Bridget Fonda: The Best of Bridget
Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up to Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, was saddled with unrealistic expectations. Pulp Fiction changed cinema for the rest of the decade. It also revived John Travolta’s flagging career with one of the greatest comebacks in Hollywood history. Everyone wondered who would Tarantino revive next? The cast of Jackie Brown included a number of candidates including veteran actors like Pam Grier and Robert Forster.
Bridget Fonda (who played a burnout just like her then-boyfriend Eric Stoltz did in Pulp Fiction) was at a point in her career where she could have used a little jolt. But lightning doesn’t strike twice. Jackie Brown was nowhere near as successful as Tarantino’s previous effort. It didn’t end up doing all that much to change Fonda’s fortunes. In this interview from the January 1998 issue of Movieline magazine, Fonda discusses her wild days and what it was like growing up in a famous family.
Bridget Fonda is putting her foot down. On the table. The one we’ll soon be eating lunch on. Actually, I asked her to. See, we’re discussing her new film, Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino’s biggest outing since Pulp Fiction, and I’ve mentioned that Salma Hayek, who costarred with Tarantino in From Dusk Till Dawn, once told me he was particularly skilled in the art of toe sucking. Since, according to Fonda, there’s a scene in Jackie Brown that spotlights her tootsies, I’ve asked to see them up close. Now, as we’re checking them out, Fonda answers my next question before I can ask it: “No, Quentin did not suck my feet.”
Toe sucking or no toe sucking, chances are that Tarantino is the kind of guy who’ll know exactly what to do with Fonda on-screen. One of his greatest talents is illuminating the oddball charm and edge that others have totally missed in a performer. The Uma Thurman of Pulp Fiction was a revelation, admit it. Fonda has an elusive, quirky and offbeat quality that few directors have been able to truly make use of since her turn in Scandal. She’s been underused, if not miscast, in any number of misfires, like Point of No Return and Little Buddha. I’m looking to Quentin to bring out the Best of Bridget. I know he won’t stop at her toes.
DENNIS HENSLEY: I saw a photo from Jackie Brown and in it you look like a trashy ’90s version of Gidget. Am I close?
BRIDGET FONDA: I play a real conniving, overtanned blonde bimbo surfer girl who wears cutoff shorts and a bikini top the whole time and is kept by Samuel L. Jackson. I try to come between Jackson and Robert De Niro, who plays an ex-con who’s just gotten out of prison and is trying to reel Samuel into a deal.
Q: Do you get to use a lot of foul-mouthed Tarantinoesque dialogue?
A: Of course, and I loved it. I’ve got a terrible mouth.
Q: You don’t strike me as much of a potty mouth.
A: Really? I swear something awful.
Q: Swear right now.
A: What would you like?
Q: Oh, I’m not sure. Uh, let me think.
A: Make up your fucking mind!
Q: That’ll do.
A: My favorite swear word is shithead. It’s a great insult and yet it’s so idiotic.
Q: Did you ever get into trouble swearing as a kid?
A: My dad [actor Peter Fonda] was into emphasizing that swear words were no different from any other words. If he accidentally swore in front of us he would run through a string of swear words like “fuck, shit, piss, cock-a-poo-poo-pee-pee, toenail.”He’d always just throw toenail in there. I think that was his way of showing us it was all just words.
Q: So how did you get the role in Jackie Brown? Did you have to kick and scream to get an audition?
A: I’ve known Quentin for a while, and one day I saw him on an airplane and he said, “I really think you’re who I want for this part in my next film. I’m basically thinking about you when I’m writing it.” I was like, “Oh wow, great!”
Q: Have you thought about what Jackie Brown could do for you if it hits big?
A: I don’t want to think about it that way because then it can become almost like a curse.
Q: Come on, you must be anxious about it.
A: Mostly I think about how great it will be to be in a movie that’s really satisfying to watch, because your biggest fear when you do a movie is that it’s not going to come together.
Q: Is Jackie Brown a lot different from Pulp Fiction?
A: Well, it’s based on an Elmore Leonard novel, whereas Pulp Fiction is pure Quentin. So I guess if Quentin and Elmore had a love child, this would be it. But the child would be a fucking delinquent, doomed to juvenile hall.
Q: What’s something you know about Quentin that most people wouldn’t guess?
A: He notices so much, and it’s fun to watch his films because he’s so observant. He just doesn’t take anything for granted. And he’s very generous.
