Nikki Reed: What Nikki did next
Nikki Reed shot to fame thanks to the teen exposé Thirteen. She tells Geoffrey Macnab about the highs and lows that followed
Friday 07 May 2004
"I thought the film would solve all her problems," the director Catherine Hardwicke recently remarked of Nikki Reed, the young writer/star of her film,
Thirteen. Hardwicke hoped that making a movie about the demons of adolescence would enable Reed, then 14, to exorcise those demons.
Thirteen, an award winner at Sundance, was a critical and commercial hit, sparking an anguished and heated debate about teen culture. Reed, however, sounds ambivalent when asked about the film's impact on her own life.
"I thought the film would solve all her problems," the director Catherine Hardwicke recently remarked of Nikki Reed, the young writer/star of her film, Thirteen. Hardwicke hoped that making a movie about the demons of adolescence would enable Reed, then 14, to exorcise those demons. Thirteen, an award winner at Sundance, was a critical and commercial hit, sparking an anguished and heated debate about teen culture. Reed, however, sounds ambivalent when asked about the film's impact on her own life.
"None of us expected Thirteen to be what it was," Reed, now 16, reflects on the success. "It was shocking and really difficult in a lot of ways because it was so personal. When I wrote the screenplay with Catherine, it never crossed my mind that people all around the world would be talking about these really intimate things."
When shooting had finished, Reed tried going back to high school. She had hoped that being in the film would make her "a ton of new friends," but she felt as isolated as ever. "It was really horrible writing a film about not being able to fit in and hoping this would help and then going back and having the problem start all over again."
As newspaper articles about her began to appear, she accepted she couldn't simply blend back into the mainstream. Everyone was asking if she was going to appear in more movies or stay in school. She wasn't sure herself. Her uncertainty exacerbated her unhappiness. "You can't do both. I have great respect for actors like Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman who went to school the entire time they were acting. All I did was one small little independent film and I realised I couldn't balance both lives."
Her eventual solution was "home schooling". Six months ago, she graduated from high school and in the autumn, she plans to go to junior college to major in literature. Between times, she will keep on making movies.
The young Californian is a disconcerting interviewee. She will happily answer any question you ask, but will then add that she is startled by media curiosity about her family life and by the suggestion that Thirteen "glamorised teenagers blah, blah, blah... in fact it did quite the opposite."
Given that she is pretty, photogenic, very smart and excelled at playing teen rebel Evie Zamora in the movie, it's hard to accept Reed's characterisation of herself as a high-school outsider. She insists she was one. "It (school) is about cliques; it's about people grouping together depending on their ethnicity or the language they speak. The hispanic people like to hang out together, the black people like to hang out together, the white people...the popular kids like to stay together," she pauses. "If you can't find the perfect spot in a group, it's not about how pretty you are. You can't really fly solo."
At the ripe old age of 16, Reed now feels "so much more content, so much more comfortable with myself". She has had the same boyfriend (from Hawaii) for over a year. "Every time I look in the mirror, I feel as mature as I'm ever going to be," she declares. "I can't say I'm fully grown, but I've made some progress."
Her tastes, one guesses, are little different than those of any other precocious young Californian. Her favourite films are Monster's Ball and Boys Don't Cry. She is reading a book called Conversations With God but doesn't see herself as religious. ("My dad's Jewish and my mum is Christian so I grew up with no religion. Just whatever religion I wanted.") Music-wise, she's still listening to the same rap and hip-hop that featured in Thirteen, and is withering in her assessment of Britney Spears. "Sex sells. She's using that. If that works for her, wonderful...but instead of moving on and becoming a less sexual person and maybe using talents to move your career forward, she's going into the Christina Aguilera phase which is, like, a porn-star image. That's not helping the problem which is that girls are growing up way too fast; they're wearing close to nothing on the streets and it's OK for them to look 25 when they're 13," she says, sounding a little prim and moralistic.
The picture Reed paints of the Californian beauty myth is grim. The 13-year-olds all want to look as if they're 25... and so do the OAPs. "In Hollywood, no one is happy with who they are. When they're young they want to look older. When they're older, they're getting botox shot in their face to look younger."
Reed and Hardwicke clearly had very different agendas when they started out making Thirteen. The director regarded it as a therapeutic exercise to drag her unhappy young friend out of her teenage ennui. "Mmm," Reed murmurs when reminded of this. "I guess Catherine's intentions were a little bit different than mine... I had no idea that was what was going on in her brain. I just sat down with her and thought we were having fun together."
Once the movie was released and she began to talk with other parents and children about its portrayal of adolescence, Reed realised that there was an even split between the moms and dads who welcomed the film and those ("in denial") who detested it and told her her problems were attributable to irresponsible parenting. "But I didn't make this film so I could be anyone's therapist."
Reed had known Hardwicke since she was five years old, when the film-maker began dating her father. The two have remained close friends. Indeed, Hardwicke was the one person Reed never stopped trusting, even when her teen angst was at its worst. "She didn't fall into the whole jealousy/competitive vibe like the girls my age. I always knew I could go to her when I needed someone. I guess I just hit rock bottom and had absolutely nobody. Once again, Catherine was there to help me through it."
Reed and Hardwicke are working together on a new film, Lords Of Dogtown, about Californian skateboarding culture. She has also made another feature, Man Of God, which promises to be even more controversial than Thirteen. Directed by Jeffrey Levy and co-starring Peter Weller (of Robocop fame), this is a low-budget indie drama about a 15-year-old prostitute who falls in love with a rabbi in his early 50s. Making the film convinced Reed that she wanted to be a professional actress after all. But would she take a role in a big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer movie? "It has nothing to do with the budget. It has to do with the director and the script," she says, beginning to sound the typical, jaded film star. Change the subject back to Thirteen and her answers immediately become fresher.
In theory, Reed's story sounds like a teenage wish-fulfilment fantasy: write a movie, star in it, have your name all over the papers. The reality was far more mundane and unsettling. Her private life, and that of her family, was pored over by the media.
"I can't say that if I could take it back, I would do it in a different way, because we're OK now. But there were times when I would say 'Relax! You (the press) don't have to know every single thing about my mother's life, or her boyfriends, or what my brother does in the afternoon...'
Everyone just wanted to know the most personal things we did . I guess that got the film where it was, which was wonderful. But it was unfair along the way."
'Thirteen' is now available on video and DVD
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