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SHEEDY, ALLY:High Art

SHADED BY FAME
In a role that she describes as very close to her heart, Ally Sheedy makes a movie comeback in Lisa Cholodenko's High Art, about a cynical and wasted art photographer contemplating a comeback of her own. In this, her only Australian interview, Sheedy talks to PAUL FISCHER while at the Sundance Film Festival.

In a smoky bar in the foothills of Utah, former teen success story Ally Sheedy, has discovered a new lease of life - at least professionally speaking. The Sundance Film Festival selected to showcase her latest film, High Art - the first she was proud of in years.

"To be finally taken seriously is such a relief at my age,"

Sheedy has changed a lot since The Breakfast Club: thinner, older, a mother of one and definitely wiser. Now 37, Sheedy is amazed that she survived the brat pack era to revive her career. "To be finally taken seriously is such a relief at my age," Sheedy says laughingly. Her career was once on full steam, with roles in box office hits such as Wargames, Bad Boys, Oxford Blues, St Elmo's Fire, Short Circuit, Maid to Order, Betsy's Wedding and Only the Lonely, to her credit.

Over 40 films later, Sheedy confesses that her agents eventually gave up on her. "I don't know what happened, but they actually fired me, can you believe that? It was a tough time." But Sheedy willingly virtually disappeared from the public arena, except for appearances in a few lackluster projects. Then out of the blue, along came High Art, and her life changed dramatically.

"He found me and called me."

"An agent I knew read the script, and he thought Lucy was a perfect character for me to play. So he found me and called me." Sheedy had no agent, living in New York with her theatre-producer husband, and was, technically out of the loop. Ironically, High Art's writer/director Lisa Cholodenko was not familiar with Sheedy's work, "which was probably how I got the role," she says smilingly.

High Art tells of ambitious photography magazine associate editor Syd (Radha Mitchell) who has a ho-hum relationship with James (Gabriel Mann). Investigating a ceiling leak, she enters the apartment of her neighbour, retired photographer Lucy Berliner (Sheedy), who lives with former Fassbinder actress Greta (Patricia Clarkson), a heroin addict. The friendship between the worldly Lucy and the naive, insecure Syd ripens into an affair, one destined to change the lives of both women.

"I'm not as tragic as she is"

Sheedy feels that Lucy is the one character she's ever played that closest to her. "I just identified completely with Lucy, with her emotional life and what's become important to her, which is her world that she's living in, and also, that she got a lot of attention and fame at one point and just walked away from it because it was destroying her." In some ways, she admits reflectively, her own life has mirrored that of Lucy. "I'm not as tragic as she is, but I could understand what it was like to have it all, and then leave it all."

The similarities between the actress and her character continually resonate in High Art. While Sheedy dropped out of the movie scene ten years ago, her character Lucy drops out of the art scene a decade before the film’s story takes place. While Sheedy battled an addiction to prescription painkillers her character Lucy fights a heroin addiction. Sheedy stops short of spelling out the likenesses, although she acknowledges it did contain echoes of her own life. "There are obvious parallels that I can draw, her emotional life and the way that she thinks, the choices that she's made in her life, all of it made sense to me," she said. "There was nothing that I felt, you know, oh God, how am I going to do this or how I am going to do that. It was just like if someone could see me, and see what's in here, and let me audition, this part is so much me. I was just worried about getting past the outside reception."

Her audition won the role, and the role has rejuvenated her career.

At the centre of High Art, is a powerful love story between two very different women, one of whom is played by Australia’s Radha Mitchell. "She's really hot," Sheedy exclaims. "In every way possible, and immensely talented. It wasn't hard imagining being with her, let me tell you." Doing the love scenes didn't prove as confronting as one might think, Sheedy adds. "We had so much chemistry. It's just there! You know, there was nothing to worry about. Also, they weren't just sex scenes. They were two women lying in bed, and it could happen, but you didn't know if it was going to happen. There was that tension going on. It was more about an emotional journey, and then it was over. There was no gratuitous sex."

"I was just begging for this role"

High Art inadvertently may have changed Sheedy's life, but it was not a calculated move on her part. Hollywood turned its back on her, and she in turn, turned her back on the industry; she had no doubt that would continue, even after doing this film. "I didn't want to be back in the industry again. I didn't know that this movie would ever see the light of day. I mean, I've done a bunch of independent movies that haven't. I was just floored that it got into Sundance, and then it got into Cannes. There's no way to know that going in, so it was not a calculated move at all on my part. I mean, I was just begging for this role, just to play it. Then as far as doing press and being out in the public, I'm doing it specifically because the distributors of this movie asked me to. Having my picture in magazines and doing interviews, it's not a position I am comfortable with at all."

That was how she felt even back at the height of her fame - in the 80s, where she ruled as an elite member of the former brat pack. These days, she prefers to distance herself from it all. "At the time, it didn't really mean anything to me personally. But when I look back on it now, I think that at that time this wave of success had turned into a negative thing. I remember just trying to figure out, now how did I get from wanting to be a very good actor, to suddenly being in this media created group? How am I supposed to get out of this now? I was really kind of trapped."

It all ended up being less about acting, and more about image; and the roles, the ones she wanted, never really came her way. "I felt I had to get out. I was just extremely unhappy, and I couldn't do the parts that were coming my way. Then at a certain point, there weren't any parts coming my way. So I was supposed to be going out and fighting for parts that I thought were just worthless, really. It can be really wonderful, you know, and it's also really difficult, the whole world of it. Being an actor invites a lot of rejection and a lot of hardship into your life."

"The dog wants to be Jane Fonda"

Sheedy didn't, however, turn her back on acting. She returned to the theatre, lived in Chicago and became "utterly fulfilled." Her life has turned around. The addiction she has now is motherhood. Sheedy lives in New York and says she will return to movies that she wants to do for herself. She's also finishing work on her first novel. It's about a dog that wants to be a movie star, and strange as it might seem, the little pooch is somewhat symbolic of Sheedy's perceptions of movie stardom. "What the story is really about is a dog who does not want just the dog parts in movies. The dog wants to be Jane Fonda. I mean the dog speaks, she's smart, and she's a good actress, so why should she be typecast as a dog, just because she's furry and has four legs? You know, it's demeaning to have to just roll over and bark, and look cute. She wants a real career...I get to make fun of my own convictions."

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