Selma Blair: The Blair Necessities
She raised eyebrows (and other anatomical parts) when she swapped spit with Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions, but in her new film Storytelling, Selma Blair leaves teen flicks in the dust with a sex scene so controversial, director Todd Solondz had to conceal it to preserve an R rating.
If you thought Selma Blair pushed the envelope in Cruel Intentions when she French-kissed Sarah Michelle Gellar, you ain't seen nothin' yet. In her new film, Storytelling, Blair, who plays a college student, and Robert Wisdom, as her African-American creative-writing teacher, share a nude scene that is so provocative, so raw and, ultimately, so disturbing that writer-director Todd Solondz can't show it to us. Instead, he devised a digital curtain so all we can do is listen and wince as Wisdom unzips and orders Blair to yell racial slurs while they do the vertical nasty.
When Storytelling premiered at last year's Cannes Film Festival, the scene was unobstructed, but Solondz, the subversive mind behind Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, resorted to the blocking device because he was obligated to deliver an R-rated movie for the American audience.
"How weird is it being nude on a set?" I ask Blair.
"Well," she says, "I wasn't totally nude. I had little pieces of tape over what they call my 'pink bits.' And I have no problem with nudity. I studied to be a photographer. I've posed for my friends. But I was quick to put the robe on afterward, because I didn't want other people to feel uncomfortable. People can't hug you if you're not dressed."
"Did you need a hug when that shot was over?"
"As soon as Todd yelled 'Cut,' I told a joke. I said, 'What do you call a girl run over by a truck? Patty.' Maybe that's how I felt."
Blair, 29, grew up in Michigan, and moved to New York with an eye toward photography. Instead, she became interested in acting, and began studying at the Stella Adler Conservatory. She landed a small role in the Kevin Kline comedy In & Out, which led to various indies, teen flicks and the now-defunct WB sitcom "Zoe." For Blair, Storytelling marks another on-screen relationship with an African-American partner: As sexual novice Cecile Caldwell in Cruel Intentions, she trysted with Save the Last Dances Sean Patrick Thomas.
"How does it feel to be breaking down racial barriers in Hollywood?"
"Some people will be disconcerted by the [Storytelling] scene, but, strangely, it didn't faze me at all. Maybe I was just on autopilot."
Blair and I are chatting poolside at the W Hotel in Los Angeles, a venue so trendy that the men's room looks like it's been lit by Terrence Malick. She orders coffee, soda water and a side of plantains. Blair is small-boned and quite thin, but insists she eats whatever she wants, including one dessert a day. "I like to think of this as my gamine phase," she says. "Very Jean Seberg." Blair admits to shedding some weight after a critic reviewing "Zoe" called her a fat Liv Tyler.
"So, did you do the Jenny Craig thing?"
"I get asked a lot of questions about my weight, because it's an easy dish in Hollywood to talk about an actress's weight, but [even after the review] I didn't go on a diet. I just stopped eating Hostess cupcakes and ice cream, and I started exercising with a personal trainer."
"Did Solondz offer you the Storytelling part, or did you have to audition?"
"I had to audition. A few weeks later Todd called and told me what he had in mind. And I said, 'Yes, I can do gymnastics,' so I got the part."
Storytelling is an ensemble movie. In last summer's Legally Blonde, Blair evolves from Reese Witherspoon's nemesis to her sidekick. In the upcoming comedy The Sweetest Thing, she plays second fiddle to Cameron Diaz.
"Are you looking for starring roles, or are you content with supporting parts?" I ask.
"I don't think I'm at a point where I could do a lead in a studio film," she says. "You can't choose to be a star. Or if you can, I don't know how to go about it. I'd like to have a career like Dianne Wiest's. The nice thing about playing the best friend is you can really play a part. I like to ham it up and get the laughs."
"Have you lost any parts that you coveted?"
"All the time. I desperately wanted Thora Birch's part in American Beauty. But she was perfect."
"What's the worst part of the movie business?"
"Really? I had no idea. I thought this was going well."
"I'm scared of how stories get twisted. I realize doing interviews is part of the process, but I hate it. I don't know how to do it. I think you need to have a point of view, and I don't have one. So you'll perceive me however you want to perceive me, and I worry that I won't sound appreciative enough, or I'll say something that might hurt someone and then my mother will call and say, 'Selma, how could you say that?' and then I'll feel guilty and insecure."
"Are you in therapy?"
"See, I hate that you just said that, because that indicates everything just went wrong."
"Selma, c'mon. You're doing great. Would you like some vodka?"
"No, God, that would be really grim. Oh, listen, they're playing the song from She's All That?
"Who sings that?"
"Sixpence None the Richer. See, I watch VH1."
She's coy about her personal life, but it's a fact that Blair has been seen around town with Jason Schwartzman, the 21-year-old star of Rushmore.
"How did you two hook up?"
"We have the same agent, and we met at a party. I'm blown away by how talented he is, and his mother [Talia Shire] has been great to me."
"What's the nature of the relationship?"
"Jason is my dearest friend, and my life is better for having known him."
"That's it? Just friends?"
"I don't mind if you think it's something else. If he ever falls in love with me, I'll take it. And if you want to print that I'm dating Matthew Davis"her blueblood fiancé in Legally Blonde"that's fine, too. I'd love to think that either one of those guys is interested in me. Oh, God, now you're going to write that I'm insecure, but I'm really not. I'm just pretending to be insecure so you'll like me."
And then, as if to punctuate the interview, Blair springs out of her chair and pulls out a camera. She plops down next to me, holds the Kodak at arm's length and says, "Smile." I get the feeling my picture will soon be used as a dartboard.