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Bridget Fonda Articles - Mirabella

Born to be Wild - by Frank DiGiacomo

What's a good girl like Bridget Fonda doing in a bad-girl role with Quentin Tarantino? Having the time of her life.

Quentin Tarantino calls it the Shark Smile. Bridget Fonda flashes it about an hour into our conversation at the Two Sisters Restaurant in the Mojave Desert, where she if filming her next movie. The Shark Smile is largely about teeth. Fonda’s are not only remarkably straight and white, but inexplicably sharp-looking, and when they are displayed in the context of a smile, an unmistakable transformation occurs. Polite, shy Bridget Fonda becomes, for a moment, seductively dangerous.

I get the Shark Smile when I mention her appearance on a recent cover of Entertainment Weekly. She and her co-stars from Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s upcoming adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, had posed in character of magazine’s fall-movie preview. Fonda, who plays a pothead beach bunny named Melanie, wore long blond locks, cut-off shots, and a pneumatic bikini top that had many of her fans wondering whether she had succumbed to a bout of Aunt Jane envy.

Fonda laughs. The teeth flash. Tanned and with henna tinted hair, she looks nothing like the composite image I have formed from her films. "Isn’t that wild?" she says. "And to think it’s just my head on Ann-Margret’s body! All I can say to that is, go to the movie and take a good look."

There is something about Bridget Fonda that has always made her worth watching—her ability to keep that dark-and-racy side submerged beneath an eminently accessible, slightly vulnerable, girl-next-door sexiness. Even when the movie is falling apart around her (and frankly, there have been a few—remember Leather Jackets?), you can’t take your eyes off Bridget. Come Christmas, when Jackie Brown hits the multiplexes, Fonda followers will pay closer attention than usual, to see if a role in a Tarantino movie can do for her what it did for John Travolta or Uma Thurman—add her name to Hollywood’s A-list.

To those who might be inclined to keep an eye on her bikini, Quentin Tarantino reacts with his frenetic, machine-gun laugh: "No, Bridget didn’t get a breast job. … Actually, she has a great body, man," he says. "It was funny because people on the movie were like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bridget this overtly sexy before. She’s just all legs and arms and teeth and hair. She’s like this big, blond cat."

Tarantino speaks with great affection about his friend Fonda. The director is also tight with her longtime beau, Eric Stoltz, he of the big-ass hypodermic-needle scene in Pulp Fiction. "Bridget is what I refer to as a dude chick," Tarantino says. "She’s a chick you can hang with like you can hang with a dude." Her qualifications for this honorific include a strong sense of humor, a rare passion for the Three Stooges—especially Shemp—and an ability to discuss movies "better than most directors" can.

Beyond her being a dude chick and an authentic California girl, there was something else that prompted Tarantino to give the part of Melanie to Fonda three months before he had finished the screenplay. "I’ve always felt that there was a performance in Bridget that she hasn’t given," he says. "I wanted to be able to bring out that wild, cunning side that I felt was bubbling underneath her work."

That potential is only hinted at in what is probably her career-defining role: Allison Jones in Single White Female. Fonda’s character is introduced as a pushover, but ends up outwitting her psycho-killer roommate, first with a suggestive kiss, and ultimately, by planting a screwdriver into her back.

"There’s something about somebody who’s really good and innocent. You kind of want to see them go home and get fucked," Fonda says. "I don’t mean because you want to see them get punished. It’s just that you want to see the turn . . . where there’s someone who seems to be one way, and then you see they actually have the other thing in them, as well. I think it’s very sexy."

Unfortunately, with her recent spate of nice-girl roles in largely forgettable films like It Could Happen To You and City Hall, Fonda has not had much of an opportunity to "turn."

"The thing is," Tarantino says, "Bridget is Peter Fond’s daughter. And that’s a side of her that we haven’t seen in a movie."

He is referring, of course, to the on- and offscreen ethos of Peter Fonda in 1969’s Easy Rider or 1974’s Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. But Bridget Fonda does not exactly give the impression that she is the spiritual daughter of Captain America.

Her parents divorced when she was seven, and Bridget and her younger brother lived mostly with their mother, Susan Brewer, in Los Angeles. But she managed to remain close to her father.

"We still go out and gab quite a bit about everything from cartoons to embarrassing situations," she says of their relationship.

Peter Fonda, who is enjoying something of a Travolta-like resurgence himself following his quietly devastating performance in last summer’s Ulee’s Gold, sounds botproud and protective when he talks about this thrity-three-year-old daughter. He disputes, for instance, that she has a Shark Smile, insisting it is more like Bugs Bunny’s. He says that he and Bridget share a similar sense of humor and approach to life—which is admittedly peculiar.

One time, he recalls, he phoned Bridget at the home she shares with Stoltz, and got the answering machine. In the background, he could hear the couple’s German-shepherd puppy yelping. So he left a chorus of barks as his message. It is now the official family greeting.

