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As soon as we enter their room at Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel, it’s obvious that Don Roos and Christina Ricci, the writer-director and the star of The Opposite of Sex, are good pals. “This press tour has been fun,” says the 43-year-old director as the 18-year-old actress laughs appreciatively, “because we’ve been doing a lot of mini-bar eating, a lot of room-service ordering. I think that’s a very bonding experience.”
As they settle in on a coach for a morning interview, the effusive Roos agrees to take the opening questions so the more acerbic Ricci can finish her breakfast. The Opposite of Sex marks Roos’ first time as a director. He wrote Love Field and Boys on the Side, but wanted to do it all this time.
“I had written scripts that had been directed by other directors, and while they were good and talented directors, it’s not what I would have done,” he says. “So I was really eager to be the one to think of the idea, write the script, and then make sure that the story got delivered to the audience. The only way to do that is to direct.”
One major alteration, he remembers, came in Boys on the Side. “Mary Louise Parker plays a girl who has HIV, and I didn’t intend for her to die at the end of the movie. But Herb Ross thought it would be more effective if she died. For me, it turned it into an AIDS movie-of-the-week, where all people with AIDS die. And that hasn’t been my experience. There are a lot people living with HIV. That was a really big change that bothered me, although I loved the movie.”
His Boys on the Side experience, Roos says, is why he plays with having a character seem to die at the end of The Opposite of Sex, a dark comedy about a young woman who steals her gay half-brother’s lover. “We shouldn’t say that!” he suddenly realizes. “This is going really badly!” he exclaims, his mock outrage quickly yielding to a giggle.
“I did play with the convention,” he admits. “Because I wrote a lot of movies where the character is about to die at the end.”
Roos doesn’t like movies in which a character is made to die just to provide some arbitrary dramatic closure, “because I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know them,” he says, “and I want them to continue in my imagination. When they die, that’s it, it’s over.”
The Opposite of Sex features actors from a wide range of traditions: Ricci is just overcoming a cinematic upbringing in mainstream comedies, Martin Donovan is best known for his deadpan work with art-film director Hal Hartley, Lisa Kudrow and Johnny Galecki are TV sitcom veterans, and Lyle Lovett is principally a singer. But Roos says this diversity is a coincidence. “We didn’t choose people from TV, or from independent film, or from studio pictures, for those reasons,” he says. “Although we ended up with a bunch of people who had various experiences. I had the least.”
His film is similar to As Good as It Gets, but Roos doesn’t immediately see the connection. Both have a central characterin this case, Ricci’s manipulative teenage home-wrecker Dedeewho’s supposed to be perversely charming despite unleashing a string of slurs, many of them against gays.
“Oh, right, right, yeah,” says the director. As Good As It Gets “will help a lot of scripts get made….The big thing in Hollywood is that the [major] characters have to be likable, likable, likable. They have to be politically correct and endearing and engaging. It really hurts filmmakers and scriptwriters if your main character has to be consistently adorable. So As Good as It Gets really helps.”
Nothing Dedee does in The Opposite of Sex, apparently, has scandalized Hollywood as much as Ricci’s stunt for a profile in Time Out New York: In a pose designed to show the feistiness of the independent cinema, she was photographed stabbing a small, bloodied Godzilla. “It was [the magazine’s] idea,” shrugs Ricci, who’s returned to dark hair after being blonde in both Roos’ film and Vincent Gallo’s new Buffalo ’66.
“I hear the filmmakers are upset,” notes Roos.
“Yeah, they’ve been calling my publicist,” she says. “I guess since [Godzilla has] done badly they’re looking to blame someone. It’s really amazing that [they] think I have that much power. I haven’t even seen
“I’ve seen the movie,” announces Roos. “It’s our companyit’s a Sony movie. So I support it. Althoughwe beat it at the box office the first week, in terms of a per-screen average. They were on a zillion screens and we were only on five screens, but our five screens made more money. So we were No. 1. We’re in a hit movie!”
Among Ricci’s earliest hit movies were the two Addams Family flicks, in which she played Wednesday, the first in a succession of willful, precocious girls and young women. “I just like to play characters that are interesting,” says the actress, who tugs on her bra strap almost as often as she puffs on a cigarette. “And those characters are definitely interesting.”
Ironically, Dedee is just the sort of tormented teen who might appear on the TV program Ricci loves to hate, Sally Jessy Raphael. “She’s so evil!” exclaims the actress. “She must have some, like, vendetta against teenage girls. She has these troubled teenage girls on the show almost every other week, and all she does is shake fingers in their faces and yell at them and tell [them], ‘I would love to bat you right across the room right now.’ She always takes the sides of the mothers, even if they’re horrendous creatures”
Roos interjects on behalf of his leading lady: “She’s kind of standing up for teenage girls everywhere.”
“[Raphael’s] so mean to them,” Ricci continues, “and of course they’re not going to want to change, because she’s giving them the same thing they’ve been reacting to their entire lives. She and Dedee would probably really get at it.”
“I don’t think Dedee and Sally would have much in common,”
“Sally’s probably not going to like the movie,” says Ricci.
“Well, I don’t think she’ll like it now,” Roos protests playfully as Ricci laughs. “There was a chance before. But you’ve taken care of that. Thank you. Just gratify yourself. Don’t worry about me, my career.”
“It’s not like you like Sally Jessy Raphael, either,” Ricci counters.
“Would I ever say it?” asks Roos. “If that happened to be true, which I’m not saying it is. My mother always told me if you can’t say something nice…”
“Why wouldn’t you say it? Who cares?” responds Ricci. “She really does deserve it. She’s an evil whore.”
Roos’ mother wouldn’t like Dedee either, he suggests. “She’s very excited about the movie, and she knows what it means to me. But I don’t think this is her kind of picture.”
Philosophically, the director thinks, his movie is “very conservative.” It says that “sex matters, and each sex act has the potential of being life-changing. It’s not about free love, and it’s not about just indulging your whims. Most of the relationships that we have in our lives are based on some variation of a sex act. There are really beautiful people in my life, because my ancestors slept with my ancestors. I know people who were friends of my old boyfriend, and I know a couple who were the parents of a friend of mine who died of AIDS. Everything is about sex, really. The connections that are formed because of sex make your life for you.
“I still don’t think my mom and dad are going to love the movie,” he adds. “They’re still not big about the whole sodomy thing. They’re not really into that.”
Ricci has been busy lately, appearing in Buffalo ’66which she likes, but calls “stressful” because of budget problemsFear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and John Waters’ upcoming Pecker. The New Jersey native, who’s about to move from New York to L.A., was profoundly unimpressed by Baltimore. “I hated it,” she declares.
It’s suggested that there are two Baltimores, the real one and the John Waters’ version.
“I didn’t enjoy either one,” she retorts. “I found it a very depressing city. It’s really poor. And I don’t like old things.”Mark Jenkins