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The balance is so hard to find


Marla Sokoloff may be best known for playing the sorta punky Lucy Hatcher on David E. Kelley’s popular series, The Practice. Sokoloff has good reason to think that most people know her as Lucy. When the character first appeared, as the receptionist at Bobby Donnell’s law firm, Sokoloff received some unnerving hate mail, suggesting, among other things, that Lucy was offensive or too weird, and that Sokoloff be fired from the show. It’s a good thing that Sokoloff doesn’t take such things personally. In fact, she’s refreshingly self-possessed, funny, and bright, just turned 20 years old and looking forward to the time when she’ll be offered a role in a movie that’s not set in high school. Still, high school movies have been good to her: she worked with her boyfriend, James Franco, on Whatever It Takes, and has recently appeared in a teen-movie hit, Dude, Where’s My Car? She laughs when she recounts the different reactions people have had to Dude: “They make fun of me, or they say, you’re finally in a movie that made over two bucks.”


Her new movie, Sugar & Spice, casts her as Lisa, a B-Squad cheerleader, whose resentment toward her picture-perfect A-Squad rivals leads her to rat them out to the police. And Lisa has quite a story to tell, as the girls—five of them—have been robbing banks in order to cover the costs of the head cheerleader’s pregnancy.


As we share some mint chocolate chip ice cream cake at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles, I ask Sokoloff about her other potential career, in music. It turns out that she’s been playing guitar for about nine years, and more recently, writing songs, in hopes of getting together enough material for an album. “That’s my first love,” she says, “before acting. And so, I’m more protective of my music. It’s hard to get people to accept that crossover, between movies and music.” She began acting early, and even convinced her mother to move with her, from San Francisco where Sokoloff grew up and worked in theater, to LA, where she could get work in television and movies.



Cynthia Fuchs:

So how did you get waylaid into acting?



Marla Sokoloff:

I used to live in San Francisco, where I grew up, and I did theater. And then I said to my mom, “I really want to go to LA, because I want to do tv and movies.” Now that I’m older, I realize what a huge commitment my mom made for me, but at the time, I wasn’t so appreciative as I am now.



CF:

Unusual to work on such a girl-focused project and set?



MS:

Yeah, it was also unusual for me to work with people who were relatively my age. Because, on The Practice, it’s like I’m the baby, little Marla. Here it wasn’t like that, there was more of a camaraderie. But it was hard for me, because I wasn’t there as much as the rest of them were, because I was shooting the show, so I was always back and forth, and I missed out on a lot of stuff. It worked out for the character though, because I came so late to the film, that they all knew each other, and had this thing that I was not involved in.



CF:

How was it working with a crew composed mostly of women? MM: I think having a woman director for this movie was a good idea, because she was very involved in our hair and make-up, stuff that a guy director just doesn’t care about. Francine [McDougall, the director] would come in the make-up trailer and say, “Too much rouge on her,” “She needs this or that on her hair.” I remember when I first went out to meet her in Minneapolis, and it was my day off, but they made me go through all the hair and make-up just to meet her. At first I was pissed off, and then I saw that she just had a very specific idea of what she wanted for each character.



CF:

Was it fun working on such a broadly cartoony project?



MS:

The balance is so hard to find. Clearly, you have to be over the top because the movie is so outrageous, but am I a bad actor, am I too over the top? Where is the line? Finally, I just said, I have to go all the way with this, I have to make her so ridiculous and so bitchy, and just do crazy things, because it’s not going to be funny otherwise. I’d have to do the cheers and suck so bad, I’d get bruises, but it was worth it. It was the same with Dude, Where’s My Car? It was such a dumb movie, and the girl who played my sister and I would look at each other after scenes and say, “We’re the worst actors ever!” It’s hard to be so big and so ridiculous.



CF:

Some people read the success of Dude as a sign that its audience is dumb. What do you think about that?



MS:

I hate that. My boyfriend made fun of me for liking Charlie’s Angels. He showed me something George Lucas said, asking why Americans are so into popcorn movies, why they’re so stupid. But that’s not what it is. I can watch a movie that takes thought, but I also like to sit down and watch something that’s mindless. You can’t expect a Steinbeck novel every time. I don’t think it has to do with anyone’s intelligence. It just means you can have fun, you don’t take life so seriously.



CF:

A similar complaint might come up regarding Sugar & Spice, that it’s a sign that kids are too violent, too dumb, too sexed up, and of course, that it’s the movies’ fault.



MS:

Hollywood is blamed for everything, especially musicians. People are going to do what they’re going to do. Like after Columbine, people attacked Marilyn Manson. Personally, I don’t like Marilyn Manson, but he’s not saying, “Go bomb your school and kill your friends.” When we were making it, the producers said, “No press on the set,” because of the Columbine aspect of it. I mean, it’s awful that that happened, but if people are going to see this ridiculous movie, and then go do something, they have a problem long before this movie. It’s like that Blink 182 song, about the kid who kills himself, and then a kid really killed himself, playing that song on repeat. That is not Blink 182’s fault.



CF:

So Sugar & Spice is watered down?



MS:

Yes, in the plot and, my voice-over, where, I mean, there was stuff that was so offensive that I was honestly embarrassed to say it. But it was really funny. It pushes you to think when you laugh at something and then feel uncomfortable that you laughed at it, like in Something About Mary, where her brother is in Special Ed: you feel badly laughing at him, but it’s just hilarious. But you know, the movie you sign on to do is never going to be the movie that’s done. Producers get involved, studios get involved. That’s why I like music so much, because if I write it, it’s in stone, it’s mine.



CF:

Well, there are hurdles there too. Talk to Aimee Mann.



MS:

She is a good example of that, even though her record was shelved for years, she said, “Fuck this,” and now she’s doing better than ever. People respect her and no one is telling her what to do anymore. As an actor, you will always have someone telling you what to do, you will always be performing someone else’s material. It can be frustrating. When I first read this script, I thought of it more as a racier movie, like But I’m a Cheerleader, but they wanted it to be this mainstream hit, which may be better for our careers. But you never know.



CF:

What do you imagine for your work beyond high school movies?



MS:

The purpose of being on The Practice, this “adult” show, was to introduce myself to a different audience. Now that I’ve established that, I feel like it’s a good idea to start branching out in movies too. But teen movies are a huge genre, that’s all the scripts I read. That choice is hard: should I be out of a job? Or should I do another teen movie? I’m 20, but the girl who played my sister in Dude, Where’s My Car? is 28! Oh my gosh! There’s so much pressure, though, to strike while you’re hot, and to have things lined up all the time. So it’s good to have the tv series, to know you have a job until 2004, working with a group of people you really like, on great episodes. But it’s also good to do movies and explore other things too.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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