|Jennifer Tilly, All Dolled Up
||[Nov. 10th, 2004|08:24 am]
The Jacksonville Horror Fan Club
Jennifer Tilly, All Dolled Up|
By MICHAEL ROWE
"Originally, when Don Mancini wrote BRIDE OF CHUCKY with me in mind, the studios wanted someone from BAYWATCH, who was cheaper, if you can imagine such a thing!" says Jennifer Tilly indignantly. Then, an explosion of her signature laughter. "I fought tooth and nail not to be in it, because I had the idea that [horror movies] were what you did at the beginning of your career, or at the end of it—like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE."
But Tilly read the BRIDE script and, intrigued, went out for dinner in Bel Air with Mancini and producer David Kirschner, who told her that they’d gotten Ronny Yu to direct. Tilly had a boyfriend who had been a devotee of Hong Kong filmmaking before it became hot, so she knew Yu’s work, and signed on. The phenomenal success of BRIDE OF CHUCKY (which made $83 million-plus for Universal) is attributed in large part to her participation. "I loved the movie," she raves. "If I was to cite eight to 10 films of mine, BRIDE is one of my favorites, and it’s the one people recognize me from more than any." Tilly only spent five days on BRIDE, and assumed (reasonably) that if it had a spinoff, she would only be cast again as the voice of Chucky’s deadly-doll spouse Tiffany.
Mancini, however, had other ideas when he sat down to write his directorial debut, SEED OF CHUCKY (opening November 12 from Rogue Pictures). The new film begins some time after Tiffany gave birth in the graveyard to Chucky’s "seed." Their offspring has grown up in a Dickensian situation, working as a sideshow puppet for an unscrupulous charlatan ventriloquist, who passes off the doll’s ability to speak as his own voice-throwing skill. When the doll discovers that a movie is being made about the life of his parents, he has himself crated up and shipped to Hollywood, where he brings them back to life. Although Chucky and Tiffany are thrilled to be parents, their child’s ambiguous gender causes some stress at home. Chucky wants a boy (naming him Glen), Tiffany wants a girl (preferring the name Glenda), and Glen just wants to be himself.
"After the SCREAM movies, people began to understand the possibilities of self-referential humor in horror movies," Tilly notes. "But the thing is, Don loves horror movies. He really understands the genre, and what horror aficionados want, but he’s also got a wicked, wicked sense of humor."
In SEED OF CHUCKY, Tilly not only reprises her role as the voice of Chucky’s "bride," she also plays herself: Jennifer Tilly, an actress making a film about the murderous dolls of urban legend. She soon finds herself stalked not only by Chucky and Tiffany, but also by their anatomically ambivalent, gender-confused offspring. "At first, when Don told me I was going to play myself, I said, ‘Please make me a psycho bitch from hell!" Mancini joyfully complied, unleashing a leopard-coated, scarlet-nailed, push-up bra-supported diva. Perhaps not the "real" Jennifer Tilly, but like the Fembots that stalked Austin Powers, busty, leggy, deadly—and fun to play. Having committed herself to this process, Tilly was unsparing of her vanity when she made suggestions to Mancini. "When I played [the voice of] Tiffany," she recalls, "at one point the doll is trying to drag my body up the stairs. She’s huffing and puffing, and she looks down at my body and says, ‘Fuck, she’s fat,’ and Chucky says, ‘This is the worst part about being a doll, when you have to move the bodies!’ And Tiffany says, ‘What are you complaining about? I’ve got the fat one.’ "
Nor was the mixed blessing of playing an exaggerated version of herself visited exclusively on Tilly; rapper Redman co-stars as "Redman," a hiphop star turned director whom Tilly is more than happy to sleep with in her quest for a role in his Biblical epic. "There’s a plot point where I announce to Redman that I’m pregnant, and he says, ‘It isn’t mine, I had a vasectomy.’ He’s playing himself too, and he’s like, ‘I don’t want my homies to think I had a vasectomy!’ "
Tilly, an Academy Award-nominated actress (for Woody Allen’s BULLETS OVER BROADWAY) as well as a sterling indie icon, found the opportunity to send herself up to be completely intoxicating. "I’m really lucky in that I’ve never been offered the sort of roles that are submitted to Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon," she deadpans. "It’s this really weird groove that you get in. For some reason, there isn’t much cross-pollination between the major motion pictures and the indie films. But I’m very, very lucky in terms of the independents. I get sent lots and lots of scripts, and I can tell the difference between a good one and a bad one. Also, it’s good that I don’t really need the money.
"I love money, though," she adds slyly. "I’ve actually done a few really terrible movies because I have a jewelry addiction. I actually did one just because of some jewelry I wanted. I’ve lived pretty hand-to-mouth, but in a very extravagant way. My jeweler called me up and said, ‘Jennifer! Jennifer! We just got in a whole lot of David Webb jewelry!’ I said, ‘I’ll be right over!’ I started making piles. I had this little mountain of it.’ " Tilly suddenly realized two things: She had no money, but she had a check coming in the following week. "I said, ‘Can you wait until then?’ The jeweler said, ‘Sure, Jennifer, we know you’re good for it.’ On the way home I started crying. I suddenly realized that when that check came in, I needed it to live on!’ "
Tilly called her manager on her car phone and asked if there was anything in the pipeline. He told her that there was a movie he’d passed on four times, but that the amount—however much lower than her usual rate—came to the exact total of her jewelry bill. "Divine intervention," Tilly says sagely. "It’s a movie I don’t think will ever come out, but I run around in lingerie and murder people. I’m a Colombian drug runner with cleavage who kills people with her thighs," she says, laughing.
It seems inevitable, though, that the sheer accumulation of talent behind BRIDE OF CHUCKY and SEED OF CHUCKY would elevate the films to a level Freddy or Jason will never know. The energy and talent of two Oscar contenders (Chucky performer Brad Dourif got a nod for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST) voicing the dolls has created, for all intents and purposes, two characters to whom fans relate as something other than mere puppets. For the voice-recording session of Tiffany’s death in BRIDE, Mancini put Dourif and Tilly in the same booth so they could overlap, and ad-lib the dolls’ voices.
"When Tiffany died, I looked at Brad and he had tears in his eyes, and I had tears in my eyes. It’s interesting—you identify with the little creatures," Tilly says gently, and perhaps not without some wonder. "Chucky has gone from being this horrible little scary thing that jumps out of a closet to being someone people can relate to. People put up with so much—the guy on the freeway cuts you off, the guy in the 7-Eleven is rude to you. We take so much shit every day, and Chucky doesn’t take it, except from Tiffany. People can relate to that, too. He’s kind of pussywhipped. They’re like the Bickersons. They have a real squabbly relationship, but they’re bound together. And in this one, they have a family."