Kiss of the Dragon : Interview With Bridget Fonda

It's a sunny July afternoon in Los Angeles and Bridget Fonda is curled up on a sofa at The Four Seasons hotel and proudly showing off her latest cuts and bruises. No, they're not the result of getting knocked about in her new film, Kiss of the Dragon (2001), a fast-paced martial arts thriller in which she stars as a junkie-prostitute opposite Jet Li. They're actually gardening injuries, more about which later.

Dressed casually in a dark blue skirt and top, and wearing a minimum of make-up, the 37-year-old actress looks far younger than her years, and exudes a healthy, California glow. But looks can be deceiving, for Bridget has a secret affliction. "I don't know how to say this," she begins to explain in a mock-serious tone, "but I suffer from the dreaded 'S' disease - meaning that everything I do seems to have an 'S' in the title. "

Fonda, the consummate actress, may be slightly exaggerating here, but it's easy to see what she means. She made Single White Female (1992) and Singles (1992) - that's two 'S's' and two 'Single's' for good measure. And before those were Scandal (1989), and Shag (1989) and Strapless (1989). Then there was Specialist, the (1994), Simple Plan, a (1998) and South of Heaven, West of Hell (2001) directed by boyfriend and country singer Dwight Yoakam. Now there's Kiss of the Dragon (2001), to be followed by Whole Shebang, the (2000). Of course, she's starred in films that don't begin or end with an 'S. ' She made her movie debut in 1988's Aria (1987), and has also co-starred in Godfather Part III, The (1990) and Doc Hollywood (1991). ' Still, it seems to be the 'S' movies that always dominate.

There also seems to be no getting away from her famous last name and all that it implies. Granddaughter of Henry Fonda, and daughter of Easy Rider (1969) star Peter Fonda, Bridget Fonda represents the third generation of the famous acting clan, and she's only too aware of the responsibilities of living up to that name.

Here, she talks about her new film, boyfriend Dwight, why she's avoided marriage and motherhood so far, and the joys of gardening.

Is it true that Luc Besson was so secretive about 'Kiss' that, like Woody Allen, he only gave you a couple of pages of the script initially?

Yes, which is a bit strange (laughs).

Why was he so secretive?

I think he's secretive about all his projects, and I'm not sure why. I think the French press really hound him, so he's very protective about his work, and I don't blame him

What appealed to you about Jessica?

Well, when he first came to me it was just the promise of what might be a great part, as it hadn't been written yet. He basically told me, 'I got together with Jet Li and we want to do an action picture set in Paris, and Tcheky Karyo is the bad guy, and this girl is a junkie/hooker. '

Did you go, 'Oh my God,' or 'This sounds interesting'?

I had already decided it sounded good going in. When I heard Luc Besson and Jet Li, it sounded kind of exciting to me. So when I got there and he told me it was this junkie/hooker role and that she was really a part of it, I knew firsthand how great his female characters are and so I was really into it. And then he gave me two pages to read and I really liked her, just based on that, but it didn't tell me much. But I said yeah.

How close are you to Jessica? Are there any points where your lives intersect?

Daily fighting a depression. Daily trying not to deal with something that is there but you don't want to face it. So it's this strange thing that Luc gave me about this, when I was first starting, before it started to affect me.

Because when you first start it's, 'Wow, everything is exciting,' and you are exploring it and then after a while it kind of starts to come back onto you. So I was trying to figure out, how does this person function with all of these things? How does she get through a day?

Because there was a logic problem that I was having with how this person could survive, as I would have lost it. I would have not made it. And Luc said she is a survivor, completely a survivor. She survives out of necessity and the way that she does that is that she does not look past three feet in front of her, because to do that would be to lose it, to fall apart and to realize that you have no hope, you can't hope because you are afraid to hope because it seems hopeless. He gave me that and that gave me something that sounded true. It just rang true, I thought. I buy that, because I'm pretty critical.

One of the things I love about acting is it's like anthropology. There are certain things about human nature that are true and almost anything goes, there's no wrong answer because people do weird stuff all the time. The only thing you have to know is how you got there. And if you can figure that out then it's not fake. I have to feel authentic. If I don't feel authentic then I'm miserable.

Jessica's a streetwalker and her life is pretty sordid. Do you walk away from your characters when you hear 'CUT!'

No, I take it home. She got into me a lot. I found myself walking the streets. .. (Laughs) no. She got under my skin. I felt so sad. I felt the same thing but on a smaller scale that she felt, which was that I did not want to deal with how dark it can get.

And for some reason, and this happens to me a lot, when you do these characters your life starts to mirror the life, or what happens is that the situation that you are playing forces you to look at your own issues in life with a different pair of eyes and you tend to look for the things, because that is what you are gearing yourself toward.

You look at yourself through those same eyes and you naturally out of necessity tend to pull up the areas that are common and let them fester and become sort of dominant.

So did you have any fun in Paris?

Not when you are depressed like that. Everyone said, oh great, you are going to be working in Paris. I said,'yeah I can't wait to go back when I'm not working and really enjoy myself,' Because it was exciting and it was beautiful and at the same time I was just not in the mood, most of the time.

There aren't many great roles for women, apart from young action hero types. How tough is it today to maintain a career if you're 30-something?

What has happened in the past couple of years is that I've had stuff, I've done things that haven't come out and I have had stuff that fell apart. I've had four projects that didn't wind up happening, that I put some time and effort into as I thought I was going to do them.

You must be very disappointed.

No, because that has always happened. That's kind of normal. You know, it's by the grace of God that things get made. There's so much money that has to go into it that it's very hard for people to get behind something. Not hard for me, I have the easy part. I just go, 'oh that sounds kind of good, yeah'.

