New York Times Syndicate / © LesbiaNation, November 2001

Laura Elena Harring Explores The World of David Lynch


By Ian Spelling

Laura Elena Harring

Laura Elena Harring

David Lynch, writer/director of the new film Mulholland Drive, is Hollywood's master of the bizarre, from his legendary television series Twin Peaks to such big-screen oddities as Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986) and Lost Highway (1997). And he hasn't gotten any more ordinary, according to Laura Elena Harring, who stars opposite Naomi Watts in the mindbending Mulholland Drive, which began life as a television pilot.

“It became a miracle movie, really,” Harring says. “We were in shock when ABC turned it down as a pilot, but we always referred to it as a film. David referred to it as a film, so we all did. It was a show and then a movie four or five times.

“A few times it was just dead,” she adds. “David even said at one point, ‘It's dead in the water, girls,’ that it was going to be put on a shelf, that nobody would ever see it. We grieved it very much and then, two weeks later, he said, ‘OK, this is the last time. We're making it into an international film.’

“And we did.”

Thanks to several million dollars from French producers, Lynch was able to complete Mulholland Drive, which won best-director honors at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival and opens across the country in October.

It's tough to summarize a Lynch film, but Harring plays Rita, an amnesiac survivor of a car crash on Los Angeles' Mulholland Drive that left two men dead. She is befriended by a would-be actress (Watts) who tries to help Rita reclaim her identity. Along the way the two encounter beauty, ugliness, love and loathing, as well as good and evil.

“Honestly, this movie is one of the most profound, intense movies I've seen,' Harring says by telephone from a Toronto hotel. “Simply because every time I see it--and I've seen it five times already--I've gotten a different meaning, a different interpretation. To me, that's the sign of a classic.

“When I saw it the first time,” she says, “I thought it was the story of Hollywood dreams, illusion and obsession. It touches on the idea that nothing is quite as it seems, especially the idea of being a Hollywood movie star. The second and third times I saw it, I thought it dealt with identity. Do we know who we are? And then I kept seeing different things in it. “Really, it's very individual trip,“ she concludes. “There's no right or wrong to what someone takes away from it or what they think the film is really about. It's a movie that makes you continuously ponder, makes you ask questions. I've heard over and over, ‘This is a movie that I'll see again’ or ‘This is a movie you've got to see again.‘ It intrigues you. You want to get it, but I don't think it's a movie to be gotten.

“It's achieved its goal if it makes you ask questions.”

Questions aside, audiences will surely be buzzing about the lesbian love scenes. The scenes weren't part of the television pilot, and Harring recalls exactly when they emerged as part of the film.

“David said he wanted to have a meeting,“ Harring says. “He said, ‘We're making this into a film. I have 18 more pages.’ We got so excited. We were yelling and screaming, and then he put his hand out and goes, ‘But there's going to be nudity.’

“He'd put his hand out so we could shake on it,” she says. “So I shook his hand, all excited, but later I was like, ‘What did I just do?’ It didn't sink in that there was going to be some nudity. But after that we just trusted David. We didn't discuss the details at all.

“There was a lot of respect in the air, and it was a safe, beautiful environment.”

Harring admits, however, that she cried moments before the love scene, when she removed her towel and stepped toward a bed.

“I felt very vulnerable,“ she recalls. “There were very bright lights everywhere, and a lot of people hustling and bustling in the room. I didn't cry a lot--one tear rolled down and my eyes got watery. I said, ‘David, I cannot believe I agreed to do this.’ I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘Only for you, David.’ And he said, ‘Laura, bless your heart.’ “Then he showed me a loupe and said, ‘Look how dark it's going to be,’” the actress says. “And it was pretty dark.”

Lynch directed her as she'd never been directed before, Harring adds, leaning on metaphors more than specific directions--“You are to walk like a broken doll,” he told her at one point.

“It was very visual and very clear, like crystal,“ the actress says. “He's a poet and a true artist. He's always, constantly creating, and he doesn't do it for the money, but because he loves to create. If he's not directing, he's building furniture or painting or composing music. So it was refreshing to work with somebody who just absolutely loves the process of creating.”

Harring took a long and strange road to Lynch's long--it runs 146 minutes--and strange movie. Born in Mexico and raised in Texas, she nearly died at age 12 when a stray bullet grazed her head while she rode in a car with her family. Harring later studied in Switzerland and, upon her return, won the Miss El Paso and Miss USA contests in 1985. Soon afterward a producer cast her as Raul Julia's young wife in the television movie The Alamo: 13 Days to Glory (1987).

Her subsequent jobs included guest spots on Baywatch and Frasier, several more television movies, lowbrow features such as Silent Night, Deadly Night 3 (1989), Exit to Eden (1994) and Little Nicky (2000), and stints on the soap operas General Hospital and Sunset Beach. She'll be seen next with Barbara Eden in the romantic comedy New Shoes, an independent feature shot on high-definition video, and with Denzel Washington in the upcoming drama John Q.

Back on the personal front, Harring lives in Los Angeles and is single. She was formerly married to Count Edward von Bismarck of Germany, however, making her an ex-countess.

“If someone tried to pinpoint me and said, ‘Pick a defining moment in your life,’ I'd pick the period when I was a social worker in India,” the 30-something Harring says. “I was 18 and went with a group, something like the Peace Corps, and did manual labor.

“That was the first time I realized how selfish we are in the West,” she says. “In the East, they speak of how we're all one. There's a saying in India that means ‘bow to the God within you.’ There's no sense of ‘You first’ in the West, and in the East there is.

“That was the first time I felt badly about myself not wanting to wash dishes at my mother's house, for example,“ Harring says. “I came back and thought, ‘God, I complain about not having the right dress, and there are so many other, more important things.’”

Ian Spelling is a New York-based free-lance writer.

c.2001 New York Times Syndicate

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