THIS IS THE DEFINITIVE BRITTANY MURPHY PROFILE. SHE WAS FEELING GREAT ON THE DAY OF THE INTERVIEW.
SHE WAS HAPPY, FULL OF ENTHUSIASM FOR HER WORK.
SHE SAID SHE LOVED CHET BAKER.
THERE WAS SOMETHING EERIE ABOUT HER TALENT.
SHE WOULD ONLY LIVE FOR 8 YEARS AFTER THIS DAY.
THIS PIECE WAS PUBLISHED TWO DAYS BEFORE 9/11.
THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY COMPLETELY BURIED THE INTERVIEW.
VERY FEW PEOPLE WERE THINKING ABOUT HER THEN.
A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE THINKING ABOUT HER NOW.
BUT BEFORE YOU JUDGE HER, REMEMBER
SHE WAS A REAL TALENT, AND SCARED A LOT.
A Keen Sense of Selves
Changing her look for each role, Brittany Murphy opts for strong
impression, not instant recognition.
The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, Calif.
Sep 9, 2001
BY QUENDRITH JOHNSON
An amusing incident occurs the day before an interview with Brittany
Murphy. Actor Justin Long, one of her pals and her red- carpet
date for this year's MTV Movie Awards, has agreed to talk about
this young actress, who finds her star rising in three prominent
fall movies ("Sidewalks of New York," "Don't Say
a Word," "Riding in Cars With Boys").
But sitting on the patio at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, Long
becomes momentarily confused.
"First of all, she's very normal, she can act and she's
not a diva. I'm very protective of her. Both of our characters
are supposed to lose their virginity together, it was my first
Not that Britney, as in Britney Spears, with whom Justin has
just shot some of the pop star's first intimate on-screen scenes
for the 2002 release "What Are Friends For," this Brittany.
"You mean Brittany Murphy?" he asks, changing gears
but not his level of enthusiasm. "You feel like you know
her the minute you meet her because she is so present as an actor....We
were in the car together on the way to the MTV Movie Awards and
she talked about the media.
"She helped me with that. Because of the Britney thing,
it has been weird," said Long (whose credits include "Jeepers
Creepers" and the role of Warren on NBC's "Ed").
Which points up a larger issue about Murphy, whom most people
may remember as Winona Ryder's chicken-obsessed, suicidal roommate,
Daisy, in "Girl, Interrupted."
Recognition isn't always immediate. This may be because the 23-
year-old Edison, N.J., native has been gracefully coming of age
on screens large and small for 10 years.
A homemade song-and-dance act since the age of 2, Murphy discovered
"a kid's head shot on a corkboard in my dance class. And
I thought, 'Wow, there's a place you can go and be on TV?"'
By age 9 she was doing regional theater and musicals. "Finally
my mom caved when I was 12--it took five years of coercing--she
took me to New York to find a manager because that's where things
A manager in Manhattan led to pilot season in Los Angeles. On
her "13th audition for network" she landed in the Dabney
Coleman comedy "Drexell's Class." On television, she's
the voice of Luanne on Fox's animated "King of the Hill"--a
voice Murphy describes as "a mixture of Jessica Lange in
'Blue Sky' and Juliette Lewis in 'Kalifornia."'
Murphy's breakout film role as Tai in the mid-'90s teen trendsetter
tale "Clueless" correlates to her life in Hollywood
since she packed up her mom, Sharon, who raised her alone, and
moved out here for good in the early '90s.
The chic transformation her new-kid-on-the-block character underwent
in "Clueless" parallels Murphy's emerging glamour.
"Before, I didn't know how actors got to look so pretty.
They have stylists, hair and makeup [artists]. I look at old photos
from the Clueless premiere, and I look like a little meatball
on top of another meatball," she says.
Helping with her Hollywood make-over is best friend and confidant
Winona Ryder (who was recuperating from stomach flu in a London
hospital and unavailable for an interview).
"Noni has basically been through everything a zillion times
over. Something as simple as dressing classy in pictures, she'll
advise me on it.
"I have never said anything about it in print before, because
it's weird to talk about a friend. But she's really there for
me and my ultimate mentor."
In "Sidewalks of New York," director Edward Burns'
pastiche of New Yorkers' intertwined lives, Murphy plays Ashley,
a teenager caught in a dead-end romance with lecherous married
dentist Stanley Tucci. It's a sophisticated performance that reveals
edges of her real-life personality and reflects the adolescent-to-woman
transition still taking place although she is firmly in her 20s.
"I knew Brittany from 'Clueless.' Quite honestly, I couldn't
see [casting her] at first," actor-director Burns admits.
"Then I saw 'Girl, Interrupted' and a clip reel of some scenes.
Clearly this is an actress who can do anything.
"She's one of those talents that is a real chameleon. She
was able to be vulnerable without playing the victim--I don't
know how you do that, but she does. When we did a screening to
sell to distributors, I remember hearing the next day she had
two different offers from two studios."
A clip reel of Murphy's film work thus far would include her
turn as a "sport tart," in the current Freddie Prinze
Jr. baseball movie "Summer Catch," as well as performances
from earlier roles in "Freeway" (1996), "Drop Dead
Gorgeous" (1999) and last year's "Cherry Falls,"
in which she says she played "the girl with dark hair chased
by a drag-queen serial killer, which sounded like fun."