Q: Your character in Jackie Brown is a bit of a pothead. What did you use for marijuana?
A: I don’t know what it was, and I was the one who found it. I was at some head shop in Van Nuys looking around, seeing if I could find anything for my character, and I stumbled upon this stuff called Shaman’s Blend.
Q: Did you work out a product placement deal with them or just pay cash?
A: It’s a cash-only kind of place. Besides, it would have been too hard to negotiate, because they had KISS blasting so loud you could barely hear anyone.
Q: Is Shaman’s Blend legal?
A: I guess so.
Q: Did you inhale?
A: Yeah, as much as I possibly could. [Laughs]
Q: Any kick to it?
A: It had somethin’.
Q: Did you ever get the giggles during a take?
A: Yeah, I had a couple of moments like that with De Niro. I would look at him and he would play it so straight I couldn’t help but giggle.
Q: Did John Travolta ever come by for a visit?
A: Not when I was there. I met him once years ago when I was about 15 and I literally couldn’t speak.
Q: Which other actors have you been starstruck by?
A: Michael Palin.
Q: From the Monty Python movies?
A: Yeah. I’ve always had a huge crush on him. Years ago I was at a party with my friend Stephen Woolley, who produced Shag and Scandal, and I told him, “Oh my God. Michael Palin. I can’t breathe.” So Steve snuck away and came back with Michael and it was another one of those moments where–
Q: You couldn’t speak?
Q: Do you follow how well your films do, or do you try to let it go?
A: I try to let it go. If you follow it too closely you’re setting yourself up. It’s so much better to not think about the repercussions.
Q: Are you aware of how “hot” or “not hot” you are at any given time?
A: I’m usually not aware of it. Sadly, I’m sometimes made aware of it just by situations like if I find a movie I want to do and ask, “How do the producers feel about me?” I hear back, “What’s her foreign rating?” That kind of stuff.
Q: Are they blunt with you?
A: There’s a whole “Let’s not mince words” kind of feeling. I don’t really want to know, but when I do want to know, I want the truth. I don’t need to be petted or stroked. It’s also so changeable that it doesn’t really matter. It’s like, if you get into a panic about what a hot day it is you have to think, “Relax, it’s the middle of August. Of course it’s a hot day.”
Q: I’m lost.
A: Well, it’s the same thing if you’re going to have a career that lasts. There are going to be ups and downs and you have to take it all. You can’t worry about it too much. Some days will be hot, some days won’t.
Q: Would you like to be in a big blockbuster?
A: Would I like to be in something that was loved by a lot of people? Yes. Would I like the freedom it would give me to do whatever project I want? Yes. Would I like the lack of privacy that goes with the success? No.
Q: Have you made a movie you truly regret?
A: There’s just one where I think, “What a waste.” I’m not going to say what it is, because the people who made it were very sweet, and it’s my own fault. In the audition I had a certain attitude that they loved and it got me hired. But when it came time to film they tried to change the attitude and I didn’t fight it. If I had known what I know now I would have reminded them, but at the time I had so little faith in my instincts.
Q: For someone with a big Hollywood background–your aunt, after all, is Jane Fonda, your dad is Peter, and your grandpa is Henry–it seems odd that you grew up in Hawaii.
A: I actually grew up with my mom in L.A. My parents split when I was about six or seven and my dad moved to Hawaii. I used to visit him there. But still, one of my strongest childhood memories is living on that boat and sailing, collecting sand dollars, bodysurfing, snorkeling. It was a dream.
Q: Who was stricter, your mom or dad?
A: Dad never really dealt with [problems]. When he did it was really frightening, because it was so rare. He invented something called the Magic Key, which was the truth definer. He’d say to me and my younger brother, “Which one of you broke the vase?” and we’d both deny it. Then he’d say, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to ask the Magic Key.” He’d then walk slowly and purposefully to this drawer where there were a shitload of keys. He would pull out some common household key and one of us would get scared and break down and say, “I did it, I did it!”
Q: Your father made a comeback of sorts in ’97 with Ulee’s Gold. Did anything about his performance surprise you?
A: Well, Ulee was so rigid and interior, and my dad’s very flexible, so that was very different. He was just wonderful in it–I’ve seen it twice.
Q: If you could sit down and talk with your grandfather, Henry, what would you ask him?
A: Just the obvious stuff that most people get to ask or could have asked their grandparents. I’d like to find out what his feelings were about love and hardship. What his crowning achievements were and his biggest regrets.
