We all know Jennifer Beals from Flashdance — she with the off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. Now starring in Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming's new film The Anniversary Party, the Yale graduate told me a little secret over lunch on Wednesday.
She was nearly cast as Scully on The X Files when David Duchovny — whom she knew at Yale — recommended her for the part.
"They asked me to do that show," Beals said. "But I didn't get it. I still don't get it. With all due respect for the fans, I couldn't imagine doing it every day. I mean, I think their acting is very good, but I couldn't do it. To adhere yourself to a part for seven years like that, I would have a nervous breakdown. I've never seen the show. But I think Gillian Anderson is amazing, and so beautiful."
Beals — who's just a knockout at 38, with flawless skin and big brown eyes — cast a spell over Duchovny when they first met.
"He used to follow me around and ask me for dates," she says. I used to say, A) I don't know who you are. And B) I'm living with someone, so I think that's a problem. And then I go to this acting class in New York and who's in it? David 'the stalker' Duchovny!" she laughs. "I shouldn't call him a stalker. Then he and I became scene partners, and then we became friends! He's a very funny guy!"
Beals was cast in the mega hit Flashdance during the second week of her freshman year at Yale in 1982 — and wound up deferring college until the spring of '83. She finally graduated, but before she was done she married indie director Alexandre Rockwell. They split in 1996 after 10 years, but amicably, she says. "Our biggest problem was dividing up the ER tapes."
She's married now to a carpenter who has teenage kids. They live north of Los Angeles,and spend part of their time in Vancouver, British Columbia, but any more information is not forthcoming.
"He's asked me not to talk about him and I respect his wishes," she explains. "He's a very nice guy!"
She does tell me that her stepdaughter's favorite actor is Haley Joel Osment.
These days Beals is also getting ready to produce films. She's gotten bestselling mystery writer Walter Moseley to write a script based on an idea they cooked up.
"It's called Inside Job and the two main characters are women," Beals says. Fox Searchlight, a cousin of Foxnews.com, may put up the money. "We've been talking to them and they sound serious," she says.
She's also become an accomplished photographer, taking black-and-white pictures of the Anniversary Party cast and publishing them in Movieline and InStyle. She self-published a limited-edition book for the cast and crew, and may now shop the project to a commercial publisher. It's that good.
Jeannette Walls, my always astute colleague at msnbc.com, seems to have been fed misinfo. But I can't blame her. Someone out there is desperate to get Helen Hunt a boyfriend. I suspect the matchmaker involved is her agent, manager, or publicist.
Walls reported yesterday that Oscar winner Helen — by now completely divorced from Birdcage/Simpsons actor Hank Azaria — was frantically trying to arrange a date with actor Skipp Sudduth, one of the firemen in NBC's Third Watch. The unnamed source said Helen was calling this poor Skipp eight times a day even though he wasn't a 'hunk'.
Somehow forgotten in this item was the fact that Sudduth is an old friend of Hunt's, and no boyfriend at all. He appeared on stage with her at Lincoln Center's Twelfth Night two summers ago, in a limited run.
Subsequently he was cast in one of the cameos in the seventh season opener of Mad About You, at Hunt's request. Also, what would appear to be a deal-breaker in this purported romance: Hunt lives in L.A., Sudduth in New York. These two crazy kids don't have a chance!
Solos amigos as we used to say in 7th grade Spanish class. Prior to this was the ludicrous Hunt/Kevin Spacey rumor, also generated by a publicist somewhere.
Didn't this stuff go out with the Dark Ages? I mean, why bother? Spacey and Hunt worked together on the movie Pay It Forward and got to be close friends, as happens on movie sets. I remember last fall they requested tickets to one of the World Series games. A source who helped them pointed out to me, "They needed four tickets, they each had a friend with them." Some date, huh?
Perhaps the most extraordinary people I have met in fifteen or more years of interviews are the Holocaust survivors featured in the film The Last Days. The 1999 documentary, edited and directed by James Moll, won the Academy Award. It's a remarkable film.
By coincidence, The Last Days turned up on HBO Plus two nights ago, and I watched it, through tears, to the end. If you haven't seen it, you must. It can be rented or purchased at any good video store, or through Amazon.com. I urge you to take a look at it as soon as possible. The stories of these five people who managed to live through Hitler's final solution at Auschwitz help put our own lives and problems in perspective.
Herewith, the article I wrote for The New York Observer on February 4, 1999:
Irene Zisblatt didn't tell her children until they were thirteen and eleven years old, respectively, that she was a Holocaust survivor.
