INT: Brittany Murphy
Just as expected, Brittany Murphy was a spirited, bubbly and vivacious little storm that the wind blew in and out of our room. She seems mad cool and someone totally fun to hang with, and her stimulating personality is inoculated into all her onscreen characters with the same level of energy and adrenaline. Comparable to some of her past characters, Murphy’s performance is quite impressive and effortless as a high strung, hyper, bipolar, white trash prostitute in her upcoming film THE DEAD GIRL.
THE DEAD GIRL is the story of a young woman whose brutal murder results in the convergence of five other storylines. The movie is broken up into five chapters which unfold as dark, intriguing and heartbreaking stories all connected somehow to the “dead girl” chapter established as Murphy’s character in the opening scene. Having starred in films like DON'T SAY A WORD, 8 MILE and GIRL INTERRUPTED, Murphy’s personality seems to gravitate to the types of roles requiring her to be self-destructive, outrageous and generally just a hyper fireball. Murphy recently sat with us to discuss the challenges of playing this character, her preparation for it and working with Karen Moncrieff on her new Indie film, THE DEAD GIRL. Check out what Brittany Murphy had to say.
Washington said you taught her how to smoke.
That is true
So, is she a good smoker?
I don’t know. You saw the film. What’d you
think? I hope I did OK. She was practicing and showing me. We met
for dinner. Because of the short preparation time, how Karen wanted
Kerry and I to rehearse was to just familiarize ourselves with each
other. We went for dinner. And I had to be chain smoking for the
role. As you could see, I had to learn to do that. And she taught me
how to curse, so… I’m kidding!!!! (Giggles loudly)
attached to this role from the beginning?
I was the second person attached to the film,
second or third, after Giovanni (Ribisi).
attracted you to it?
Karen asked me to be a part of it and I was a huge fan of hers from Blue Car. I loved the honesty and truth and rawness of that film. And then I was really intrigued that she was doing another picture. I read it, (and) thought I was reading a psychological thriller. It’s called The Dead Girl, and it started reading like a psychological thriller, the first act. Then, after getting past ‘The Stranger’ and then moving on to ‘The Sister’… you know, they say the journey is the destination. As clichéd as that is, it really was true with this because all I did was, while I was trying to figure out who did this – which character was it? – I started to just not care (who actually did it).
I started to get completely engrossed in the lives (of the characters), and in being a voyeur of the lives of these really richly written characters with so many layers and so much depth, and how highly unusual that is to see so many of them in one script. I adored the script. So I met with Karen, then heard her vision and what she was going to do with it, and then signed on to be a part of it.
How did she
pitch the part to you? It all builds up to Krista, so what did she
say to you about what she wanted the character to be like? What were
the ideas you brought to it?
Oh, we were at a Q&A the other day, because neither one of us can really remember because it all happened so quick. I wish I could be more specific about it. I have said this before, and I’m sorry to be redundant. I am very visceral when it comes to choosing material, or characters choosing me, me choosing them. My job is strange. My job is to believe I’m someone else more hours of the day than I am myself. That’s a really weird job, OK? So one wants to make sure that while one is doing is doing that, first of all, I like to make sure I’m a part of a story that I think is imperative that it’s told or (is) extraordinarily entertaining.
And the older I get the more particular I’ve become about that. Then, who’s telling the story? Through what eyes? A/k/a/ Karen’s. Then, OK, who is this person that I am going to be? And does that make sense for me? Immediately, when it comes to characters, once the story is something that I’d love to be a part of, it’s a very visceral feeling and I always just kind of connect and know. When Karen also told me that she thought of me because of the information she received in some work that I’d done prior in different other films, and her being a juror and how she came about this project, I also then sort of felt it was a responsibility to Krista’s life, because she was a real person.
Was there a
line or something else that helped you figure out who Krista was?