As an actress you spend your whole professional life pretending to be other people. What's the real Bridget Fonda like?

A little bit of all of them. That's the thing, is it me losing myself in other characters or is it me taking the parts of myself that are like those other characters and examining them?

It allows you to do that without any price to pay.

Yeah. What it feels like is an exercise in compassion. And that is what I like best about it. I feel like I'm arguing a case for somebody. This is the case that I'm going to argue for this junkie/hooker. Or this is the case I'm going to argue for this other person who just wants to be loved or this other person who may be a real jerk but is fun. Pitch an argument for a reason to either like someone who is despicable or someone who seems really perfect but isn't.

What's a typical day at home like when you're not working?

I love hanging out with my friends. I love gardening. I sliced myself so bad here with rose clippers. (She shows flesh wounds and blood).

Maybe you shouldn't be in a garden.

I know. This is my first major gardening accident. I must say everything else has been a poke, a thorn, a splinter.

Do you have a green thumb?

Kind of.

What do you like to grow? Flowers or vegetables?

All of it. I was in there with the rose garden. I also have fruit trees and of course it's the season to grow tomatoes and now that I'm back, because I was gone, I want to grow melons, little sugarbaby melons, I'm so excited.

So that takes all of your time because gardening is very time consuming.

It really is. It's fun, it's great. I came back and immediately I go down and I'm examing and, 'Oh my God, my apples have some kind of black scab on them and what is this and this tree is doing really well, and so on. ' I try to train this one to go a different way and I thin the fruit on that.

Do you live alone?


Is Dwight Yoakam still your boyfriend?

Yes, I've been dating Dwight for three years now.

So do you want to get married and settle down?

Um, yeah, but for some reason I just can't seem to do it. Well, obviously not. (laughs) Somebody said the people who don't get married are can't get married people. This was somebody's theory. And so I thought I must be a can't.

Are you frightened of it?

Never been married. Close calls, but no, never.

Who walked away in the end, you or them?

So far it has been me. It doesn't seem right. Can't envision it. I don't know.

Are you happy with Dwight?

I am.

So that seems fine.

It does.

But you don't want to go the whole way?

Well, I don't know. That sort of, well, what's around the corner and I don't . .. .. (she trails off)

Are you that kind of personality?

What's around the corner? A maybe person?

Well, there is something about acting as well, you can keep changing roles, keep pursuing new things.

Oh, you mean chronic dating? (laughs)

No, not chronic, that was your word. You said around the corner, maybe that is something that keeps you going.

Maybe, I don't know. I figure if I did think about it and I worried it would have already happened.

Do you ever want to have kids?

I don't know. I always thought that I did, but I don't have that thing that some of my friends have, that I have to have a baby now. I'm like, oh yeah I'd like to have a family, but I don't have the thing that is like the fuse is lit. The alarm clock hasn't gone off so far, and I think it is because I'm immature. Emotionally? Probably. I'm a late bloomer type. I'm one of those.

They say a lot of actors are immature emotionally at heart.

I totally would not be surprised. (laughs hard)

After all, it's a life of dress up, you go off on location.

It's a life of pathological lying. You do actually have responsibilities, some people don't. But to set it straight, there are some people who escape responsibility, but I am a worrier, so I am not one of those people. I am the person who is away calling, did you do this, ok. .. on and on. How are the tomatoes?

Have you ever had your heart broken?

Yes. Several times.

Well, that probably did it. Never again.

No. I don't know. I feel like I wish I could turn this into something decisive, but frankly. .. .

What is your biggest extravagance in life now?

My house and my garden. I have a house with a big yard in LA which means that I have to earn money to keep it, which means. .. I've always been able to walk away if I don't want to take a job and so right now I have to weigh how much do I want the house or how much can I bear to take a job that I don't like. And so far I haven't had to worry. But this is a big thing for me.

What drives you mad?

Passive aggressive people make me insane.

You've probably come across quite a few.

I do, but a lot of the time I have a natural tendency to elicit from people just like, ' it's ok, just say what you think. I'm not going to get mad, I'm not going to freak out.' What bothers me is when people pussyfoot around because I am not good at reading between the lines or knowing the thing that is unspoken. 'What? What? I don't know! I can't see it! You have to tell me!' I'm bad about that stuff.

Is it true you turned down Ally McBeal?

Not really. It's one of those things where I was approached if I might be interested and I wasn't interested in doing tv at the time. So it's not the same thing as what people would like to say. I didn't really know what it is. I love David E Kelley, but I've turned down a few things to do for television because I'm not ready to nail myself down to one thing for however many years you have to sign on for.

You must have had some low points in your life?

Low, yeah. I'm pretty good naturally at not staying in a depressed way for too long and the times that I have stayed for too long in a depressed way I think I don't know how people could do it, I'd lose my mind. So I wind up kind of finding a natural way to get out of it. I've had a few and sometimes they have been for reasons that I don't understand.

Do you talk to Jane much, or ask her advice?

Not in a long time. I have. Usually I've found that it is very seldom that I seek advice outside because I pretty much always know that I have to make the answer. I have people that I play devil's advocate with and that is how I kind of can find out how I feel about something, by arguing for or against something and how do I come out the other side. And that is a wearying place to be in. But I have asked her advice before, about dealing with press, which was a long time ago. And she really helped me.

Do you still feel the pressure of the family name to succeed?

No, if I blow it I blow it. Pressure is when you are afraid of failing and I figure, I used to put pressure on myself and now I just sort of feel, who cares? (laughs)

Author : FeatsPress