Film Reviews

The Who, What and Wow of Geena Davis

If there is a normal career path for Academy Award-winning actresses, Geena Davis certainly isn't following it.

Prior to being Oscarized in March for her performance in The Accidental Tourist as a dog trainer at the Meow Bow Animal Hospital who is in love with a reluctant travel writer, Davis' best-known film roles were a libidinous vampire (Transylvania 6-5000), a woman in love with a 170-pound insect (The Fly), and a young, dead homemaker (Beetlejuice).

If you think Davis' first post-victory release is bound to stick more closely to convention, you must be thinking of some other actress. Opening June 2 is the musical-comedy campfest Earth Girls Are Easy, wherein Davis plays a Valley girl manicurist who finds a spaceship in her swimming pool, then beds the hairy bright-blue alien on board.

With these roles in mind, interviewers hardly know what to expect while awaiting Davis' arrival at a Beverly Hills hotel. What they get is a six-foot dazzler--all legs, neck and cheekbones--clad in a striped, navy-and-cream mini-outfit and red alligator loafers . . . a sweet (but not Hollywood-sticky) woman-child whose hobbies include cartooning, taking 3-D photos, dreaming up inventions and going to the movies (she's seen Pee-wee's Big Adventure twenty times) . . . and an actress who admits she isn't "far from type"--but who cheerfully points out that, unlike her character in The Fly, "I have never given birth to a giant maggot."

These are the kinds of things celebrity interviewers like to clear up.
"I get the parts I do because there's something of them in me," Davis explains. "I guess I'm a little offbeat and off-center, and I'm attracted to parts that have sort of a heightened reality to them. Some actors might look at those scripts and say, `What the heck is this?' But to me they've seemed unique and innovative, and the directors had their own vision of things. So I plunge in without any idea of how it will turn out."

So far, they've turned out quite well --with the exception of the horror-movie spoof Transylvania 6-5000. But even that pitch-black cloud was not without a silver lining: While making it, Davis met actor Jeff Goldblum, who is now her husband and favorite co-star. In addition to fathering Davis' bouncing baby larva in The Fly, Goldblum plays the day-glo spaceling so pleased to discover that Earth Girls Are Easy.

Contrary to appearances, Davis swears she and Goldblum do not actively seek projects in which "I'm always the normal one going, `Wow!'" In fact, they're hot to team in "a romantic comedy that doesn't involve aliens, insects or special effects. I mean, we don't want to become the Lunt and Fontanne of science fiction."

If that were to happen, however, you suspect Davis really wouldn't mind.
"I love working with Jeff. On anything. We have a very similar take on things, and we spark each other's imagination. It gets very intense. At five in the morning, we'll still be going over the script: `What's happening here? How should we play it? How does it all fit together?' That stuff is endlessly fascinating to us."

Lest anyone get the impression the Goldblums are too serious about their work, Davis is quick to add that "we also find time to have fun. On The Fly, while Jeff was spending five hours a day being transformed into a bug, we read books out loud to each other."

One of the tomes was The Accidental Tourist. The actress remembers telling her husband, "If they ever make a movie out of this, whoever gets cast as Muriel is gonna be really lucky."

Davis was really lucky, even though some overly protective fans believe she wasn't lucky enough. Among them was film critic Roger Ebert, who attacked the Oscar dolers for putting Davis in the supporting, rather than lead actress, category. But Davis didn't agree. "I definitely felt I was in the right category," she says. "After all, the film is about a guy whose life is shared by two women of equal importance and weight. I always felt I was working in support of him."

A smaller, juicier controversy surrounding The Accidental Tourist came from news reports saying, in essence, that Davis hated William Hurt's lousy, stinking, fly-specked guts. Well, forget it.

"That was all made up!" she cries. "Jeff worked with Bill on The Big Chill, so we were friends going into the film. I felt really bad about that. I was afraid Bill would hear about it and think I'd actually said those things. But then I figured he's been doing this long enough to know how the machinery works."

Since no lawsuits have been filed, she must have figured correctly.
Born in Massachusetts 29 years ago, Davis has wanted to be an actress "forever. I used to put on plays with my girlfriend in her basement and force her mother to watch us screech and run around with bedspreads on our heads and stuff. I knew then, `This is what I want to do.'"

After starting a career as a model, Davis landed a small part--and a smaller wardrobe--in Tootsie, as the actress who shares Dustin Hoffman's dressing room. Within a few years she was appearing on TV's Buffalo Bill (for which she wrote an episode) and, briefly, her own, failed sitcom, Sara. And now, of course, she's an Oscar-winning actress with a new movie to promote.

Correction: an almost new movie.
Shot by British director Julian Temple (Absolute Beginners), Earth Girls Are Easy was completed in 1987, before Davis began work on The Accidental Tourist. The film's release was delayed by the financial demise of its original producer, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, and the subsequent search for a new distributor.

"I'm so glad it's finally opening," Davis says. "Jeff and I really like it--it's hip and funny and cute. Maybe it's just as well it's coming out now. All this Oscar stuff might help it."

Davis appears to be making her singing debut in the film (with a number entitled "The Ground You Walk On"), an assumption that's backed up by the credits. But the actress isn't so sure. "I recorded the song," she says, "but it doesn't really sound like me. Someone said it's a `blended version' of me, and I don't know what that means. So I can't claim that's me on the soundtrack."

Davis is equally unsure as to what her Oscar means career-wise--but she's "real interested to find out. It's still too early to tell. What I hope is that they offer me every single part there is."

One part she was offered--and accepted--was in the bank-heist farce Quick Change, where she'll join Bill Murray and Randy Quaid. Another comedy, based on Davis' own story idea, is under development at Warner Bros. If it ever reaches the get-go stage, she'll star and produce.

If not?
"I don't know," Davis says. "I don't have any kind of strategy mapped out. I just wait around for scripts that make me say, `Oh, wow! This is cool!' I'm really at the mercy of the next great script that comes along."

In her next breath, Davis admits she's also at the mercy of familial urgings. "Jeff and I would really like to have some kids," she says before correcting herself. "Actually, we're not thinking so much of having children as what we're going to name them. I'm really hooked on Jasper and Sophia, but I think Jeff has settled on Boomer."

Boomer Goldblum. How appropriate. Sounds like a character in a Geena Davis movie.