From the time movie audiences discovered the charms and
talent of Penelope Ann Miller in films as diverse as Kindergarten
Cop and Carlito's Way, stardom seemed assured for the young star.
While it hasn't quite come her way, she doesn't seem to mind, as
she explains to Paul Fischer in Los Angeles, from the set of her
latest movie, The Family Bloom.
There was a time when beautiful screen newcomer Penelope Ann
Miller was the next biggest thing to shake up Hollywood. Remember
her as the kindergarten teacher on the run in Kindergarten Cop or
as the love interest in the romantic tragedy Carlito's Way or
Gregory Peck's shrewd daughter trying to outwit Danny DeVito in
Other People's Money? Sexy, illuminating and always eye-catching,
Miller seemed a shoe-in for Hollywood stardom. Yet when
interviewed back in 1990, she classified herself then as 'the
natural love interest. I'm the girl they go home to. I don't mind
it, but I'm not really part of the action, and that can be really
frustrating.' But she has no regrets. "No, I have been happy
with the parts I've done.. I always try and make the characters
that I play, no matter what they are, as real as
multi-dimensional as possible."
"I have been happy
with the parts I've done"
That includes the evolutionary biologist she plays in the
monster flick The Relic, whom she sees "as a very strong
female character" in an often used genre. In the movie,
Miller teams up with a cynical cop (Tom Sizemore) to solve a
series of gruesome murders that have taken place within the dark
confines of a Chicago museum. "One of the reasons I chose to
DO this, was because playing an action hero in an action film, is
very new for me. I also liked that she was a strong character
that WASN'T a love interest, damsel in distress or victim, but
the fact that she really IS the one who really gets to save the
day and be a smart, intelligent, independent woman."
"One of the reasons I
chose to DO this, was because playing an action hero in an
action film, is very new for me." on her role in The Relic
Playing a scientist in a rather unusual area, meant that
Miller had her research work cut out for her. "I had my own
technical adviser who helped me pronounce these words I had to
say, which I couldn't even pronounce myself", she admits
laughingly. "But in the beginning of the shoot, when we were
in Chicago, I did the tour of the museum that is not for public
access, which is a staggering 95%. So it was fascinating for ME
to go into the alcoholic storage room seeing these dozens of
specimens of creatures in jars of alcohol."
"I thought it was cool
being kissed by Al Pacino, but this is something else," on being licked by the creature in
The Relic is, however, a horror movie whose aim is to scare
the pants of audiences. Miller had no trouble expressing that
fear in playing this character. "I tend to get scared pretty
easily, so that was a piece of cake; I didn't have to work hard
at getting scared, let me tell you. Having said that, my
character is pretty cynical and doesn't scare easily, but then
when this creature is rampant running around killing people in
the museum, things change very quickly, which is when all the
elements of fear tend to come pretty naturally to me."
There's one choice moment in the film when she is required to be
licked by the creature. It remains a memorable moment for the
actress. "I thought it was cool being kissed by Al Pacino,
but this is something else", she quips.
"I don't think
audiences would have seen a creature like this before."
On screen monsters have been scaring movie audiences since the
birth of cinema, and more recently there have been the Alien
movies and of course the recent Species. So given the fact that
audiences are very picky about what they see, one wonders what
makes The Relic unique. "I don't think audiences would have
seen a creature like this before. It's a case of a DNA experiment
running amuck. The way the creature is depicted is fascinating
and quite frightening, I think."
While Miller's latest film may scare audiences, she went from
horror back to comedy, in the low-budget independent film Little
City, in which she stars opposite the likes of Jon Bon Jovi and
Annabella Sciorra. "It's a really lovely film, very
character-driven, set in San Francisco, and it was a joy to
do." Indeed she sees independent, more character-driven
films as the way of the future "as is evidenced by much of
what comes out of Europe and Australia." Though the money is
not as hefty, there are other rewards in doing these smaller
films. "I get so much more out of it and get I feel that I
actually sink my teeth into a character."
"I really do have to
carry the movie, which is such an awesome
her role in Family Bloom
When we spoke, Miller was shooting her current film, the
independently-produced Family Bloom, which is actually being
executive produced by Australia's own REP films. "It's about
a woman coming into her own. I play this woman who's raising her
brother's children, because his wife died five years ago, and
she's taken over as this kind of surrogate mother. As a result,
she's given up HER independent life, all of which changes when
the brother falls in love, and her own future changes as a
result." Miller sees this as an enormous challenge
"because I really do have to carry the movie which is such
an awesome responsibility."
The Relic opens nationally this week; Little City and Bloom
will be released later this year.