It was very evident to me. I don’t know how
else to… I did ask Karen a lot of questions. ‘How would you like
her to sound?’ ‘Exactly what kind of drugs is she on and how
much of them?’ OK, she’s bi-polar, Karen told me. She’s
self-medicating. Well, I figured she’s self-medicating, so I spoke
with some counselors and had them break down exactly the types of
drugs Karen told me Krista was on and break down what the chemical
reaction with any human being’s body would be. And these reactions
are absolutely atrocious, and that’s why she behaves so
mercurially; just what it depletes one’s body of is so sad and
tragic. And also then she was a chain smoker, and I asked (Moncrieff)
how she always envisioned her sounding and she said, ‘Kind of
gravelly.’ And I said, ‘Kind of like this?’ I did her voice
and she said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly like that.’ So I said,
‘OK, I’ll keep that.’ So Karen and I had a really easy
Krista seems to share a lot in common with your Girl, Interrupted character and even your 8 Mile character, in that they embody that gritty outward appearance but want to do better for themselves. Did you find yourself drawing from previous roles in portraying Krista? What kind of research did you do?
That is the research that I did…I spoke with
some recovered addicts. I spoke with a counselor or two, but I like
to keep my resources private, to respect their privacy. And people
really helped explain things to me. I also saw some footage, and
that helped. But really the breakdown of the chemical composition
was the biggest help. As far as everything in life – sorry to be
so broad – but it really does cover everything. For me, everything
in life is a learning experience. Everything. This is. Whether we
choose to make it one or not, anything CAN be, I believe.
of her death. Did that help inform your performance?
You know, interestingly enough, no. There was no foreboding feeling because she didn’t have a foreboding feeling, I don’t think, of her death. (That’s) not how I saw it or felt it. I didn’t feel that she had a foreboding feeling of her death, but I will say, if you saw Girl, Interrupted, that was one experience where a character killed herself. Daisy killed herself, but how we shot that film was Daisy’s death completely backwards to the first scenes in the film. So I actually did shoot, in Girl, Interrupted, just Daisy, and they blocked me in a certain period of time and shot me out in three weeks. They shot her completely from her death to the beginning of the story, and that helped me a lot in understanding who she was. So I have had that experience before, and I didn’t feel that here, because Krista loved life so much. She was very much about, they say, ‘Live in the moment,’ she was about the second or maybe the millisecond.
about doing too good a job? About glamorizing this lifestyle?
No, I would hope the very, very opposite. If I’m ever a part of something like this it would be to… I mean, this film particularly… to help be a very small part of (imparting) a very large, large message, much larger than any of us involved, which is that violence is wrong and atrocious. So many people’s lives in this film, every character’s life, was changed by this violent act that occurred, and why can’t we just notice things instead? Why do we have to have something that tragic happen to kick us in the rear to be able to actually life-altering decisions for the best, to better ourselves? I don’t understand that. And I wish more people would. I think we all could start trying. And I think this is a great message as far as stopping violence or at least helping to garner awareness towards stopping violence.
Karen different from other directors you’ve worked with?
She, quite obviously, seeing the film, is a chameleon when it comes to actors. There’s such a broad cast, and how she changed her… It wasn’t the Karen way. Karen molded to each person she worked with as opposed to the people molding to Karen’s way, which was really fantastic. Yet, she still stood very strong in herself, very grounded and still had so much respect, the utmost respect from everyone and the entire crew, and ran the show, yet still, again, adapted to all of these different styles of acting, people, egos, you name it. I think that that’s miraculous.
She never lost her cool. This was one of the happiest sets I have ever stepped foot on in my life, and it definitely was not light fare. People were there because they wanted to be, from our costume designer to hair and makeup to the actors to our whole entire crew, (and) I mean grip, cinematographer; everyone there had an opportunity to be the artist that they are. Karen allowed everyone to be creatively rewarded and allowed us – us meaning myself and the crew and the other actors – to be able to express our own art. She did not ever try to stifle that, and that’s a great feeling. People need that… artists need that to replenish the soul. So everyone felt very free there, and that allotted for a very happy place because no one felt stifled.
forward are you looking to keep mixing it up, doing indies like this
and bigger films that maybe have a worthwhile message?
For me it’s extraordinarily important to be a part of films that have messages that, as an artist, I can help communicate, and messages that I find important because that is what I do. So if I’m going to try to be a part of getting any sort of point across I think I should stick to my job and do it that way. The next film I’m working on is The White Hotel, and I’m excited. That is a film that has a very large message behind it and hopefully it will make people extraordinarily aware of how wrong genocide is.