Many times in her career, she was told not to do something. Not to play a lesbian character. Not to do television. Not to sing. Not to write. It’s risky, she was told. It will ruin your career. But, she did it all anyway, and we cherish her for the brave choices she made, from untamed Corky in Bound to the sexually overwhelming Cristal Connors in Showgirls, or the book she wrote, In Search of Cleo: How I Found My Pussy and Lost My Mind. In Cracow, Poland, Gina Gershon was on the Jury of the Main Competition for the International Festival of Independent Cinema, Netia Off Camera. Together, with director Malgorzata Szumowska (Mug, Body), actor Thomas Kretschmann, and Edinburgh IFF’s Artistic Director Mark Adams, they chose the ambiguous, hypnotizing, stylized family horror, Tower. A Bright Day, by Jagoda Szelc in her feature film debut. Even though she was busy watching many new films from around the world (not just Poland), Gershon talked with us about her own career, her views on diversity, independence, being a Jewish actress after forty in America, acting in Europe, and the responsibility that acclaimed artists hold in society.
Fandor: Off Camera is a festival of independent film. Would you call yourself an independent artist? And what does independence in filmmaking mean for you?
Gina Gershon: I’d probably call myself an independent artist though I’m not so sure what it means exactly…I make my own choices. I work on projects I want to do. I have certainly, for better or worse, been on a lot of projects people had told me to do or not to do. If I feel strongly about something, I’ll do it. A lot of times I ventured into music, writing, producing—not just acting. I think that as an artist it’s important to do whatever you feel connected to at the moment.
You work in film, theater, and television, write and sing. You acted in television before it was sort of in fashion to do so. Did you have a strategy behind your choices?
I clearly had no strategy with my career because it is so all over the place. If the acting or the part is great, or the director is great, or the project itself, no matter stage, T.V., or film—I’m interested in everything. There are so many different choices now. I grew up with theater, so I was always a stage actress. Then, little by little, parts seemed much more interesting on television. A couple of years ago it was really like: You are a film actress; you shouldn’t do T.V. It seemed so stupid to me. You should go where the work is interesting. Now, of course, television has, in a way, become the “independent film.” There is money there. The independent film in America is slowly dying, but the good news is there is so much to do on television. There are a lot of great directors. And it certainly is a writer’s medium. You don’t have to be in just one place, do one thing. Before, I had to choose between singing and acting. Seems silly. Seems people should do whatever they enjoy.
It seems like there is more diversity in acting these days. Have you noticed more diversity, in terms of T.V. and film roles, than there used to be?
I think it is fantastic that there is more diversity in films. For sure we need to see more women behind the camera. But if you’re an actress over forty, the parts become smaller and smaller. I think I’m going to have to start a movement for older Jewish actresses. It hasn’t hit yet and there may be a lot more roles for us.
Would you consider writing, directing, and producing something by yourself?
Of course, that’s the dream. I like writing; I love directing. If I would write-direct at the same time—I’m working on a new project now. It starts this summer, in which I’m singing at Café Carlyle. It’s great. I’ve never put a jazz band together. And I’m writing a story around it. I think it is interesting. It is hard to find scripts that have parts that I’m like: “Oh my God, this is amazing.” If there are, they usually go to someone much younger or far more “established.” It’s numbered sometimes.
Isn’t it changing a little bit? For me it seems that there is a bit more for women after forty than there used to be—though perhaps not so much in Hollywood yet. What do you think?
I think you feel that way because you live in Europe. In America, I don’t feel that way at all. There are more opportunities for older actresses on television. In films I can barely see it–still a lot of guys and a couple of women. In the films I’ve been seeing here–in Krakow, at the festival–there are definitely more women and they are older. I guess Europe is much better about that than America. So maybe time’s up to make more European films?
You have to come and work here!
I’d love to. I love working in Europe–I’ve done it a couple of times and have been to Istanbul, Paris, Romania, Prague. I love being in Europe–so anytime. If anyone wants to hire me here, I’m in!
You mentioned that there aren’t enough female directors. Correct me if I’m wrong but you, personally, haven’t worked with many of them. There are big male names on your resume. Not women. Would you like to change it and work with more women?