Q: Did any of your famous relatives clue you in on the facts of life?
A: I don’t remember. Suddenly there I was playing Spin the Bottle with my fifth grade class and …
Q: The whole class?
A: Yeah. We were a close class. [Laughs]
Q: Would you make out?
A: We’d kiss, but it wasn’t that advanced. I loved my elementary school.
A: [Laughs] It was a private school called Oakwood. I like to call it my hippie school. I was recently talking to someone who went to the same school and I said, “Did you get upset when you were sick because you were going to miss school?” When he said yes I said, “Thank God it’s not just me.”
Q: Did any other famous offspring go to your school?
A: I was in a carpool with Carnie and Wendy Wilson.
Q: Is there a sort of unwritten connection between the offspring of famous people?
A: You’re so used to having nobody quite understand exactly how you feel, but I think that’s the state most people live in. That’s the complexity of being human.
Q: Did you ever go through a rebellious stage?
A: In college I didn’t really rebel. I just sort of stepped away. I wanted to figure out who I was and cut the strings. I wish I could do it all over again.
Q: What would you do differently?
A: I would try to moderate. I got pretty wild.
Q: How wild?
A: I didn’t actually get into any trouble. I’m just amazed that I’m still alive. I drank a lot.
Q: Did you get throw-up, fall-down drunk?
A: No, but I did a lot of dancing on tabletops, which is a little embarrassing, except it was done with such a good feeling. When I would later meet up with somebody I partied with they’d say, “Bridget, give me a hug!” and then I’d think, “Well, whatever happened, it was OK with them.” That was during a time when I really loved people. When I left home it was like “Hello world!”–it was a weird Sesame Street feeling of embracing everybody, but with, like, an IV of alcohol.
Q: Do you miss that freedom?
A: I miss people not passing judgment on me.
Q: Would you ever pass judgment on the movies of your beau Eric Stoltz?
A: I always love him in stuff. Loved Mask. Loved him in Killing Zoe. The Waterdance.
Q: What did you think of his scene in 2 days in the valley where he is getting a massage and is visibly aroused?
A: The dildo scene? I thought it was great. My mom called and said, “I saw 2 days in the valley. That scene was hysterical! I loved it!”
Q: Did you know it was coming up, so to speak?
A: Oh yeah. I had heard all about it.
Q: Do you ever think about getting married?
Q: Just not this minute?
Q: Which have you been more in relationships, the dumper or the dumpee?
A: It’s always been a little more complex than that. I’ve been both. The dumper is worse, I think, because if you’re the dumpee you can just feel sorry for yourself. If you’re the dumper, you feel sorry for yourself and for the person you’ve dumped. It’s just too much pity. [Laughs]
Q: What did you get picked on for as a kid?
A: The bump on my nose. Kids would say, “It’s like someone jammed a Pick Up Stick up your nose and broke it off and skin just grew over it.”
Q: Did you ever think about surgery?
A: My nose is the least of my troubles. Daily I think, If only I could change everything about myself.
Q: Christopher Reeve directed you in the HBO movie In the Gloaming, in which you played a complete bitch–
A: It’s true. [Laughs]
Q: What was he like as a director?
A: He’s really something. He’s this incredibly kind, generous person who is realistic. He’s not just PC. He gave me great direction, things that were invaluable.
Q: Tell me about your film after Jackie Brown, The Road to Graceland.
A: Johnathon Schaech plays a distraught character who’s on a road trip. He picks up hitchhiker Harvey Keitel, who insists he’s Elvis Presley, they drive to Graceland and on their way they meet me. I play a Marilyn Monroe impersonator.
Q: If you could be a man for a day what would you want to experience?
Q: But you can have the whole act.
A: Oh, OK. I thought I was allowed to have, like, just one thing. I’ll take the whole thing.
Q: What are you really good at that would surprise people?
A: Nothing. Does that surprise you?
Q: Well, you can dance on tabletops.
A: I can, yes. I can be quite wild, but that wouldn’t surprise anybody. That’s what people expect. What would surprise people is that I can also be really funny. I can be quite giddy, really.
Q: I think you’re best when you’re naughty, like you were in Scandal.
A: Naughty’s good. I liked being naughty in Jackie Brown.
Q: Speaking of naughty, are there any swear words you’d like to leave off with?
A: Fuckin’ A, yeah. But I just can’t think of any.
Dennis Hensley interviewed Charlize Theron for the November ’97 issue of Movieline.