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Balk on the Wild Side


Dennis Hensley ;; 1994

The jet stream according to Fairuza Bulk by Dennis Hensley

When Fairuza Balk comes to town, she crashes on the couches of people she barely knows. Or rather, she crashes on the couches of good friends that she’s only known for a few hours. She meets them. She takes them in. They take her in. What that says is that Fairuza Balk is incredibly open. It’s the first thing you notice about her…well, the first thing you sense after you’ve noticed her.

What you notice right away is her eyes. I met Fairuza in the breakfast place. She says that she’s very tired. She was up half the night watching “Ciao Manhattan” on a friend’s VCR. Ciao Manhattan is a strange art film about Edie Sedgewick, the Warhol acolyte. “It’s got her running around with no shirt on because she got breast implants when they first started doing them, so they’re rock hard and perfectly round and she’s constantly taking her shirt off to show this work of art that she thinks she’s got on her chest.” Everyone within earshot is laughing. “Anything that sounds too uncouth,” Fairuza whispers, “…don’t put it in there. I can’t do interviews and bullshit. No one wants to hear that anyway.”

In a way, Fairuza stands for a perception of the world that we all want but, perhaps out of fear of getting burned, we are all too cynical to enjoy. Nonetheless, when you’re around her, you enjoy it. You let yourself go a bit. You partake in what can only be described as openness child-like in a way but buffered by the ability to make incredibly un-PC jokes. In other words, the whole thing is like holding hands before dinner and saying grace and for once really believing in it. It’s that with a caution. Openness is both an asset and an Achilles Heel.

Fairuza lives in British Columbia. It’s remote. It’s out of touch with the jet stream. Like her. It’s just that she’s also caught in the tractor beam of her talent and that takes her into the jet stream. She’s got a lifestyle that you could call virtual glamour, virtual wealth. She flies from New York to LA with hardly any cash in her wallet. She’s all leather and earrings. Her eyes are huge and blue. They show the leather up.

When Fairuza Balk was nine she played Dorothy in Walt Disney’s Return to Oz. That can do a lot to you. You’re in Oz at nine. And even though it’s make-believe, it’s not. Which is not to say that she’s another childhood star victim, etc. She’s not a star. She wasn’t a star. A star is something that you gaze upon.

She’s since appeared in such TV movies as “Shame”, playing a small town rape victim, and “Starkweather-Murder In the Heartland”, opposite Tim Roth. Her feature films include Milos Forman’s “Valmont”, and Alison Ander’s acclaimed film about coming of age in a trailer park, “Gas-Food-Lodging”, for which she won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress. She’s recently completed work on two new features, “Imaginary Crimes,” with Harvey Keitel, and “Tollbooth,” with Seymour Cassell and Lenny Von Dohlen due out this fall.

Some actors affect you with their ability to command a character. Fairuza seems lost in her characters-like her ability to be them is contingent on her ability to forget herself. Or rather, it’s contingent on her ability to remember that she doesn’t know herself, that this character maybe could be her. She believes it’s her. So do you. It’s the ‘could be’ that makes her different. Fairuza’s bacon turns up and goes great with the outfit. She cracks a smile that is part Girl Scout, part vampire.

Where does the name Fairuza come from?
It’s Arabic. My father plays Middle Eastern music and flamenco. The name means turquoise and when I was born my eyes were very, very blue.

Do you work out?
I work out on the couch with my coffee and my remote control.

Let’s talk about the stuff around your neck. What does the key go to?
The key goes to the couch I’m staying on.

Do you stay on a lot of couches when you’re away from home?
That’s how I live. My theory on staying on couches is it’s like fish that hasn’t been put in the freezer, it’s good for about three days.

What about the necklace?
It’s for protection. It’s a Middle Eastern thing.

Where did the dog collar come from?
A pet store.

And your tattoos?
(Pointing) L.A., Vancouver, Texas, Oklahoma, L.A., Miami. My fly’s stuck. I didn’t have a butt last week, honest. I was like, “I’m going to get nice and skinny and I’m going to look pretty like all those other girls” and then three days ago, it’s like in the face, just eating everything. (The Stylist begins cutting Fairuza’s hair)Free haircuts, yeah. My hair is terrible. I had to shave my head last month because I accidentally set in on fire. I was cooking and I don’t know how it happened. If I plaster it down I look like a Romulan. It’s not long enough to be a Vulcan.

Did you ever get made fun of when you were a kid?
Yeah. People thought I was funny-looking because my eyes were to big for my head. I had huge eyes and a huge mouth and a tiny little head. They said I looked like a cow and a fly.

Looks like you grew into them.
I guess. People still call me a cow on occasion but it’s in a different context.

Who did you want to be on three’s company, Chrissy or Janet?
I didn’t want to be either of the girls. I wanted to be Larry because he really knew how to swing. He was always with a babe, doing something weird with his medallions and his shirts.

