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Interview: Brittany Murphy (The Dead Girl)

What a strange bit of untimely news this morning. Who dies of a heart attack at age 32? Makes no sense. The above news headline isn’t a case of bad taste — I’ve decided to re-publish a Brittany Murphy interview we had on the site, which I had completely forgot that we had, but it serves as a reminder that the actress, known for bubbly roles as Jameson mentions in his intro below, and as of late, had some back to back films that went the direct to video route, should also be remembered for taking on some difficult, challenging indie parts as in Karen Moncrieff’s film.

What a strange bit of untimely news this morning. Who dies of a heart attack at age 32? Makes no sense. The above news headline isn’t a case of bad taste — I’ve decided to re-publish a Brittany Murphy interview we had on the site, which I had completely forgot that we had, but it serves as a reminder that the actress, known for bubbly roles as Jameson mentions in his intro below, and as of late, had some back to back films that went the direct to video route, should also be remembered for taking on some difficult, challenging indie parts as in Karen Moncrieff’s film. Looking at our own database and double checking with the IMDB, Brittany Murphy was working on several projects, including a small part in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables — where we’ll ponder on whether or not her scenes will make the film’s final cut? ThePlaylist pointed out that her scenes were deleted in post, but she won’t be deleted from the collective moviegoing public’s memory with the legions of Clueless fans that are out there. Here is our interview that we published in late 2006.

Brittany Murphy has a knack for balancing her career between mainstream films like Little Black Book and Uptown Girls, and more independently-minded films like Freeway, Spun and Drop Dead Gorgeous. Her role as Krista, a volatile but full of life young woman whose wayward path of drugs and prostitution lands her as the title character in director Karen Moncrieff’s (Blue car) sophomore film outing, The Dead Girl, falls into the latter category (and in my opinion is Murphy’s best performance to date).

It’s hard to find someone in any demographic who hasn’t seen Brittany Murphy in a film that they liked, and rightfully so because she’s been all over the map. She’s done comedies and indie flicks (like the ones mentioned above), children’s films (Good Boy!, Happy Feet), she was in Sin City, Clueless, Girl, Interrupted, and was the voice of a character on the underrated animated series ‘King of the Hill.’

In person, Murphy is friendly and outgoing. She laughs and smiles a lot during the interview, and manages to brighten the atmosphere of the small, crowded room everyone participating in the roundtable interview has been packed into for the past five and a half hours (the running behind schedule Murphy may be partly responsible for, as the PR person has to practically drag her out of the room at the interview’s conclusion). But once she’s there it’s hard not to smile along with her. Below is a transcript of the interview.

Question: Kerry Washington told us you taught her how to smoke.
Brittany Murphy: That is true.

Q: Was she a good student
BM: You saw the film, what did you think?

Q: I think she did a good job.
BM: She did okay, I think [it fit] her character she showed me. We met for dinner because of the short preparation time. How Karen wanted Kerry and I to rehearse was just to familiarize ourselves with each other, and we met for dinner and she was telling me okay, you know… and I had to be chain-smoking for the role, so I had to learn how to do that. And she taught me how to curse. So… I’m kidding [laughs].

Q: We’re gullible. Were you attached to this role from the beginning?
BM: I was the second person attached to the film. Second or third. After Giovanni.

Q: And what about it attracted you to it?
BM: Karen asked me to be a part of it, and I was a huge fan of her first film Blue car, I loved the honesty and truth and rawness of that film, and I was really intrigued that she was doing another picture, read it, thought I was reading a psychological thriller, [I mean] it’s called The Dead Girl. And it started reading like a psychological thriller, the first act, but then after getting past ‘The Stranger’ and moving on to ‘The Sister,’ they say the journey is the destination, and I appreciated that it really was true with this because all I did while I was trying to figure out who did this, which character, I just started not to care, I just became completely engrossed in the lives of – in being a voyeur in the lives of these really richly written characters with so many layers and so much depth, and how highly unusual that is to see so many of them in one script. And I really just adored the script. And so I met with Karen and heard her vision and what she was going to do with it and then I signed on to be part of it.

Q: How did Karen pitch the idea to you? The whole film leads up to the audience meeting your character, how did she present this character to you and what ideas did you bring to it?
BM: We just had a Q and A the other day and neither of us could remember because it happened so quick. I wish I could be more specific about it, I have said this before and I’m sorry to be redundant, I am very visceral when it comes to choosing material or characters choosing me, me choosing them, but when I know I want to… my job is strange. My job is to believe I’m someone else more hours of the day that I am myself. That’s a really weird job, okay. So one wants to make sure while one is doing that, you are… first of all, I like make sure I’m a part of the story that is imperative to be told or extraordinarily entertaining, and the older I get, the more particular I am about that. Then, who’s telling the story, through what eyes, aka Karen’s. Then okay, who is this person I am going to be? And does that make sense for me. And immediately when it comes to characters, when the story is something I’d love to be a part of, I always [get] this very visceral feeling and I always just connect and know. And when Karen also told me she thought of me because of the information she had received and the work that I had done prior, in other, different films, and her being a juror and how she came about the project, I also felt there was a sort of responsibility to Krista’s life, because she was a real person.

