Combustible Celluloid
 

Interview with Gretchen Mol

The Golden Page

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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The lovely, svelte, blond Gretchen Mol may not look exactly like the voluptuous brunette Bettie Page, but Mol understands the pinup legend from within. Both are polite, well-bred small town girls who moved to New York and found themselves thrust upon the entertainment world.

Born in 1972, in Deep River, Connecticut, Mol studied musical theater and famously found her big break, "discovered" while working as a coat check girl. Two years later, her picture splashed across the cover of Vanity Fair, she was acting opposite Matt Damon in Rounders.

Mol has worked steadily since, but not so much in the limelight. Now her performance as the title role in The Notorious Bettie Page (opening Friday in Bay Area theaters) allows her to truly show off her acting chops.

For research, she looked at existing Bettie Page material, a series of short fetish films (called "loops") and photographs, as well as a few radio interviews.

"I love the loops! I couldn't take my eyes off of them," Mol says during a recent trip to San Francisco. "It was five minutes dedicated to the art of the shoe, and putting the shoe on -- but first the stocking. It was so geisha. There was something so presentational. Bettie was just lost in her own world, dancing around with this fringe bikini on, with this weird lamp on the side table."

After a time, Mol realized that the studying would only get her so far. "At a certain point I had to let it go and tap into the bigger quality, which was Bettie's joy and lack of self-consciousness and effervescent spirit."

The key came while shooting the first of the movie's nude scenes. Director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho) told Mol that nudity was "like a religion" to Page. "That's where I understood that the two co-existed in a way," Mol says. "That's what was fascinating: all these dichotomies, all these opposite things butting up against one another. I had to be comfortable not knowing all the answers."

She continues. "The interesting thing about Bettie Page that I discovered was to leave the mystery. She always retained a little mystery. Let there be some unknowns."

One of the movie's biggest unknowns came in recreating the famous Bunny Yeager photographs of naked Bettie posing with live leopards. Cat-lover Mol (who lives with her beloved feline Monkey) says she started off a little skittish, but kept getting braver and moving closer. "They were chained down, but that wouldn't have stopped one from turning its head around and taking a bite."

March 22, 2006

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