What character would you most want to be?
You know who I want to be is Tank Girl. She’s this cartoon character with a mohawk and combat boots, and she drives tanks and drinks generic beer and goes out with the Incredible Hulk. Emily Lloyd was going to do it and she dropped out and they cast someone else. My heart is breaking as we speak. I am the quintessential Tank Girl.

Have you been starstruck recently?
No. I saw Julia Roberts once at Trader Joe’s but she just looked like anyone else. She was walking with her bag and her hair over her face. And I’m kind of watching her and she looks up at me and looks back down. I felt bad because she couldn’t just be herself.

Do you get recognized much?
No, and when I do, I never know what to say. When I went to Orlando, you know how when you walk off the plane there’s guys standing there? One of them goes “Yo, yo, yo. Whas up? Whas up? Wait, hold on, you’re the girl from Arizona in the gas station or something,” and I’m like, Gas-Food-Lodging? And he goes, “It is her. It’s that girl from that movie in the desert. Damn!” And the porters come and move my bags for free and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m the girl from Arizona.”

No, but really
I was born in Point Reyes. There used to be this huge piece of land with a mansion on it and a bunch of really cool people built houses around it, like a communal thing, but not like the classic hippy commune. My mom was a single mother and she went up to Vancouver to find work and decided it would be better for me to live there. She wanted me to see everything and be able to do everything. When I was nine I got Return to Oz so I went to England and stayed in Europe until I was 14 living in London Paris, all over the place.

Do you think you grew up too fast?
No, I think the faster you grow up, the more time you save yourself. Young people are given so little credit for their intelligence, especially children. I remember when I started working. I knew what was going on. I knew when I was being worked way too many hours and I’d sit there and be a good girl and do what I was told but I took it all in, and people learned very quickly not to talk to me like a child, because I wouldn’t respond unless they talked to me as an equal. I remember thinking, “Don’t pat me on the head, you don’t know what I’m about,” and I was like 8. Kids are so in tune. They can read people.

Did you ever wish you could just hang out and play like a normal kid?
No, because when I started working it was all a game anyway. After about two years of working, my brain just went into adult mode and I never missed playing. I didn’t play. I read books. I went to museums. I saw art films. I hung out with adults and that’s who I enjoyed being with. My mom did get a little worried and tried to put me in high school. She dropped me into North America out of Paris living on my own. She wanted me to make friends my own age and I had nothing to talk to them about. I walked into the hall smoking with a coffee going “What’s going on here?” and they started yelling at me and I’m dyslexic as well. I write sentences backwards when I’m not paying attention and I can’t multiply or divide and they told me I was stupid. I was like, “No wonder everyone drops out.”

In the new film, “Imaginary Crimes,” Harvey Keitel plays your father in the film. What’s he like?
Harvey literally becomes another human being. My greatest fear is that I’ll play myself one day, that I’ll watch myself and go, that’s me. I’d quit the industry and never act again.

Did you know your father at all?
I met him a few years ago. It’s like “Hi, nice to meet you. You’re my dad.” I love him but I don’t know him. I have no resentment. It’s
just he wasn’t there and that’s just the way it is. He was busy and I understand. I mean, if I had a kid right now, and my boyfriend met some other girl and took off, that’s just the way it goes and you’re left with a child. That’s just the way it was.

Your character writes short stories to escape. Do you like to write?
I write like a maniac. I have this big black book that’s falling apart and I write a lot of music, songs, poetry. I draw in it. I’ve had a lot of my writing published anonymously. My writing is very dark and not something you’d expect to come out of me. I get in a mood, and I just scrawl and it just pours out of my head. Later, I read it and go,”God, what planet am I from?”, but I think that’s good.

Tell me about your other new film, Tollbooth.
It’s a very twisted story. We called it “Apoca-Tollbooth Now” because we were filming out in the jungle. We’re in the Florida Keys in hurricane season and there’s massive cockroaches. They’d fly into the lights and make noise and cast shadows all over the actors’ faces. You’re doing a scene and in your peripheral vision, there’d be grips running around with these massive nets. It was insane. The Florida Keys are a very spooky, weird place, and the film, from what I hear, has captured that. It’s the kind of place where anyone can just call themselves Captain Jack, buy a boat and disappear for good.

You have a love scene in the film. What was that like to shoot?
It’s not exploitive or anything, but it was kind of disturbing. I had to hop in bed with the guy the same day I met him. It was like, “Hi, My name’s Fairuza. Let’s doink in front of 70 people.”

How old were you when you had your first major crush?
I was 13. The guy still writes me sometimes and sends me photographs. He’s a little scary. I think he’s a vampire. I have this knack; if I know that someone is dangerous and I shouldn’t be with them, then I’m like, “Hello,” and inevitably I always get into so much trouble.

What’s the one thing that you know you shouldn’t do but you do anyway?
Wouldn’t you like to know.

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