Clea DuVall on Lizzie Borden: 'That Era's O.J.'

Actress Clea DuVall talks about gender, Matthew Shepard, and her latest role — in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, starring Christina Ricci.

BY Daniel Reynolds

January 24 2014 6:00 AM ET

“She’s pretty. She couldn’t have killed anybody,” the crowd murmurs as Lizzie, portrayed by the wide-eyed Christina Ricci, first enters the courtroom. The prosecutor is tasked with breaking down these preconceptions for the jury and, in turn, the viewer, arguing in his closing remarks for “the cold, merciless fact that confronts us”: that anyone may be capable of violence.

And while some crimes are unforgivable, there may be many LGBT people who identify with Lifetime’s portrayal of Lizzie Borden in the first minutes of the film: a person constrained by the expectations of her gender who rebels in any small way she can, from shoplifting to sneaking out of the house to socialize at parties. “Aren’t you a Sunday school teacher?” one party guest asks Borden, who, martini glass in hand, replies, “Only on Sundays.” Other lines reveal her unhappy state with more candor. “I just wish I had the freedom to live the life I’ve always imagined,” Borden remarks sadly in the opening chapters.

This is the second film to feature the talents of both Ricci and DuVall. “I love working with her,” DuVall remarks. “We’ve known each other for a long time, and we come from similar places." The first, HBO’s The Laramie Project, also centered on a grisly murder that continues to reverberate in the public consciousness — that of gay man Matthew Shepard. DuVall, who portrayed writer Amanda Gronich in the film more than a decade ago, is still surprised by the political advances that the LGBT Americans have achieved since them, including the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and the rising tide of marriage equality across the United States.

“It was a completely different world before,” DuVall says, reflecting on a recent conversation with a 20-something that revealed the disparity in LGBT perceptions between generations. “Things have started to change for the generation of young people now, and so the world they live in now is completely different than the world we live in. ... It’s really exciting and amazing.”

DuVall, who was a lead in the LGBT film But I’m a Cheerleader, and counts Orange Is the New Black star Natasha Lyonne, her costar from Cheerleader, as one of her best friends, wholeheartedly believes in the power of movies like The Laramie Project to educate the public on the struggles of minorities and thus sway hearts and minds.

Tags: television

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