By: Dave ItzkoffBrittany Murphy has made a career out of playing adorablepsychos and lovable lowlifes, but after co-starring with Eminem in8 Mile, she’s going to be maniacally sought after inHollywood. Clearly, there’s a method behind her madness
Crazy insane, or insane crazy? Brittany Murphy has played ’em all, from a laxative-addicted obsessive-compulsive in Girl, Interrupted to a catatonic head case in Don’t Say a Word. A little bit of lunacy, it seems, must complement the genius of the 25-year-old actress, whose shrewd career choices and memorable performances have carried her a long way from her film breakthrough as Alicia Silverstone’s makeover beneficiary in the teensploitation classic Clueless. But the offscreen Murphy is no sociopath, just an endearingly quirky Jersey girl who describes people as “exquisite” or “a work of art” and who’s prone to bursting into song or spontaneous laughter midconversation. So she should feel right at home opposite Eminem in 8 Mile as Alex, the troubled girlfriend and sometime muse for Slim Shady’s alter ego, Jimmy. But was there more between her and His Eminence than the steamy onscreen love scenes? Like her character said in those damn-near ubiquitous TV commercials for Don’t Say a Word, she’ll never teee-eeelll.
Spin: Magazines have been calling you the actress who’s about to break through for almost five years now–
Brittany Murphy: [Starts laughing]
–is that frustrating for you?
Not even a little bit. I’ve always unintentionally had blinders on when it came to media frenzies. I’ve never really consideredmyself part of that universe. I feel more like Alice in Wonderland, having been dropped into an unknown world. Recently, I’ve heardpeople speak about me more often, but I feel like I’m more an observer than a participant.
You’ve spent the last few months in New York City, shooting [your next film] Molly Gunn. Were people starting to treat youdifferently?
Well, I did notice that there were a lot of paparazzi photographing me while we were filming on the streets. So I’d vamp it upfor them–I’d give them a couple of my best glam poses–and then it was back to the scene. There’s a camera in front of me all the timeanyway, so the more the merrier–bring ’em on, baby! If you like to perform, why not perform for more people?
In the long run, would you say the commercials for Don’t Say a Word helped or hindered your career?
I thought they were great! That line–the kooky-dooky “I’ll never tell”–was an improvisation. I didn’t expect it to become acatchphrase. Now people quote that line back to me all the time. At least it put “Rollin’ With My Homies” [the Coolio song she madefamous in Clueless] in its grave, but now I’ve got to come up with something else to replace it.
Have you noticed that the performances you’re best remembered for all have a streak of madness to them?
Some of them have, but it’s not like people are looking for me to be the crazy girl. Of the four films I have coming out, in one Iplay half of a newlywed couple; in another I’m the daughter of a rock legend; in 8 Mile I play a girl who is just desperately yearningto get out of her crummy surroundings; and in another I’m a stripper who’s a crystal-meth addict. That’s a lot of variety.
Prior to making 8 Mile, were you an Eminem fan?
I’ve been living out of my suitcase for about six years, as a gypsy traveler, and when you’re in unusual locations, it’s difficult tokeep your finger on the pulse. I’m the perfect person to be a jury member, because I’m so out of the loop sometimes. So when [8 Mile]was still called The Untitled Detroit Project, I received the script, but I had basically missed the entire rise of Eminem. I knowyou’d have to be living in a closet to have not heard of him.
As a woman, were you offended by any of his lyrics?
It takes a whole heck of a lot to shock me. You’re talking to a female whose male influences were mostly gay men, so I’m notoffended by them. His music’s hysterical–there’s nothing off-putting. The fact that people can’t find the humor in it blows mymind. Lord! Here’s a dollar–go out and buy yourself a sense of humor.
How can we be sure that 8 Mile will be a more authentic hip-hop film than [Vanilla Ice’s] Cool as Ice?
There was music playing on the set pretty much all the time–the whole film was propelled by it. Just having Marshall [Mathers] there,witnessing all the music in him and his battles, that was our soundtrack. [Director] Curtis [Hanson] conducted a very professionalenvironment, but Marshall was the heart of it. Looking back upon it, I realize what a vulnerable state he must have been in, to have torevisit a life that he knew years ago.
What role does your character play in the film?
Alex is a stepping stone for Jimmy, Marshall’s character, someone who gives fuel to his fire. She sees something within him thatnobody else does, that he doesn’t even see within himself. It’s the idea of these young people trying to overcome their situations,and his character epitomizes that.
Excuse me, but at what point in the process did you feel comfortable calling Eminem “Marshall”?
When I first met him he introduced himself to me as Marshall, and I introduced myself as Brittany, and that’s how we referred toeach other. A lot of people around the set called him “Em,” but I didn’t–it’s like calling Madonna “Ma.” From my experience, I meta man named Marshall, and that’s who I worked with.
Have you gotten tired of people asking you whether the two of you were dating?
Yes! Next question!
That’s your stock response?
Well, this is the first time it came up today. The man probably has one ounce of privacy left. We became very close during thefilming of the movie, and I feel blessed to have met him.
I’m more concerned about when you and Justin Timberlake are going to get back together.
[Laughs] I don’t know, I can’t think about that right now. We’ll always be good friends, and he has his solo album to worry about,but I am singing backup on it. Me, Nicky Hilton, and Martha Stewart.
There was, at one point, a film version of Janis Joplin’s life in which you were going to star. Is that still in the works?
I love Janis more than there are words to describe, but I think she is the executive producer, studio head, writer, and castingdirector for the film–her spirit runs rampant around the whole project. She will dictate if and when and with whom her story is goingto be told. But it would be my greatest acting dream to play Janis.
I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but according to all the available scientific research, your signature is considered to beas valuable as Tom Hanks’ or Matt Damon’s.
That’s so cool. I’m honored just to be in the same sentence.
Well, don’t get a big head because Alyssa Milano’s autograph is still worth more than yours.
[Laughs] God bless her.