Despite this seemingly wholesome connection between Fonda père et fille, Bridget contends, "I definitely have the bad seed in me. I just have a nice little flower garden around it."

And it is precisely this bad seed that Tarantino has tried to let blossom in Jackie Brown. "Im not a nice girl," she says of her character. "It was fun to just go for it." One night before filming began, Fonda says, she dressed in a Melanie-style outfit of short-shorts, skintight T-shirt, and six-inch platform heels, grabbed a friend, and headed to a pool hall, where she did not shy away from shots that required her to lean way over the table.

"I was like, Okay, how far can I go without being molested in the parking lot?"

Conversation comes easy with Fonda—our small talk ranges from E. coli bacteria to Dashiell Hammett to her beloved Stooges—but getting her to discuss Eric Stoltz is a lost cause. When I asked how long they have been together, she fidgets before replying, "For a while. But I won’t talk about Eric. Not a peep. I always feel bad, but I’m realizing more and more that there is certain things you’ve got to keep for yourself.

It is the polite declaration of a woman born famous, to one of America’s most revered acting dynasties, who has learned that her life does not have to be lived entirely in public. And those who have worked with Fonda say that she has a healthy perspective on the vagaries of fame.

"She doesn’t have that Demi Moore disease where you are out promoting yourself day and night. She prefers to keep a lower profile," says Paul Schrader, who directed Fonda in Touch. "She’s an impressive girl. Particularly given the fact that, with her lineage, on might expect someone less based in reality."

She is not, for instance, a staple on the premiere circuit, where actors who aren’t in the movie try to upstage those who are. "I don’t like that whole thing," she says. "It’s sort of shameful. It’s the embarrassing part of being a celebrity. It’s the part that makes you a joke."

But if Jackie Brown delivers stardom to last, her reaction will be worth nothing. Ask her if she wants it, and her answer is direct: "Do I want to be harassed in every supermarket that I go to for the rest f my life? No!" she says. "Do I want to have first crack at all the really great parts? Yesss!"

Fonda stares across the table. Her pale-green eyes look like highly polished exotic stones. "How old are you?" she asks.

"Thirty-five," I say.

"So, you know," she says. "When you get to be thirty, a couple of things happen. One, you haven’t achieved your goals and you’re frustrated. Or two, you’ve been so focused on what you were doing that you’ve forgotten about your goals and then you [hit thirthy] and suddenly you remember, Oh shit, I had all the goals and I didn’t reach nary a one. And that’s sort of where I was."

Fonda, for her part, thought that she would "be a mom by now," and image that she admits is based on the fact that her mother was in her twenties when Bridget was born. "I thought, Thank God I didn’t have kids when I was twenty-three. What a mess. I was a nightmare. Still kind of am, but at least I have this sense of responsibility."

I tell Fonda it’s hard to believe she was ever a nightmare.

"I was a normal nice person then, too," she replies. "But it doesn’t mean I was ready to breed.

"I look at it his way: I’m selfish, but I want to have the Big Adventure, which is, you know, procreating," she continues. "That’s undeniably got to be the biggest. What we were born to do." As for the Big Professional Adventure, Fonda says she hasn’t yet made her Grapes of Wrath. It is interesting that her standard is the film for which her grandfather Henry is most remembered, but, she insists, "I use it loosely and almost as a joke,"

In some ways, Fonda seems to have prepared herself for the possibility that her Grapes of Wrath may never come along, but even if it doesn’t, that would hardly detract from a substantial body of work. She is now filming her twenty-seventh feature in ten-year (Break Up) and has worked with some cinema’s most respected directors, including Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Part III), Bernardo Bertolucci (Little Buddha), John Badham (Point of No Return), and Alan Parker (The Road To Vellville)—although never, it seems, in their best work.

When Fonda had her thirties epiphany, she says, "I was able to look at what was on my plate for each different film, and I thought, If you’re actually earning a living doing something that you love and you feel creatively fulfilled, that’s not bad."

Of course, there are always lessons to be learned from disillusionment. Earlier this year, Fonda was laid up in bed with nasty flu and began what she calls "the most outrageous depression I think I’d felt in a long, long time."

This deep-blue period led to a conversation with her mother. "I said, ‘I’m having that thing happen where the quality of light outside makes you weep.’ " Fonda sounds emotional even as she recounts this. "I don’t know what it was but it just did me in. It was beautiful and it made me so depressed."

Mom understood completely. "She said, ‘Oh God, Bidget, you get that from me. It’s that thing that happens to you at a certain time in life when you realize that life isn’t going to happen to you. It’s not for you to discover. You have to actually make you life.’ "

So life is work. Here at the Two Sisters, Fonda smiles at the revelation that she come to her in the forth decade of her life. It is not a Shark Smile that surfaces, but one that says she refuses to take herself too seriously. There is time to have the Big Adventure, make her Grapes of Wrath—Henry didn’t make his till he was thirty-five—but right now, Bridget Fonda is operating without an agenda. Jackie Brown may change all that, but, as she says, "I’m just caught up in living life."