That time I interviewed JENNIFER JASON LEIGH
By Daniel A. Kusner — Lifestyle Editor
One of the more bizarre criticisms about Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming’s new film, The Anniversary Party, concerns Cumming’s ability to portray a man who’s attracted to women.
Cumming, one of the sharpest all-around actors, plays Joe Therrian — a bisexual novelist who’s directing a film based on his marriage to Sally (Leigh), an actress who’s too old to play the character she inspired.
Joe and Sally — who reconciled after a yearlong separation —decide to throw a party to celebrate their sixth anniversary.
The guestlist includes close friends (major Hollywood players, played by major Hollywood players), contentious next-door neighbors ... and the ingénue (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s been cast in the role Sally helped create.
In the film, Joe and Sally nuzzle each other affectionately. Looking adorable while radiating a loving onscreen chemistry.
Cumming and Leigh, who star and share writing, directing and producing credits are close friends. They met during the recently much-hailed Broadway revival of Cabaret.
The co-stars, who didn’t have much onstage interaction during their run in Cabaret, wanted to collaborate on a film that scathingly pokes at celebrity culture while examining the chaotic beauty of flawed relationships.
“What I think is so cool about The Anniversary Party is that this might be the very first movie where you have a couple that’s married. And the man is openly bisexual,” Leigh explains. “It’s a totally accepted part of their marriage. And no one is judging it.”
During one scene, the party guests offer loving testimonies about their ties to Sally and Joe — including one of Joe’s former boyfriends (played by an uncredited Matt McGrath, The Broken Hearts Club).
“But Sally’s totally not threatened by [Joe’s former lover]. She’s actually threatened by Gina [a former flame played by Jennifer Beals]. And that’s the difference,” explains Leigh. “I think it’s great because Alan is very sexy and charming. He’s one of those guys who appeals to both men and women. And he’s completely out.”
What most critics seem to have forgotten about Cumming — who has turned in some tremendous performances (Urbania, Eyes Wide Shut) — is that from 1985-93, he was married to actress Hilary Lyon.
“And when Alan used to be married, he’s wasn’t really someone who was in the closet. Which is such a fabulous thing. Because these types of marriages do exist. I’m not going to name names. But it’s nice to see it. That it’s a real thing … and not a big deal.”
Leigh says bisexuality is similar to other elements contained within marriages. Sometimes bisexuality works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
“And their relationship isn’t platonic whatsoever. They make love all the time. They have a very good sex life. Joe is just bi. He doesn’t prefer men over women. It’s just a part of his life. And that’s what we wanted to convey,” Leigh explains.
According to Leigh, collaborating with Cumming on their directorial debuts was easier than they expected.
“It was so effortless and seamless. This whole project, from beginning to end. We wrote the first draft at my house in mid-February. And by July, we managed to arrange the schedules of our rather large ensemble cast and shoot the whole thing on digital within 19 days,” Leigh says. “I was shocked at how miraculously the whole thing came together. And we worked with all of our friends. The whole experience was nothing but gratifying and total fun.”
The film reunites Leigh and actress Phoebe Cates, who taught Leigh how to give a blowjob by practicing on a carrot in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Annivesary Party is first time they’ve worked together since Fast Times.
“I didn’t realize that because we’ve actually have been best friends since we made Fast Times. And we also play best friends in the movie. In fact, I dragged Phoebe out of retirement for this project. She gave up acting a while ago. Her kids are even in the film,” Leigh says.
The notoriously shy Leigh, who refuses to discuss her romantic life in the press (“I think it’s nice to have something you don’t talk about”), confesses that the prefers the company of men.
And except for her super-creepy performance in Single White Female, where she played lonely psycho who wanted to “merge” with another woman, she hasn’t portrayed a character with lesbian tendencies.
But what about the indelible characters she has played? Like her dead-on portrayal of Dorothy Parker. That harrowing gang-rape performance as the insatiable hooker Tralala in Last Exit to Brooklyn. And the strung-out rock star in Georgia.
With a penchant for choosing raunchy, gutsy and heartbreaking roles, Jennifer Jason Leigh has been compared to a post-modern Meryl Streep. With close to 40 feature films under her belt she has no plans to quit in the near future.
“But I really do want to have children,” she says while exhaling a plume of cigarette smoke. “But I think I want to try directing more. And I think in a few more years Alan and I will try to make another film like this. One that’s so liberating on a creative level that we make with a bunch of our friends.”