Sherilyn Fenn – Is she the sexiest woman on television?
« I`m Audrey Horne and I get what I want. »
From Twin Peaks Series 2, Episode 2
« Does it really matter who killed Laura Palmer? « Not to me it doesn`t. A lot of people seem to ask that question, but it`s not all the show`s about. To me you go into this little world and explore a lot of different character`s lives, and Laura Palmer being killed is what facilitates that on this particular series. But they still try to figure it out: Theory Number 410 – Laura`s not dead at all! »
Sherilyn Fenn`s comments are going out to come as a shock to Twin Peaks fans. And that`s a lot of people, because although the programme is far from the US ratings sensation that`s been reported in Britain, it`s easily the most talked-about and obsessively followed media event in recent memory.
Fenn brings an electrifying presence to the series and seing her up close, sans make-up, it`s not hard to understand why David Lynch was moved to call her « five foot of heaven in a ponytail ». Even by the standards of Twin Peaks` handsome young cast, the 25-year-old actress is stunning, and she makes an indelible impression as resident minx Audrey Horne, the wayward daddy`s girl whose naive sexuality is forever threatening to bust right out of her tight Fifties sweaters.
Of the character that`s propelled her to stardom, Fenn says: « Audrey is a young woman who`s coming into her own power, figuring out who she is and what she wants. I think she gets what she wants and sometimes has mischevious ways of getting it. She`s certainly grown a lot from the original pilot where she was sitting around poking pencils in coffee cups. She`s been inspired by something that most of us have been inspired by, the greatest thing of all – love. At 18, I think she truly believes that she`s in love with Agent Cooper, and wants to prove to him that she`s a a grown up. I love her, I think she`s the greatest. »
And so does America, especially since the evening at One-Eyed Jack`s bordello when Audrey auditioned for a job by tying a knot in a cherry stem with her talente tongue. By so doing, she succeeded in creating one of the small-screen epiphanies of the year, and booked herself a permanent place in the nation`s pop-culture pantheon. Such dreamy manipulation of Twin Peaks` menfolk has given Ms Horne a particularly elevated status among the show` s female followers, but Fenn is quick to downplay that particular aspect of her character`s behaviour.
« I think all of us are manipulative, men and women. Everybody has their own strategies, their own agenda, and I firmly believe she`s no more or less manipulative than anybody else – Audrey just may be better at it. She somehow expects these things to happen, and when they do she just goes along with little resistance. It`s amazing, it`s crazy what she gets away with – she laughs to herself that these people are so stupid sometimes. »
Arriving in Los Angeles from her native Michigan at 17, Fenn supplemented her sporadic acting wotk with the usual waitressin jobs and, intriguingly, a stint as a bunny girl at the Playboy Club. « I worked there for two months when I was 19. I needed rent money and they were paying more to stand at the gift shop than I`d have got working at a clothing store. And I thought the costumes were cute. »
Shedding her fluffy tail, Fenn went on to rack up some solid on-set experience, including brief appearances on Cheers (as Carla`s son`s girlfriend`s cousin) and on the US teen cop drama 21 Jump Street opposite her then-fiancé Johnny Depp. Among the 14 movies (or, to be more accurate, videos) she put under he belt were such bottom-shelf classics as Just One Of The Guys, Meridian (Kiss Of The Beast) and Black Street Strays.
Though she laughs appreciatively at actress Ann Magnuson`s assertion that Hollywood portrays women as either humped or dumped, rejection was not a noticeable part of the Fenn repertoire, pre-Peaks. In fact, before donning Audrey Horne`s saddle shoes, her chief notoriety had come via Two Moon Junction, a dopey soft-porn romp written and directed by 9 1/2 Weeks mastermind Zalman King.
Not surprisingly, it´s been a hot rental item since her Twin Peaks ascent. The film was done, says Fenn, almost as a dare to herself.
« It was something that I wasn`t comfortable with at all, » she recalls. « It`s a contradiction, but when I read the script it intrigued me; I felt challenged by it, I felt afraid of it because I didn`t know how I would react to situations as personal as that. I mean, I`m not real comfortable with my body – I don`t run up the beach in a G-string bathing suit. »
« The film ended up being a little bit exploitative, not just of my body, but in the way the love scenes where handled. My character did all the nudity, and although her lover was shot from the waist up. It was not what I`d hoped it would be at all. »
In the light of Fenn`s somewhat chequered CV, David Lynch begins to take on the appearance of a white knight who`s rescued her from bimbo limbo, and furnished her with the Emmy-nominated role of a lifetime as well as a cameo as a car-crash victim in his highly acclaimed Wild At Heart. The actress does not quite buy this vision.
