Lili Taylor Interview

The actress talks about her starring role alongside Gretchen Mol in the biopic

Indie film stalwart Lili Taylor stars alongside Gretchen Mol in The Notorious Bettie Page. Lili plays Paula Klaw, who along with her brother Irving shot many of the pictures and movies that made Bettie Page the pin-up queen of her day and legendary sex symbol. Paula and Irving were also primary targets of the government's probe into pornography in the fifties. Lili was very casual and discussed at length her considerable film career.

Did Paula and Irving exploit Bettie?

Lili Taylor: On one level yeah, you could say...but what's exploitation? Was Bettie getting a fair amount of money for her services? Was Paula being upfront and telling her what she was doing? If everything was on the surface, was someone being exploited? I don't know.

Do you think that Bettie was naïve?

Lili Taylor: Naïve and exploitation are different things, if Paula's being upfront and clear about what she's doing, then how Bettie's receiving that is another issue.

Did Paula think she was exploiting Bettie?

Lili Taylor: No. I don't think she did.

Paula has been dead for sometime. Were you able to speak to her son?

Lili Taylor: He was a big part of the research. I felt like he was letting us take this where we needed to take it, he wasn't demanding anything or saying if you don't do this with her than forget it, which I think is a very difficult thing to do with someone who was a big part of your life. It just helped being around him and feeling her from him.

Was he familiar with Bettie at all?

Lili Taylor: In a general way.

There aren't any videos or recordings of Paula. Did you wish for more to go on?

Lili Taylor: I think that stuff's tricky, because if the tape is of Paula when she's older, and I'm playing Paula when she's younger, then you're adding on this heaviness to a character that doesn't apply. So that stuff can get tricky.

How would you describe Paula? Was she a hard-nosed businesswoman, a crusader for women's right, anti-censorship...

Lili Taylor: I don't think she knew that. I don't think she had a sense of that. Part of what's interesting about her was she was very practical, and if there was this extra special thing coming from that practicality, she didn't talk about it.

When you saw the bondage stuff, did you think, what is this?

Lili Taylor: It doesn't work for me, but I don't know what turns someone else on. Just because it doesn't work for me doesn't mean I can't imagine it working for someone else.

Did Paula really save those reels of film?

Lili Taylor: I didn't even ask. It just felt so true...it made sense.

What is Bettie Page's continuing appeal fifty years later?

Lili Taylor: I'm wondering if some of it is that she disappeared. I'm wondering if Bettie hadn't disappeared and she kept doing what she was doing, if it'd be different. I'm trying to think if there was a comparable Bettie Page at that time, who kept working, had the same energy that Bettie had, but didn't have the same life that Bettie had in terms of the staying power.

Sort of like Marilyn Monroe?

Lili Taylor: That's what I'm wondering, if that's where the potency is. I know she was doing something at that time that was different. It's sort of fascinating. I guess I haven't figured it out yet.

Did you and the other cast members rehearse with Mary Harron [the director] before shooting?

Lili Taylor: It didn't feel like there was a lot of rehearsal. I know Gretchen [Mol] and Mary worked a lot. I feel like I just sort of came in and we just started going. I didn't feel like we needed it.

You're sort of the queen of Indie films. Are there any particular roles that are offered most?

Lili Taylor: I've been doing this so long, if there was a particular part that might have been coming my way, it's just changed because I've been around longer. I haven't gotten stuck with something because I just keep going, and I keep doing different things.

Have you ever gotten bored over the years with film?

Lili Taylor: I always feel theater. If film ever feels like it's limited, I know theater's going to provide me with something. Because that's where I really feel like you can take the risks. And I've adapted a book that I'm going to probably direct it. I don't think I'll be in it. I'll express myself if it's not just with acting.

That's interesting. Can you talk about that and is it your next project?

Lili Taylor: It's a book that I adapted for a film. But right now I'm doing a called 'Landscape of the Body'. It opens in a few days. I play a woman who does porno movies. She says she's being prosecuted for her lifestyle. They accuse her of killing her kid.

Do you still have to audition for roles?

Lili Taylor: Yeah, I guess things have just sort of changed a little bit. The financial stuff's changed. You have to audition more than you did before but that's just the deal now.

What role are you recognized the most for?

Lili Taylor: It feels like I'm recognized just for the body of work. Through the course of a day, maybe eight people. Someone was touched by Mystic Pizza, someone liked Dogfight, that's what I mean; I feel like I've been doing it a while and there's a lot of stuff out there for people.

So if there was a Lili Taylor retrospective, what would it be?

Lili Taylor: There just was. It's at the Walker in Minneapolis. They were great, they worked on it for a year, and it was a really nice retrospective. I asked for some films that maybe some people hadn't gotten to see there, like Arizona Dream, or The Addiction.

What did they end up picking?

Lili Taylor: They picked Girlstown, The Addiction, Arizona Dream, I Shot Andy Warhol, and Dogfight.

Which one are you the most proud of?

Lili Taylor: Probably Warhol, because the work on that was so intense, and Mary [Harron] had eight years of research brought to me. Valerie was only mentioned in about three books, so the research was so intense, and so many questions were unanswered and so complicated. That would probably be the one, I was in every scene, I'm there.

The Notorious Bettie Page is in theaters in NY, LA and SF today and is rated 'R'.