"I didn't want to place that burden on them," she says at the premiere of The Last Days, James Moll's emotionally wrenching documentary about the final year of World War II at the Auschwitz concentration camp. "And my son is still in denial," she says, pointing out forty one year old Mark.
"Still?" a reporter asks.
"Until tonight," Irene replies.
"Or tomorrow," says Mark, who has just seen his mother relive the Holocaust on film at the Plaza Theatre prior to a dessert and coffee reception at the Plaza Hotel.
Irene — a 68 year old blonde Czech — is one of five people, all of whom eventually emigrated to America in 1947-48, who through faith, luck and determination lived through the history's single greatest horror.
The others are Tom Lantos, 71, a tall, white-haired 10-term Congressman from San Francisco; Renee Firestone, 74, a round faced, cherubic lecturer with the Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles; Alice Lok Cahana, 70, an introspective, taciturn Houston artist; and Bill Basch, 72, a gregarious Los Angeles businessman.
Each one was filmed originally by Steven Spielberg's Shoah foundation to have their memories preserved on film. Later, thanks to a $3.2 million donation from the Kenneth and Ethel Lipper Foundation, director Moll was able to fashion a film out of the 50,000 individual interviews. He focused on the last group to whom Hitler turned his attention in the waning days of the war — Hungarian Jews.
They are five strangers who have been thrown together by destiny, sort of The Real World: Auschwitz.
"Each of us has individual experiences," says Bill, "but cumulatively they have a power." Except for Bill and Renee, who have a history through the garment district, none of them knew each other until the film project. All of them have stories to tell, but Irene's is certainly the one most will remember from The Last Days.
"My mother gave me five little diamonds when we were separated at the camp," she says. "To use if I needed to trade for something."
In the film she recalls how she hid the gems in her mouth during inspections. Whenever the soldiers checked the mouths of the prisoners for gold fillings, Irene would swallow her diamonds and retrieve them later from her own excrement. Today they are mounted on a silver teardrop pin which she wears on a thin chain around her neck.
Someone at the table where Irene, Renee, Bill and Alice sit says, "The diamond pin is to The Last Days what the Heart of the Ocean was to Titanic — only for real and with honest emotion."
"I never thought of that," says Irene. "That's right."
As survivors, they have power. Renee, who breaks into a ready smile, has been working for the Shoah Foundation since it started in 1994. She is no pushover.
On film, she calmly questions Dr. Munch, the acquitted Nazi war criminal who performed chilling experiments on her beloved sister Klara. Everyone who sees the film wonders how she doesn't leap the chance to attack him.
"It's not about fighting," she says sweetly. "It's about closure."
"I recognized him," Irene says with a shiver, "when I saw the first cut of the movie. The doctor. We called him The Bloodsucker. How do I know? In December 1944 we were on the tables, being experimented on. They were taking our blood, Jewish blood, and sending it to the German front. I can still remember the bodies, they were like zombies."
The group, which is in accord on most matters, is split on one thing: Robert Benigni's much-praised movie, Life is Beautiful.
Rep. Lantos says, "I thought it was brilliant. It's a fable, after all, and much of history has been communicated that way."
Renee vehemently disagrees and a debate is sparked at the table.
"It's not that it makes the Holocaust a joke," she says, "but it could never have happened, hiding a child in the camp. He should have gone into hiding in Italy with the little boy. That would have been better."
Bill Basch, who remembers Auschwitz acutely ("Hunger is an awesome pain," he says as trays of petit-four pass by) shakes his head. "There is comedy in life," he responds. "I was very moved."
Today, Renee, a former fashion designer ("my picture was once in every window of Macy's) turned tolerance lecturer, is pen-pals with a skinhead currently incarcerated in Texarkana.
"It's a tight facility," she says with grandmotherly calm.
Irene has written a book — "like Elie Wiesel's Night" — and is looking for a publisher. Bill lectures. Alice, red-haired and careful, is a respected artist, which is how Spielberg found her.
"He was walking through the Houston Holocaust Museum with a stroller, in his baseball cap, and he saw my work," she says very quietly. This week she will mark her 70th birthday. "I never thought I'd live to 17," she says, "forget seventy."
In the film, she revisits the camp and recalls leading prayers in the latrine. "It was the one place the soldiers wouldn't come in because the smell was so terrible."
See Roger Friedman on Fox News Channel's Entertainment Coast to Coast Saturday and Sunday this weekend. Check local listings.