Lost in La La Land, the Brits who find fame for 15 minutes
Sunday 22 February 1998
"IF HOLLYWOOD is an airport called Stardom, there are hundreds of British actresses in a holding pattern somewhere over Pasadena." So says British Hollywood screenwriter Sean Macaulay. "Everyone might think that British actresses are hot because we've got four Best Actress Oscar nominees this year," he continues. "But you only have to look at the track record to see how quickly actresses get spun out here. In Hollywood it's 'Here today, gone by power brunch'."
It remains to be seen whether Olivia Williams, who was plucked from relative British obscurity to play Kevin Costner' s new leading lady, will be left marooned in the twilight world where disillusioned actresses go. Costner's latest movie, The Postman, was so badly received in America that when President Gorbachev was given a preview screening during a Hollywood visit last year, so the joke went, it set East-West relations back ten years. Making less than $5 million, the film disappeared without trace from American cinemas in less than three weeks.
There can be few worse fates than entry to the micro-celebrity fringe club whose membership, a large percentage of whom are British, have been given a taste of stardom, billed as the next big thing, and then abandoned. It only takes a flick through a few back issues of the Hollywood Reporter to prove the point. In 1987, after Wish You Were Here, Emily Lloyd was feted as the next Julie Christie, with a dazzling future ahead of her. But apart from an appearance in A River Runs Through It, her talents have gone largely unappreciated since. Gabrielle Anwar was also the toast of the town when she danced with Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, but unless U-Boat, a dismal TV movie with Stephen Baldwin, counts as success, her name can also be filed away in the "micro-celeb" section. Hollywood is full of such tales. Julia Ormond was the new Audrey Hepburn when she was cast in the remake of Sabrina opposite Harrison Ford, but her latest effort - Smilla's Feeling for Snow - fell way below both British and American audience's radars, as have the names of Caroline Goodall, once revered for her role in Schindler's List, and Martine Beswick who did, at least, make it into two James Bond films.
Not all members of the "fringe club" fade into obscurity. But there are plenty that do disappear. Four years ago Thandie Newton was billed as "the hottest British import to hit the US since Natasha Richardson" after playing Brad Pitt's first delicious victim in Interview with the Vampire. But where is she now?
"Not even an Oscar nomination guarantees success in this town," says Hollywood film-maker Sacha Gervasi, referring to British actresses Brenda Blethlyn and Jean-Marie Baptiste, who were nominated last year. "The big English films that do well here bring attention to the stars. They might get offered small parts in Hollywood films. But very few can parlay that into a long-term career before being dropped off the face of the earth. Hollywood is so 'of the moment', that anyone can be forgotten by the next day. This is a very hard town to make it in."
British women also have to jump through more hoops, according to Hollywood observer William Cash. "One of the hardest things for them is the technical difficulty of the American accent. For some reason British actresses also make the mistake of dressing down and wearing no makeup for auditions. They think it's all in the talent, darling. American women, meanwhile, make every effort possible to look good. They know that's what's going to get them the part. There are an awful lot of British actresses who come to Hollywood for their big break. Just recently they were looking for a British girl to appear in the TV sitcom Friends - over 300 British girls turned up. It takes a degree of desperation to make it here. Kate Winslet, for example, is downright pushy. She used to regularly phone up James Cameron and demanded her part in Titanic. Sleeping with the right people is the other the way to the top, of course. One feted British actress, who shall remain nameless, is known to have done just that."
The problem for British girls is that they can get marooned in Hollywood after moving out here. "They don't like to go home again, because they're too proud. They feel they can't go back till they're superstars," says Macaulay. "If they were smart enough, they'd marry a film producer, but most of them end up having a dalliance with their co-star, which gets them no-where. So they end up living in Santa Monica because the air is cleaner down by the beach,attending acting classes to keep their hand in, and chasing agents and managers." Minnie Driver, nominated for best supporting actress for Good Will Hunting, was spotted buying a new Jeep down there last week in celebration of her recent success. She better make sure she can keep up the repayments.
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