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Tangled Up in Blue


Christine Spines ;; 1994

She was born without doctors, without anesthetic, and most remarkably, without tears. “She came out with a little smile on her face,” her mother, Cathryn Balk, would say two decades later, recalling the event, at the natural-birthing center in Point Reyes, California, where her only child “bounced out like a bar of soap.”

She was named for her haunting, emotion-soaked eyes: Fairuza means “turquoise” in Persian. Ironically, it was Fairuza’s ability to cry spontaneously that would first impress directors. In Valmont she played a fourteen-year-old bride entangled in an arranged marriage to a man some 30 years her senior-a more disturbing version of Uma Thurman’s Dangerous Liaisons character. In many scenes she wept “on demand”, says Milos Forman. “You don’t say, `You must.’ You say, `Listen, it would be nice to see a little tear, and we can also use a little glycerin.’ But never! How she did it, I don’t know.” Simple, says Balk. “You have to suffer for your fucking art.” S

ix years later as the twenty-year-old Balk enters a Hollywood restaurant, she still commands attention. Perhaps it’s her full-length leather coat with a decal stuck to the collar that says FUCK in the prim script usually reserved for FORD. Maybe it’s the spiked leather collar around her neck, or the Twiggy-short haircut. Balk insists that spending her youth on location saved her from being a tortured misfit in the civilian world. “I grew up fine, and I’m strong because of it.” she declares.

In her most recent film, Imaginary Crimes, Balk plays a high school senior who inadvertently becomes the head of the household when the latest scheme of her father (Harvey Keitel) turns sour. “At the beginning of that shoot.” she recalls, “I said to Harvey, `I need you to be what I’ve never had: From now on, you’re my dad, and I need you to show me what that means.'”

Fairuza saw her own father only infrequently after her parents split up when she was three months old. “I was a belly dancer and she was a tiny baby.” says Cathryn, who conceived her daughter while she and Fairuza’s fiddle-playing father were working in a traveling Renaissance fair. “I’d hear her cry down the road, and the milk would start running down my stomach while I was doing a show.”

Fairuza’s future was forged the day she was chosen out of 1,200 girls to fill Dorothy’s ruby slippers in Return To Oz. “The reviewers were really mean to me.” she says, “It was like, `You’re not Judy Garland,’ who I love. Well, I’m sorry I’m not some dead movie star.”

Work overseas in a few made-for-TV movies kept her busy; then adolescence kicked in. “Her body was blooming away,” recalls her mother, “and [her schoolmates] were telling her she was a fat cow. It got to the point where she was trying to starve herself to death.” Cathryn yanked Fairuza from school; she ended up on the set of Valmont, a before-dawn-to-after-dusk shoot. “I protected her as much as I could,” Cathryn says, “But you can’t totally protect her, because she would want to please [the filmmakers].”

When the movie ended, Balk returned home, which by this time was in Vancouver. “I was very depressed for a few years,” she says. “I kind of sat in a basement for a long time.” At sixteen, she turned down Cool World to do Gas Food Lodging – for which she won the Independent Spirit Best Actress Award in 1993. But when the shoot was over, Balk’s depression returned. “I seriously think I had a death wish,” she says. “I’d done everything and anything to annihilate myself, and then I turned eighteen and it’s like, Wow, I’m obviously not gonna die, so I might as well forget the self-destruction.”

Now Balk, who is eager to cross the bridge from child actress to ingenue, is starring in the upcoming Tollbooth, a low-budget indie, and is currently wrapping Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, with Andy Garcia. “People tell me I’m really dark,” she says, “I’m not. I just don’t pretend to be anything I’m not. I could have been been totally famous or whatever, but that’s not my thing at all. I want to make people feel. Touch people. Not just be another face.”

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