June 2003 By Philip Berk
Having watched Alison Lohman play a fourteen year old in White Oleander, you can’t believe your ears (or eyes) when at her press conference, she tells you she’s 23.
She doesn’t look a day over seventeen!
How long has she been acting? I ask her.
“I started when I was five. My cousins and I would put on plays in our backyard. I’d take books and make them into scripts, but I was never the actor. I was always the director. But then when I was ten I played Gretel in a community theatre production of The Sound of Music and by the time I was thirteen I was convinced my destiny was to go to L.A. or New York, do movies or work with a great acting teacher. But my mom knew better. She thought I should finish school, and that’s what I did.”
But when she went to college she wasn’t a drama major. How come?
“I still wanted to act but after I got accepted to NYU, I decided to study psychology and political science, with the idea of taking acting classes on the side.”
A year later she had moved back to L.A. where she was given a small part in a dismal sci-fi movie, and a recurring role was in the all-but-forgotten television series Pasadena.
Her breakthrough role of course was Astrid in White Oleander, in which she has the starring role. Her supporting cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Renee Zellweger and Robin Wright Penn.
How did she get the part?
“I was working on Dragonfly (the Kevin Costner movie) at the time for which I had shaved my head. I had read the book (White Oleander) and knew there was a script. I didn’t think I’d get the part because I had the bald head. But I put on a wig and tried out. Unfortunately I must have worn it too low because the casting director thought I had an unusually low forehead and didn’t call me back.
“But three months later I found out the director had seen a movie I made called Sharing the Secret and said, ‘Why don’t we audition this girl.’ And the casting director said, ‘We already have, but her forehead is a little low.’ The director however remembered it differently, so I came back and auditioned four times. Then I did six scenes for the actual test, and finally got the part.”
Is it true that 400 young actresses actually tried out for the part?
“Something like that.”
That must have told her something!
“I was lucky,”
In the movie her mother (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) is sent to prison and she is farmed out to three foster homes. Two of her foster mothers are played by Robin Penn Wright and Renee Zellweger.
What was it like playing opposite these spectacular actresses?
(It’s obvious that she was most impressed with Renee.)
“Renee is the most giving person. Every day she would bring me a new book whether it was Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Books she wanted me to read. And coffee all day. She’s always thinking of everyone else. I loved working with her.”
“She’s just stunning, just beautiful.”
Could she relate to Astrid?
And was her relationship to her parents anything like that?
“I have to say I am so lucky to have the family I have. My family means everything to me. Pretty much the way Astrid felt about her mother at fourteen, when she completely idolized her.”
And yet as she grows older, Astrid has no feelings for her mother.
I ask her why?
“Knowing that her mother contributed to (her foster mother) Claire’s committing suicide is just too hard for her to forgive. There was so much pain there”
But when I ask her why Astrid couldn’t see it from the mother’s point of view, she starts to cry.
I apologize for the question.
“I can’t believe I’m crying right now. This is terrible,” she responds.
Then regaining her composure she explains, “Just thinking about her pain. When you go those extreme depths of emotion, it is overwhelming.”
Now we know where those emotions come from!
She looks so much like Michelle. Was that one of the reasons she was cast?
“It definitely helped. Peter wanted someone who could be believable as Michelle’s daughter.”
Since White Oleander; she’s played Nicolas Cage’s daughter in Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men.
Does that means she’s found her identity as an actress?
“I don’t know if I have. I think I’m still finding out who I am. Does anybody ever really discover who they are because with each experience you change and grow.”
So she’d rather be a chameleon and suppress her identity?
“I kind of like the idea of not having an identity. I am interested in becoming many different people.
Which is what she is in White Oleander, where she is first the slutty long haired innocent, then the battered victim with short blonde hair, and finally the grungy rebel with black hair.
She grew up in the California Palm Desert.
How was that?
“At the time I hated growing up in a small town. I wanted out so bad. I was itching to get out of this town in Palm Desert. But now when I look back on it I feel really lucky that I have a place to go to that’s so remote, so peaceful and serene.”
Astrid finds her first love in the film. Has she (Alison) ever had the liberating feeling of falling in love?
“I don’t know. I’ve had my heart broken a few times. But there’s no one right now.”
Is she open for that?
But thus far she hasn’t made the gossip columns.
How about her spirituality? Does she go to church?
“No I don’t. But I was baptized Catholic and I went to Catholic school. I guess I am more spiritual than religious. I’m agnostic. I like to learn more about Buddhism. I don’t know enough about religion to choose one. I want to educate myself. Right now I believe in everything. I definitely believe there’s someone greater than us out there.”
What can she tell us about Matchstick Man?
“It’s going to be a great movie. Nic (Cage) plays a con artist on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He has Tourette’s and obsessive compulsion syndrome. He finds out unexpectedly that he has a daughter, me, who sort of complicates his life. Sam Rockwell plays his protege. With Ridley Scott directing and especially with Nic in it, you know it’s going to be good.”
At the press conference she has dark hair.
Is that her natural color.
“No,” she answers.”My natural color is ash blonde.”
Is it for Matchstick Man?
“No it isn’t”
And her long blonde hair in White oleander. Was that hers?
“No it was a wig, but when I was younger my hair was that color.”
Is she looking forward to becoming the leading lady?
“I don’t really understand the leading lady thing. What does that entail. I love the idea of playing a character. I love reading books, wondering what it would be like playing the character, using my imagination to access those emotions. For me it’s an adrenaline rush.”
If she wasn’t an actress what profession might she have chosen?
Surprisingly she says, “Many things.”
“I’d have a flower shop in Amsterdam. I’d be a stewardess. You name it. I’d be interested.”
But judging from her performance in White Oleander, she’s not likely to get that opportunity soon!June 2004