Murphy will also star as "a crystal meth head who is Mickey
Rourke's girlfriend," as she puts it, in "Spun"
(starring Jason Schwartzman) in 2002, the first feature directed
by Madonna-video wizard Jonas Akerlund.
"Don't Say a Word" director Gary Fleder ("Kiss
the Girls"), who cast Murphy as a hardened psychiatric patient
in need of some fast mental safecracking by Michael Douglas' desperate
shrink in the upcoming 20th Century Fox release, agreed with Burns'
assessment of Murphy's gift.
"Gift" is the operative word, because even she sums
up her skills in three words: no formal training.
This is "a performer," as Murphy dubs herself, who
grew up watching "'Crayon versus Crayon' ['Kramer vs. Kramer'],
that's what I called it," and idolizes an eclectic mix of
pop culture personalities from silent screen star Clara Bow to
Madonna and Lange.
"I would compare her to Edward Norton, they're both incredibly
smart, highly gifted actors who are very instinctual," Fleder
says. "I don't think I've ever seen her repeat herself on-screen.
And like Edward Norton, she can play a lead with ease, but also
do great character work.
"You can't predict who's going to be a star, no one can,
but she exudes so much humanity, I see her right up there."
Flattery aside, what is she doing that makes her star-worthy
enough to be nominated this year for Movieline's Young Hollywood
Awards as a superstar of tomorrow?
"You've seen her Gap ads, right?" Fleder offers. "And
she was on the cover of Maxim. Incredibly sexy, va-voom, but she
doesn't let it get in the way.
"Let me tell you a little story. We were casting a Janis
Joplin project ('A Piece of My Heart') that has been shelved because
of rights problems. Brittany came in to read for us. She said,
'Do you mind if I sing?'
"What was startling is that it was an interpretation of
'Me & Bobby McGee' with some of the same phrasing, but I had
never heard it sung like that. She floored me."
Although at 5 foot 3, Murphy may be more of a ringer for Edith
Piaf than Janis Joplin (though in fact Murphy did front a band
early in her career), there is a common thread to her performances:
the impending threat of emotional danger that is in some way ultimately
redemptive. The characters "are all using my tears and snot
and sweat and bruises, just in different contexts."
"There's probably 800 people living inside of here, so they
all pop out in different ways. It's like me, myself, and I and
Reconsidering, she adds, "Well, maybe there's more like
200 people in here. Obviously they look like me, the facial structure.
It's kind of like a ghost thing. I love changing my look."
For someone who never studied acting, Brittany has had to fashion
her inner and outer worlds to make sense of her craft, and not
just for the movies. She remade herself into a perfect 1950s Brooklyn
teenager in Arthur Miller's "View From a Bridge" in
1998, which received remarkable critical acclaim (in part because
it was overseen by Miller himself) from audiences and actors alike.
"There was one night when Julia Roberts was there, Tom Hanks
and his wife and Paul Newman had come and Joanne Woodward,"
she remembers from the run of the play at Broadway's Roundabout
In the audience, "all these people at different moments
or some time all together. I think that will help you get over
a fear of being star-struck very quickly."
For "Riding in Cars With Boys," the Drew Barrymore
movie that spans 30 years in a woman's life (Barrymore also executive
produces), what got Murphy the part was, oddly enough, the test
from Fleder's Joplin project, according to "Riding"
director Penny Marshall. "It was incredible."
At the moment, Marshall is riding around in cars with cell phones
because "she has no time," her assistant insists.
The key thing the director says is "she's so alive,"
as if that statement aptly describes whatever it is that Murphy
gives to the screen.
"I talked to Michael [Douglas] the other day," Marshall
continues. "In order to get in the mood, she will sing to
herself. She [Murphy] asked Michael, 'Does this bother you?' He
said no. But after a couple months, he said, 'Yes!"'
Marshall turns serious: "I don't like to compare [actors]
because that ruins their individuality. Did you know she can sing?
She's does 'Soldier Boy' a cappella in the movie. And I can tell
you this, she's on a roll.
"I think the chemistry between her and Drew is great,"
Marshall adds. "I saw that when we read them together. People
will get very hooked into the [sister] relationship."
Murphy thinks so too. "When I met Drew, it was like meeting
someone who speaks English in a foreign country. It was just an
immediate energy source.
"We both kind of put our hands up [and touched] and just
walked out of the door like that. You don't meet too many people
who complement your energy like that."
Working with Marshall, Murphy says, was "great. She's like
an aunt or something."
Summing up her experience in the movies thus far, Murphy offers
a final anecdote. "My cousin Bobby came to visit me. He owns
a construction company, Murphy Construction, Edison, N.J., a little
plug there. He came to visit, and we were on Hart's Island doing
'Don't Say a Word.' He'd never been on a film set before. He said,
'Wait a minute, you all live in trailers? Michael Douglas lives
in a trailer?"'
Murphy said she explained to her cousin that the life actors
lead is like "a bunch of gypsy travelers, no matter how famous
they are or anything. We're all of the same species."
Sounds like she has aced Fame 101.
Credit: Quendrith Johnson is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles