Selma Blair: Blair kitsch project

She says her choice of unorthodox roles and her loud mouth mean she won't make it big. Ryan Gilbey begs to differ
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The Independent Culture

There's a brouhaha coming from suite 141. You can hear it all along the first floor. Eventually, two sheepish-looking men plod out of the room and I am invited in to meet Selma Blair, a provocative young actress, and the probable source of all the commotion. She is curled up in the corner of a sofa in a black top and blue jeans, tousling her brown hair. I ask if it was her I could hear shouting obscenities. "Um, yeah," she says with a so-what shrug and a smile. "I was just kidding around. I think I scared those guys a little." What could a couple of journalists have done to provoke that? "Oh, it's OK, they were Czechs." Of course. That explains it.

There's a brouhaha coming from suite 141. You can hear it all along the first floor. Eventually, two sheepish-looking men plod out of the room and I am invited in to meet Selma Blair, a provocative young actress, and the probable source of all the commotion. She is curled up in the corner of a sofa in a black top and blue jeans, tousling her brown hair. I ask if it was her I could hear shouting obscenities. "Um, yeah," she says with a so-what shrug and a smile. "I was just kidding around. I think I scared those guys a little." What could a couple of journalists have done to provoke that? "Oh, it's OK, they were Czechs." Of course. That explains it.

She is here to promote her new film, the comic-book adaptation Hellboy, in which she plays the hero's love interest, Liz Sherman. That makes it sound straightforward. In fact, the hero is a 60-year-old demon, while Liz is a manic-depressive with a talent for spontaneous combustion. Hellboy is lively and quirky, but I'm slightly embarrassed to be interviewing Blair about it, since her talents are wasted in it. Whenever she appears, she is either being menaced by the villain, rescued by the hero or bursting into flames.

"I wish I was in it more too," agrees the 32-year-old actress. "At least then I wouldn't have had a month of downtime in Prague while we were shooting. I just ruined myself with cigarettes." She marshals herself suddenly and points out that what she liked about the character was that she was unexceptional: no wisecracks, no distinguishing features. Another actress might have balked at such a passive part, but she could hardly care less. There's something cavalier about the way she discusses her work; her own theory is that having endured a childhood in suburban Detroit, nothing much can faze her now.

She is one of two daughters of a magistrate and a barrister, who raised their offspring as "little adults". Home life was harmonious, what went on outside less so. "It was a coarse neighbourhood. I was a tough, streetwise kid. I had to be. And I was a bit of a bully too. The thing is that I survived it. I figure the worst is behind me."

Consequently, she now seeks out situations that others might deem risky or unorthodox. She is a chirpy character, but she wears her idiosyncrasies ostentatiously. She never actually says "I'm mad, I am", but you wouldn't bet on the thought never having crossed her mind. Making friends with random strangers is a current compulsion. "I'm so completely not cut out for stardom because I love talking to people. I've gone into restaurants alone and ended up spending the holidays with people I meet there. I have terrible judgement. The next person I befriend will probably be Jack the Ripper."

But she's not in serious danger of doing anything other than offending the easily outraged. That much is clear when she launches into a reverie about swearing. "I'm so inappropriate," she exclaims. "I'm a completely wretched girl. I love to shock. People think I'm this cute little girl, but then I talk like a long-shore fisherman. I just love to use foul language. It's so satisfying."

Since January, she has her new husband Ahmet Zappa - son of the late Frank - to watch her back. "After we were married he told me: 'There's an end to it. No more of this now. I don't wanna find your severed head somewhere.' But I have to live this life! I have to be ridiculous!"

How can these words not summon up the image of Vi, the sexually adventurous student she played in Todd Solondz's Storytelling? In her first scene, she appeared naked, having sex with her boyfriend. A few scenes later, she was ravaged against a wall by her African-American creative-writing professor, whom she had just picked up in a bar, and who forced her to scream racist abuse as he had his wicked way with her. "Of all my films, that's my mother's favourite," she beams. "I don't find Storytelling shocking. For me that's just normal life. It's a truthful movie. It's some of the big Hollywood films, which are full of artifice, that I find really creepy."

She should know, having provided the bright spots in otherwise drab comedies such as Legally Blonde, Down To You and Can't Hardly Wait. "I've done some bland ones. Some brutally bland ones. Usually there's an actress you want to work with. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes not."

How endearing that Blair seems scarcely bothered by so many concerns that plague her peers: working the PR treadmill, projecting a sunny image. "Let's face it. I'm never going to be America's sweetheart. The job has gone to some capable actresses - Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts. They all broke through to the public with this kind of innocence and joy. And I don't think I have their likeability in spades."

She narrows her eyes and contemplates this analysis. "But who fucking cares?"

'Hellboy' opens today

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