April 10, 2006

Naive no more, actress Mol takes on pinup Page

By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Call it a tale of two women: both
young and pretty and naive about a business that can chew up
starlets and spit them out fast.

The ladies are 1950s pinup model Bettie Page and modern-day
actress Gretchen Mol, who plays Page in a new movie, "The
Notorious Bettie Page," which debuts in theaters on April 14.
Their stories are similar in one respect. Both achieved soaring
fame before either was ready to handle it.

From 1949 to 1957, Page delighted men in scandalous photos
of her in lingerie and in bondage. She was among the first
Playboy centerfolds with a photo decorating a Christmas tree,
topless and smiling under her black hair, short bangs and Santa
hat. But when her pictures became the focus of a federal probe
into pornography, her work diminished and she soon quit.

Mol got her first big break as an actress in director Spike
Lee's 1996 film "Girl 6" and two years later at age 25, she
graced the cover of Vanity Fair magazine as, perhaps,
"Hollywood's next 'It' Girl?." But her subsequent movie,
"Rounders," flopped at box offices, and Mol's career suffered.

"I just didn't expect it to have the impact it did, and
that was where I was naive," Mol told Reuters. "At the same
time I'm happy ultimately for the experience because I'm

The comparison is apt because director Mary Harron portrays
Page as innocently unaware of her photos' impact. Moreover, the
film focuses on Page's pre-1957 life excluding later years when
she became a Christian crusader and a victim of mental illness.

Mol's career did not take off after the Vanity Fair cover
but unlike Page, she never quit. Her work has steadily
improved, and her portrayal of Bettie Page is winning raves
amid the mostly mixed comments for the film, overall.

Show business newspaper The Hollywood Reporter said Mol
"delivers a delightfully exuberant lead performance," while
rival Daily Variety wrote that she "is splendid to behold in
every stage of dress or undress."


Mol, now 32, was born and raised in Connecticut and moved
to New York as a teenager to study acting. After a job checking
coats, she landed the role in "Girl 6," then a job on TV's
"Spin City" and a bit part in thriller "Donnie Brasco."

In drama "Rounders," she acted opposite Matt Damon, but the
big-budget movie scored a paltry $23 million at domestic box
offices. Years of mostly low-budget films, stage and television
roles followed, but that proved positive for the actress.

Mol said that by honing her craft in non-Hollywood work
with directors such as Woody Allen ("Sweet and Lowdown"), she
learned how to separate the "show" of making movies from the
"business" of making and promoting them.

"It's nice to step back, and then you start to see where
your tastes (in parts) lie," she said.

The slender, attractive Mol now refers to herself as a
"working actress," meaning she'd rather be known for the
quality of her performance than for fame or celebrity.

Playing Bettie Page offered her the opportunity to portray
a sexual revolution icon in a movie that ultimately comments on
society's obsession and objectification of female beauty.

Mol also wanted to work with director Harron whose previous
two films, "I Shot Andy Warhol" and "American Psycho," took
what could have been standard psychological thrillers and
turned them into sharp social commentary.

"Gretchen was the ideal choice for Bettie because she had a
combination of innocence, exuberance and playfulness," Harron
said. "She is a wonderful actress and, of course, she also had
the physical beauty to bring off the part."


To be Bettie Page, Mol not only needed a good body, she had
to show it. More than that, the role required a certain comfort
about appearing nude before millions of people because Page's
attitude was, and still is, that the naked body is a beautiful

Publicity shy Page, 82, told the Los Angeles Times in a
rare interview that "when God created Adam and Eve, they were
stark naked." That sentiment is echoed throughout the film.

"I never really have had, at its core, an issue with nudity
in films except that I know when I think it's exploitative and
when I think it's beautiful," Mol said. "I trusted Mary ... and
I believed in (Bettie's) philosophy which is 'what's the harm
in it, what's the shame.'...Armed with that knowledge, and a
wig, I had to leave (any worries) behind."

Mol has blonde hair; Page is a dark brunette.

The next film for Mol "Puccini for Beginners" was made in a
similar vein. It is the comic tale of a lesbian whose sexuality
faces a challenge when she begins sleeping with a man.

"I wish I could say I have this kind of big plan, but now,
so much of it is what comes along the pike, and then, you just
say, there's something about that role that just tickles me or
sort of feels right."