I’ve worked with females on television projects–not on a major film. Not yet. I’d really love to. With female directors there is a certain easier—Well, you can say, “Oh my God, look at this, I feel weird.” It seems more personal, easier in a certain sense. There is a different dynamic. When I work with females I really enjoy that.
So it is television that is more open, diverse, and willing to take risks?
There are more jobs in television now. Yet, a lot of high-budget movies that are being made now are offered to women. It wasn’t so before this year. Take Wonder Woman for example. It is fantastic. And these films do great. To me, it is really like you are a good director or not a good director. And it shouldn’t matter if you’re a woman, man, black, green, or white. It just shouldn’t matter. If you can do the job that’s what it should be based on.
If you were to look back at your career, which films would you consider to be turning points?
Obviously Showgirls was a big turning point just because it was the first big movie I have ever done–up until then I had been doing theater and little T.V. shows. It gave me exposure–more people got to see my work. And the more people see it, the better–if they like it, they hire you. That led me to Bound which I really loved.
Bound is a huge thing on many levels. You didn’t hesitate to take part in it?
Even though everyone was like, “You shouldn’t do this film. It is so risky.” But the second I met the Wachowskis I thought they were brilliant. Even though it was their first film. After working with them, independent filmmakers knew I’d do projects that were a little bit on edge, that I would take a risk. All in all, I just like good projects. Bound and Showgirls opened different doors for me, I suppose. Every project brings its own weird little thing but those two shifted things a little bit for me.
At the time many heterosexual actors and actresses would turn those parts down–being afraid of their LGBT context. Even today many actors would be afraid to lose fans. You just jumped into it.
People told me I’d ruin my career. When I got Bound’s script I just wanted to do it. It was brilliant and the Wachowskis were brilliant directors and writers though not known. I really resented the fact that I heard, “No, no, you’ll never work again.” I kept on asking, “Why?” “Because it’s a lesbian role? So what?” That really bothered me. I felt why should that matter? Today I’m really happy I did it because I think it helped to change things in the business. It helped a lot of people–I didn’t realize there was such a problem with coming out. I’m naively, stupidly, just completely open, so I don’t really see those problems. It’s not cool–people should be able to do whatever they want. And it kind of did affect my career for a while. There were, sort of, parts I was getting offered–my mother kept going, “How come you don’t get something nice?” But people would see me as this killer lesbian motorcycle chick when I’m, like, anything but, really. But I’m happy I did it. That was a great film and years later a favorite for so many people.
What was the most important thing or challenge in Bound’s Corky for you?
It was right after Showgirls. People were like, “We are going to put you in a big studio. Make you a star.” And I knew Showgirls was not exactly what people thought it was. I wanted to show I was a real actress. The opportunity in Bound was to cut off my hair, take off my makeup—I’m a character actress. It was just great to go from this “super female,” kind of femme fatale, sort of over-the-top character, to this. Corky is like a Montgomery Clift part. Or Marlon Brando. I’d always watched those strong silent types on screen and wondered how come only guys get to be the heroes like that all the time? It was a challenge for me, a very interesting one, to become like one of them, those guys who drove me crazy because I never knew what they were thinking.
And what convinced you to act in Showgirls?
I loved Paul Verhoeven’s Dutch films very much and I thought it was going to be a little bit more like that. It wasn’t. But it seems to have become this cult film that gives a lot of people joy and they are happy. I can’t really complain about it. It did a lot of good things.
You are involved with the Naked Angels group. Do you think that famous, well-known artists and people with public personas hold an extra responsibility to be involved in social issues?
If you believe in something strongly, no matter what it is that you do, acting or bricklaying—if you feel strongly about something, some sort of injustice, I think it is important now more than ever to speak out. We need to stick together and speak out against injustice and whatever is making people’s lives not free. If you are a public person maybe you can inspire others. But I don’t think you should do this just to do it. Do it if you feel strongly and passionately about it. If you are not famous, do it. Your voice is just as important as anyone’s. Everyone’s an individual and we all need to stick together.