did you like your performance in Woody Aliens Deconstructing Harry?
A: I feel good about that choice.
Q: Next came Palmetto, which was barely released. What made you want to do that?
A: It was an opportunity to play someone who was insane, ungrounded, wasn't accountable for anything. Plus, I really wanted to work with Woody Harrelson, because I respect him--we were friends before we started working together. So I just dove in and took a risk.
Q: Did you ever share Harrelson's enthusiasm for hemp products?
A: [Laughs] No, I was pregnant at the time. And when you're pregnant you're off in your own world, so he was having one experience and I was having the loner experience.
Q: Didn't they bring in Gina Gershon to play a character that wasn't in the original script after you finished shooting?
A: Yeah, I was only there for three weeks and then they hired Gina--that was too bad. It seemed strange to me. She played Woody's girlfriend. After I left it almost became a different movie.
Q: Were you bitter about this?
A: No, bitterness is so ugly.
Q: So was doing the film a miscalculation?
A: You'll never get me to say that I don't feel good about any of my choices.
Q: Were you disappointed with The Saint, which was your first really big-budget movie since 1990s Back to the Future III?
A: The hard thing about The Saint was that my character was supposed to die, but then they reshot the ending based on tests and she lives. I created the character based on her dying--she would never have been as innocent otherwise. So I didn't have high expectations for that film.
Q: The Saint was Robert Evans's dream for a franchise. Did you deal with him?
A: Not once.
Q: Next came Cousin Bette, in which there was a scene where you and Aden Young had to rub chocolate and whipped cream over each others naked bodies. Your director, Des McAnuff, said you didn't hesitate at all.
A: True. It was fun.