Gina Gershon: 'The Facts Are the Road Map, and You Build Your Character From There'

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Don't judge this weekend's two-part Liftetime movie Everything She Ever Wanted (premiering Saturday) by its cover. As basic-cable pulp goes, the adaptation of Ann Rule's true-crime bestseller is actually some wicked grade-A melodrama with a killer lead performance by Gina Gershon. Literally -- the actress plays the infamous Pat Allanson, a Southern social striver best known for marrying a younger man in pursuit of his family's fortune at whatever cost. A few gun deaths, poisonings and imprisonments later, Pat turns her predatory eye on her own sister (Rachel Blanchard), who may know too much -- or does she? Gershon settles brilliantly into those plot and character ambiguities beneath Allanson's cutthroat, larger-than-life persona.

Movieline caught up with Gershon on her way to a matinee of Bye Bye Birdie (in which she's also currently starring on Broadway) for a chat about true stories, bad girls and what makes a camp classic.

So I watched Everything She Ever Wanted. I can't believe that story actually happened.

I know! Isn't it crazy? Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Are you a true-crime buff?

I'm definitely fascinated by it. I don't know if I'd say I'm a buff.

What appealed to you about Pat Allanson?

Well, look, she had me at the Gone With the Wind wedding. Anyone who is so obsessed with Scarlett O'Hara already has me. She's clearly a sociopath, and she's operating by different emotional rules as a lot of sociopaths do. I found her whole way of reasoning -- how she would feel or not feel -- really fascinating.

How much did you know about Allanson going into this project, and how much did you want to know going forward with it?

I knew absolutely nothing about her. I didn't know the story at all. This came together so quickly that I had very little time to do any research. And fortunately I had already been doing research with sociopathic behavior, and I already knew about Münchausen syndrome and Münchausen by proxy and all those. I was researching those for something else, so that was kind of lucky. I would have loved to have spoken to her, but she was in jail at the time. And I guess she's not in jail now. I hope she likes it if she sees it. It's so strange; we can all say this is allegedly what happened, but there are many truths to a story. There's what the court said, and there's what Ann Rule said. I'm sure she has her own version of the story.

You're perhaps best-known for portraying well-drawn women with ruthless, occasionally pathological ambition. What appeals to you about these characters, and why do they keep coming back to you?

It's so funny, because I've really only played a few of them. I'm playing Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie, for God's sake. When people say say that to me, I have to actually think of what parts they're talking about. [Pauses] What parts are you talking about? ...

There's Showgirls, obviously. Now this movie, and of course Bound--

Yeah, see, that's funny because to me, in Bound, I saw her as so sensitive and a vulnerable person. She just happened to be a criminal, and she happened to fall in love with the wrong person. But I thought she had such a conscience. I would not put her in the same category as this one. I don't think I've ever really played anyone like this. No -- I did once in this movie that a lot of people didn't see. She was kind of a sociopath.

Which film?

No, that's just an aside. Anyway, I always think that: "Which parts are they talking about?" What was your question?

It was about why that shared quality of those characters comes back to you.

I can't speak to all my roles, because I can only name two. But I'm interested in complex personalities. I don't think there's any such thing as, "Oh, there's a bad person." There are people with diseases and issues, and they see the world the way they see it.

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