Claire Forlani: From Hollywood to Kilburn

She starred with Brad Pitt and Sean Connery but this week Claire Forlani will make her debut at the Tricycle theatre

Claire Forlani's star was on the rise in the mid-1990s as she landed major roles in big-budget films alongside Brad Pitt, Sean Connery and Ben Stiller. At the same time she built a solid track record in movies that would attain cult status, from directors including Kevin Smith and Julian Schnabel.

Yet the pressures of Hollywood, personal tragedy and fierce protectiveness of her privacy saw the British actress step back from the spotlight over the following decade. She has continued to work consistently in film and television but it is the work from close to 20 years ago that still have fans stopping her in the street.

"It's nice now when people come up to me," she says. "When people talk about films from two decades ago there's something very cool about that; it's nice they're still being watched." And what an eclectic set of fans they are. She can tell immediately, from the person, which film they will talk about. Stoners always want to talk about Mallrats, the 1995 follow up to Clerks by Smith, while "arty types" want to talk about Basquiat. "With Meet Joe Black it's fathers, that film is all about the father, daughter thing." Yet Forlani prefers to look forward rather than back. This week marks a significant new challenge: the 42-year-old, who divides her time between London and LA, will step onto the stage professionally for the first time in her career.

Her theatre debut comes at The Tricycle in Kilburn, North London in The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which opens tonight. Despite 45 acting credits, Forlani admits to a few sleepless nights before the curtain goes up. "This really is a feat. You're walking into the fire; you just have to come through it," she says before adding jokingly: "Hopefully you don't emerge completely scorched."

The new work by Adam Bock is a tale of socialite siblings in New York, inspired by the Miller and Mitford sisters. "There's the money, and glamour, but what's just beneath the surface is total dysfunction and total darkness," she says.

Forlani was born and raised in Twickenham, the child of an English mother and an Italian father and knew she wanted to be a performer from an early age. While she attended the Royal Ballet School and Rambert briefly, her love of American cinema drew her towards acting and she trained at the Arts Educational School in London from 11 years old.

Her acting debut came in the much loved TV show Press Gang – "I don't remember much about it, I'm afraid" – before she moved with her family to America.

Among the early credits was the seventh instalment of Police Academy, subtitled Mission to Moscow. The experience was an extraordinary one for a 22-year-old Forlani. The cast and crew were in Moscow for four months, which coincided over with the 1993 constitutional crisis as the President Yeltsin faced off against the Russian parliament. "Tanks were going by and Warner Brothers had their plane waiting to get us out," she says. "We were there when Lenin's tomb was closed, and when Rostropovich came back after 20 years of exile. We saw him perform in Red Square."

Her breakthrough came with Mallrats in 1995, which starred Shannen Doherty and featured a brief appearance from Ben Affleck. The offers came thick and fast from The Rock – "Nic Cage is the sweetest guy on the planet" – to Mystery Men with Stiller and Meet Joe Black with Pitt.

She says highlights from the time included filming the biopic of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sitting with David Bowie, who played Andy Warhol. "Sitting with Bowie with that wig on and the nose, sharing Chinese food in front of real home movies that the [Warhol] Foundation had allowed us to watch... I was thinking: 'This is good.' I was such a Bowie fan."

Yet being thrust into the spotlight brought drawbacks. "It's really hard when you're young. I have a lot of young actor friends now and I try to help because I understand it's a terrifying business." It is worse for young actresses. "For a woman, it's absolutely a misogynist environment. You are prey, so if you don't have protections you're dealing with intense stuff. There are a lot of components. That's why drugs and alcohol are prevalent. The 20-year-olds have to turn to something. I was one of the unprotected ones, and it was tough at the time."

When she was 27, her mother died. "She was the one support, so that all happened at once, as it was getting magnified. It was so hard," she says. "I just, sort of retreated. I still worked but I wasn't taking risks after that. I took safe options. I was trying to find safety for a while. I wasn't brave and bold during that time."

Turning 40 can be problematic for an actress, as, according to one film producer, the scripts begin to dry up. Forlani is still regularly sent offers but, "it's an interesting moment. It's often stuff that is too young or too old".

Yet there is an upside as "the roles are more interesting," she says. "Playing the ingenue is not that much fun, but you kind of have to do it for a few years. You're the girlfriend or whatever. After that it's better, you get to play queens and crazy people."

She is no longer going for the safe options. "The brilliance of this job is that you can just go with it, you don't know what's round the corner then something shows up and it's the next challenge and a great group of people. Death to me would be doing the same thing over and over."

'The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania', Tricycle Theatre, London NW3 (020 7328 1000) 25 June to 25 July

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace