Combustible Celluloid

Interview: Brittany Murphy

Getting Down 'Uptown'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Note: Brittany Murphy died on December 20, 2009 at age 32. The following is my 2003 interview with her, published in the San Francisco Examiner. She was a delightful person and I very much enjoyed my brief conversation with her. She will be missed...

Clearly Brittany Murphy's heart is much too big for her to be alone; she prefers to surround herself with friends and loved ones to help absorb all that warmth. During a recent visit to San Francisco she not only brought along Marley Shelton (Sugar & Spice), her co-star in the upcoming film Uptown Girls, but also her mom and her best friend.

Moreover, she nearly burst into tears when discussing her other co-star, 9 year-old Dakota Fanning. "I wish she were here! Then we'd have a leader," she says. Apparently, Fanning taught Murphy and other cast and crew members how to knit and pearl, and even called and sent thank-you notes to everyone on the last day of shooting.

"She is a ray of sunshine. She just absolutely makes everyone's day," says Murphy.

In Uptown Girls, which opens in Bay Area theaters on August 15, Murphy plays Molly Gunn, a rock star's orphaned daughter who has been living on a generous trust fund for 22 years and has never worked a day in her life. When the trust fund suddenly collapses, she's forced to get a job. Her best friend (Shelton) lands her a position as a nanny for a rich, spoiled, very adult, cynical little girl, Ray Schleine (Fanning).

It's a fairly typical opposites-attract kind of story, but the performances, the gentle direction by Boaz Yakin (Fresh) and the beautiful New York cinematography by legendary Michael Ballhaus pull it together.

Of Ballhaus (The Marriage of Maria Braun, GoodFellas) Murphy says, "he's an absolute genius. He comes to work every day with suspenders and a smile."

Shelton agrees. "Tell an actress she's going to be shot by Michael Ballhaus, and it's 'sign me up!' That was one of the major reasons I was excited about doing Uptown Girls."

In addition, Murphy found herself reunited with her old Clueless co-star Donald Faison. "He brings life and charm and charisma to any scene," she says. "He's a good soul. It was like a reunion. We picked up exactly where we left off."

Shelton joins in, praising Faison as a morale booster. "We'd be shooting these club scenes in the middle of the day, which look a lot more fun than they actually are. You're in a nightclub. It's hot, and you've got hundreds of people crammed in this little space. And Donald would get up on stage with this burst of energy. He's so funny. He got everyone laughing."

Murphy's unabashed adoration for everyone who worked on Uptown Girls does not stop at two-legged friends. In the film, Molly has a pet pig, whom she must give away when her fortunes fall. Fortunately, little Ray takes a shine to the little porker and adopts him.

In real life, Murphy says, there were two pigs. "They were precious and darling to work with! They were played by two piggies named Softy and Springer. One did all the drama, the other did all the comedy. They hailed from a farm in New Jersey and they were raised for the film."

In the first part of the film, Murphy's character lives in an expensive hotel room. The production designer's job was to load it up with furniture, clothes, decorations and things that a real 22 year-old daughter of a rock star would own.

"I walked into that space and felt at home immediately," Murphy says. "Everything was miniaturized so that things would appear larger. It was ingeniously designed."

Shelton liked it too. "I stole a rug from her living room. It was this gorgeous Asian rug. The production designer gave it to me after we wrapped."

Though she has already acted in more than 25 movies and TV shows, Murphy has always loved music. She not only studied ballet for 10 years but has also written songs all her life. "I call them rants. I write in this funny ranting form," she says.

She describes her musical tastes as 'eclectic" and rattles off a corresponding list of her first four concerts: Run-DMC with the Fat Boys, the Rat Pack reunion tour, Al Jarreau and Barbra Streisand.

Shelton laughs, impressed. "My first dorky concert? Amy Grant."

Now Murphy plans to turn singer and will record her first album this November. "I'm really excited," she says. "It's something I have to do and have wanted to do for a long time."

Speaking of music, Shelton and Murphy share one thing in common in Uptown Girls -- they both blow their noses and make honking noises.

"I had to do looping (recording sound in the studio after principal photography is completed) for that," Shelton says. "And the director wanted me to make my honk longer than Brit's honk. And Brit's honk was so long!"

"We're both very klutzy," Murphy laughs. "I really do blow my nose like that!"

August 4, 2003

Partial Brittany Murphy Filmography:
Clueless (1995)
Freeway (1996)
Bongwater (1997)
Drive (1997)
"King of the Hill" (TV series, 1997-2009) [voice]
Phoenix (1998)
The Prophecy II (1998)
Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Cherry Falls (2000)
Trixie (2000)
Don't Say a Word (2001)
Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)
Sidewalks of New York (2001)
Summer Catch (2001)
8 Mile (2002)
Spun (2002)
Good Boy! (2003) [voice]
Just Married (2003)
Uptown Girls (2003)
Little Black Book (2004)
Neverwas (2005)
Sin City (2005)
Happy Feet (2006) [voice]
The Dead Girl (2006)
Love and Other Disasters (2006)
The Groomsmen (2006)
The Ramen Girl (2008)
Across the Hall (2009)

Movies Unlimtied