« I think luck is where preparation meets opportunity, » she protests, « so I think it was a case of right time, right place. The initial meeting went quite badly for various reasons and it`s quite odd that the whole thing came together. But no, I don`t think he did that. »
Previous television work has, Fenn says, left her extremely unfulfilled, but her curiousity about David Lynch and the series co-creator Mark Frost (formerly of Hill Street Blues) overcame her reluctance to meet them and discuss their new series. Although her initial doubts are far behind her, Fenn is still nonplussed by some of the pair`s more bizarre moments, such as the deliberately frustrating opening of the eagerly-awaited secon series.
« It`s hard to define why they do some of the things they do, » she admits, « I`m not sure if they really think people are like that, or if they just like the absurdity of situations taken to the extreme. I just don`t know. »
Ironically enough, the success of Twin Peaks has put Sherilyn Fenn back in demand with Hugh Hefner`s fine organisation, albeit in a more favourable negotiating position. Consequently, December´s Playboy features a 12-page nude layout for which Fenn received, she nonchalantly reveils, $250.000. Whatever possessed her?
« It`s very odd because … it´s very odd, » she says, « because the magazine is something that I`ve always hated and I still have a lot of confusion within myself about why I did it. I had the photographer of my choice [current boyfriend Barry Hollywood], and I picked the pictures, which are beautiful. But how I would like to be perceived is a far cry from how they`ll be perceived, you know what I mean? You really have no control over that, so it`s kind of strange in a way… »
« Everyone was a little concerned when I announced I was going to do it, » she laughs, « but the people who`ve seen the pictures have said ‘That`s it?!’ as iif they were expecting something horrible. It`s an actor`s pictorial; people who want to see girls spreading their legs and doing kind of crude things are gonna go to the centerfold, they`re not gonna look at an actor´s pictorial. Well, they can look but they`re not gonna get what they want. The pictures are really beautiful, but they just make people look at you in a certain way, which I`m only realizing now. »
A key factor in Fenn`s decision to get naked was the approval of Lynch, who`s just one of the talented advisors in her life; former lover prince remains an influence. (Mercifully, this has brought no offer to join the forlorn ranks of Paisley park`s female signings.)
« It`s been years since we dated, » says Fenn of Prince, « but we`ve stayed friends, and certain things that he`s said have helped me a lot. I remember for a while I was seeing a voice coach, and when I told him I was spending $100 an hour he got very upset. He said it was a waste of money, that my voice was who I am and why did I want to talk like someone else? » (He`s right. Those insinuating, nasal tones, reminiscent of a young Raquel Welch, are as much a part of Fenn`s allure as her beauty mark or her vertiginous eyebrows.)
« Prince always encourages me to be happy and not to be depressed. Obviously he`s very busy so we don`t see each other much, but he`s always floating around somewhere in my psyche. »
Her relationship with the Imp of the Perverse has left Fenn sharing his enthusiasm for Clara Bow – the silent screen goddess immortalised in is song « Condition Of The Heart » – whose life story she one day intends to portray on film.
« She`s an interesting character because back then she was real honest; she was this Brooklyn girl who didn`t have a whole lot of class, she´d come right out and say what she wanted. And she ended up leaving Hollywood when she was 26 because of all that had transpired. She was fun, she was just who she was and she got badly critisised for that. »
« When she arrived out here she was like the Madonna of the Twenties: people started dressing like her and doing their hair like her and the whole bit. But then the studio did what they do even now, they started making formula movies – the ‘It’ girl pictures – and never allowed her to do anything else. »
So will Sherilyn Fenn be remebered as the ‘It’ girl of the early Nineties when we finally choke on our cherry pie and stop meticulously labelling all those Twin Peaks tapes? With no new movie work scheduled, Fenn is facing a hiatus in her career but she seems singularly untroubled by the prospect.
« I got into acting by a complete fluke. I was 17 and it was like ‘I don`t wanna go to high school, what will I do? I don`t know. Let`s see … I`ll act; so I was doing films before I had even taken an acting class. But in the last couple of years it`s become something else, almost a form of therapy that`s helped me embrace myself. »
« A lot of people in the business are very tainted, and that`s not what it should be about. »
« But if it`s about something pure for you – then that`s all that really matters. »
« I think David Lynch really adored the Fifties – the simplicity, the conservative attitude – and I think the show, though it has a timeless feeling, is kind of Fifties also. The saddle shoes are part of that – Audrey knows that she can be daddy`s little girl in her saddle shoes and she puts on her red pumps, smokes cigarettes and sayshas down the hall. Maybe it´s not her personality so much as the need not to be daddy`s little girl… »
SHERILYN FENN on David Lynch`s footwear fixation
Twin Peaks shoes around 50 pounds from Red Or Dead at 61 Neal St, London WC2 and branches or by mailorder on 081 902 5588
The Face, Décembre 1990