Q: Was there a particular line or element of the script that helped you to figure out who Krista was?
BM: It was very evident to me, I don’t know how else to…. I did ask Karen a lot of questions… ‘How would you like her to sound? Exactly what kind of drugs is she on? And how much of them?’ She’s bi-polar Karen told me, she’s self-medicating. Well, I figured she’s self-medicating, so I spoke with some counselors and had them break down exactly the types of drugs that Karen told me Krista was on, and break down what the chemical reaction in a human being’s body would be. And these reactions are absolutely atrocious. And that’s why she behaved so mercurially. Just what it depletes one’s body of is so sad and tragic. And also she was a chain-smoker, and I asked her how she always envisioned her sounding, and she said kind of gravelly, and I did her voice and she said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly like that.’ So okay, I’ll keep that. [laughs] Karen and I had a really easy shorthand.

Q: What drugs was Krista on?
BM: Crack.

Q: Did you do any other research?
BM: That was the research, what I explained to you. That and I spoke with some recovered – did I explain this already? I spoke with some recovered addict, I spoke with a counselor or two, and then… I like to keep my resources private, I like to respect their privacy. And then… people really helped explain things to me, and then I saw some footage and that helped. But really the breakdown of the chemical composition was the biggest help. And as far as everything in life, sorry to be so broad about the question, but it really does cover everything, for me, everything in life is a learning experience, everything. This is. Whether we choose to make it one or now, everything can be.

Q: There’s this sense of inevitability in the film, since we know from the beginning what happens to Krista, this impending doom. Did this influence your portrayal of her?
BM: Interestingly enough – that was a good question, a really good question. Interestingly enough, there was no foreboding feeling, because she didn’t have a foreboding feeling of her [death]. Not how I saw it or felt it, I didn’t feel she had a foreboding feeling of her death. I will say though, that if you saw Girl, Interrupted, that was one experience where a character killed herself, Daisy killed herself. But how we shot that film was, Daisy’s death, completely backwards to the first scenes in the film. So I actually did shoot, in Girl, Interrupted, just Daisy, and they blocked me at a certain period of time and just shot me out in three weeks. And they shot her completely from her death to the beginning of the story. And that helped me a lot in understanding who she was. So I have had that experience before, and I didn’t have that here because Krista loved life so much, so she was very much, they say ‘live in the moment,’ she was very much about the second, or maybe the millisecond.

Q: You portray a character who is living through a very tragic sort of lifestyle of drugs and prostitution, but you look so great and beautiful on film. Do you ever worry about inadvertently glamorizing this kind of lifestyle?
BM: No, I would hope the very, very opposite. If I’m ever a part of something like this, it would be to – I mean this film particularly – to help be a very small part of… a small part of the very large message, much larger than any of us involved, that violence is wrong, and atrocious. And so many people’s lives in this film, every character’s life was changed by this violent act that occurred. And why can’t we just notice things instead? Why do we have to have something that tragic happen to kick us in the rear, to actually make life-altering decisions for the best, to better ourselves? I don’t understand that, and I wish more people would. And I think we should all start trying. And I think this is a great message as far as stopping violence or at least helping garner awareness.

Q: How was working with Karen different from working with other directors?
BM: She is quite obviously, seeing the film, a chameleon when it comes to actors. There’s such a broad cast and how she changed her… it wasn’t the Karen way. Karen molded to each person she worked with, as opposed to the people molding to Karen’s way, which was really fantastic, yet also very strong in herself, very grounded. And she had the utmost respect from everyone in the crew. And still ran the show, yet still adapted to all these different styles of acting, people, egos, you name it. I think that’s miraculous. And never lost her cool, and this is one of the happiest sets I’ve ever set foot on in my life, and it was definitely not light fare. And people were there because they wanted to be. And from costume designers, to hair and makeup, to the actors, to our whole entire crew, I mean the grips, the cinematographer, everyone had the opportunity to be the artist that they are. And Karen allowed everyone to be creatively rewarded, and allowed us all – us meaning myself and the crew and the other actors – to be able to express our own art, and did not ever try to stifle that. And that’s a great feeling, people need that, artists need that to [replenish themselves]. Everyone felt very free there, and that allowed for a very happy place, because no one felt stifled.

Q: Going forward, are you trying to balance the bigger budget films like Sin City with independent work like this film?
BM: For me it’s extraordinarily important to be a part of films that have messages that as an artist I can help communicate, and messages that I find important, because that is what I do. So if I’m going to try and be a part of getting the point across, I think I should stick to my job and do it that way. The next film I’m working on is The White Hotel and I’m really excited, and that is a film that has a very large message behind it. And hopefully it will help make people extraordinarily aware of how wrong genocide is.

First Look Pictures release Karen Moncrieff’s The Dead Girl exclusively on December 29th with a wide release coming on January 19th.

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