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More Dangerous Than Oz


Brian D. Johnson ;; 1989

Fairuza Balk has come a long way from Oz. At the age of 9, the Vancouver actress skipped down a yellow-brick road to early fame when she starred as Dorothy in the 1984 Disney movie Return to Oz. But in her latest film, she frolics with a grown man instead of munchkins. She was just 14 during the filming of Valmont, the new 18th-century drama by U.S. director Milos Forman. It is a major role, but one that would make any mother nervous.

Giving one of the movie’s best performances, Balk portrays Cecile, an unwitting pawn in a diabolical intrigue. Fresh from the convent, she loses her virginity to Valmont, a philanderer whose interests are purely sexual. Forman reassured Fairuza’s mother, Cathryn Balk, that his own intentions were honorable – and that he was not making a sex movie. Still, Fairuza’s mother was concerned. “It’s like her emergence into adulthood has been documented on celluloid,” she said, “It was very emotional for me.”

Born in Point Reyes, Calif., Fairuza now 15, has lived in Vancouver since she was 4. Her mother is a former teacher of Middle Eastern dance who now works as her manager and chaperon. She is divorced from the actress’s father, musician Solomon Feldthouse. Fairuza – the name means “precious turquoise” in Arabic – took a false start in show business at the age of 5. A director asked her to sing about wieners in a commercial, but Fairuza recalls that she turned him down because “I thought it was dumb.”

Her career as a child actor began in earnest at 8 with a role in an ABC movie, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The next year, she was chosen from 1,500 girls to star in Return to Oz. Since then, she has appeared in several TV movies – and as a Winnipeg piano student in last year’s feature about puppy love across ethnic lines, The Outside Chance of Maximillian Glick. But Valmont represents a breakthrough. It is her first role with adults in a major movie. And in his adaptation of Les Liasions dangereuses, Forman adds an extra dimension to Cecile’s character, making her a symbol of optimism. Said the director: “The whole education that she goes through – the book tells you it’s a tragedy, but I think it’s a blessing.” Added Forman, laughing: “I was dreaming to meet such a girl, to make her my wife.”

Fairuza’s mother was with her on the set throughout the filming. Moviemaking said Cathryn, “is not a child’s business. You’ve got to be there watching every minute.” In the tasteful scene in which Valmont seduces Cecile, a body-double was used for the nude shots. And that was fine with Fairuza. “Why should I do that.” she said, “unless I wanted to show my body, which I’m not really inclined to do – I’m an actress.” And she is not in Kansas anymore.

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