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Gina Gershon once again turns the world on with her smile--and everything else--in Prey for Rock and Roll

To paraphrase the old Sara Lee ad, nobody doesn't like Gina Gershon. She turns everyone on: Lesbians, straight men, straight women, and gay men alike find themselves melting under the heat of Gershon's on-screen sexuality, particularly in her legendary girl-on-girl love scenes with Jennifer Tilly in 1996's Bound.

Gershon's dark sensuality--and of course, her considerable acting chops--even helped her to rise above the rubble of her film previous to Bound, Paul Verhoeven's famously disastrous Showgirls from 1995. And while the film became a midnight-movie fave for camp-loving queens, Gershon became an instant queer icon for fag and dyke alike.

"Gay men have long embraced strong, sassy women who survive hideous adversity with wit and style," says writer-monologuist David Schmader, who has hosted an annotated Showgirls at several film festivals. "For most gay-martyr icons--Judy, Liza, Tina--this adversity stretched over decades. But for Gina Gershon, this beloved-martyr status was earned simply by Gershon surviving the 2 1/2 hours of Showgirls with her camp-o-meter on high and her dignity intact--almost."

In October, Gershon's status as a straight "dykon" will be enhanced even further with the release of Prey for Rock and Roll, based on Cheri Lovedog's autobiographical stage play. Gershon stars as Jacki, a rocker who's hitting her "I'm still here" years and worrying that she may never make it big. And while the talented Gershon gives one of her most powerful performances in the film--along with singing and playing guitar herself--many of her fans will no doubt be most abuzz over her steamy tryst with Shakara Ledard. (Given that Gershon's ambitious rocker character takes a phone call in the middle of it, the encounter can hardly be called a love scene.)

In addition to Gershon the singer and guitarist, Prey also introduces Gershon the producer--"I went and recorded all the music for the movie, and I was really into it," she recalls. "And then all of a sudden it fell apart. At that point I thought, Fuck it, I'll just produce it myself." Gershon brought fellow producers Gina Resnick and Alexis Magagni-Seely to the table, and Prey was back on.

Over lunch in West Hollywood, Gershon's enthusiasm for the project and her character is clearly evident. With refreshing candor, she also talks frankly about aging in Hollywood, the fervor of her lesbian following, and how she completely changed her acting strategy during Showgirls.

The milieu of the movie is all very lived-in. What the houses look like and the way people live--the whole atmosphere really rang true. Did you research current people or famous acts like the Runaways at all? I was hanging out with Joan Jett; she taught me how to play the guitar for this. Because I didn't play rock, so I had to learn to perform in a different way. It's more your whole arm instead of just this [strums]. [Director] Alex [Steyermark] really knows that world quite well. Everyone who worked on this movie--it certainly wasn't for the money, you know? [Chuckles] It's low-budget, and I think people who worked on it did it because they related to it and they loved the story. It all felt like we made this group of friends growing up and forming bands and stuff.

As far as what Cheri's character--or my character--shows in this movie, every artist that I know, whether a writer or actor or musician, a painter, whoever has the passion, if you don't achieve your dreams, if you haven't "made it" there's that vexation and that drive. There's that sometimes myopic pursuit that screws up your life--"What am I doing?" If you're not validated by outside forces, do you give up doing what you love to do, essentially who you are?

Do you feel like the industry you're in appreciates you less because you've got some miles on you? I think it seems harder to find roles, but hopefully they'll start appreciating us more. Because then you can play a more substantial role, even though I don't think they're around as much.

Ideally, yeah. It came up that she was 40 and they kept saying, "You don't look 40--you could play 30. Let's change it to 35, because why do you want to age yourself up?" I thought it was important to keep her at 40 because it's such a pivotal moment in a woman's life. I think for actors 40 is the big number, but for musicians it seems like 30 is the big number. And that kept coming up. One of the pieces that I really was insistent on is the whole speech about "How old do I look? Well, I'm not. I don't want to be a liar--I'm not a fucking liar." I thought that was really important for me to put in.

I agree. Because it is bullshit. Last year I think I lost a part because somebody said, "Well, you're older than our other person," and I'm like, "Do I look older than that person? No! It's acting." I love Michael Mann so much because he just gets it. When I auditioned for The Insider and he just loved what I did, I was the jerk saying, "I'm too young for this. She should be in her mid 40s, and I don't know how they can push it if I look too young." And he said, "No, no, no, we did Jon Voight in Heat. We changed his face, and we could do that to you. We can add lines; we can make you look older." And I said, "Oh, yeah--it's a movie." I just loved him for that, because you forget.... People get so scared, or they forget that it is acting and it is make-believe and you could look anywhere from 17 to 60 to 101 if you wanted to these days.

And you've got that amazing scene where the camera just gets so close to you, and I thought, My God, so many actresses would never in a million years tug on their cheekline and look for wrinkles that close to the lens. I did it, and I was into it, but when I saw it later I thought, Oh, my God, what was I thinking? I guess if I looked really bad and had a lot of lines, I wouldn't dare. [Laughs] But yeah, everyone has it. Everyone's phobic about getting older. I think women, especially now, look cooler in their 40s. I was thinking, OK, I'm 40, I'm going to be fucking cool. Forty is the new 30. It really is.

Also cool in this movie is the love scene you've got going. Isn't she cute?

She's adorable. In The Advocate office we were trying to nail what it is that's interesting about your love scenes, and one woman said, "She always seems to be focusing on the other woman rather than where her cue light is or where the camera is." Well, yeah--when you're having sex with someone, you're not thinking about your lighting.

And you're committed to it. It's very sexy. You know what? I like love scenes a lot, because I think they show a real parameter of who the character is. I have to say, I didn't completely do what I set out to do in that love scene. I didn't know who we were going to get, but I said, "She's got to be hot." I kept saying, "I really want a black chick or a Latino chick--everyone's so white in the movies." I saw a picture of her, and I thought, Please, God, let her be able to act. She's so incredible-looking, and she'd never acted before, but I said, "She could do it, she could do it." She's so funny. She said, "OK--I've never acted before; I've never kissed another woman...I'm all yours, mama." [Laughs] I felt very responsible, and I was very protective of her.

At that stage of the game, Jacki is still bisexual; she's whatever. At that point in the movie, I think she's so centered on herself. I think she certainly has intimacy issues, that in my mind...I just wanted to kind of fuck her. I didn't want to kiss her; I really just wanted to be very...fucking, you know?

Not lovemaking. Not lovemaking, and certainly not kissing. Because I wanted to play that kiss at the end with Marc [Blucas], where it's like, here you have this sex scene where there's no kissing and there's no intimacy, and then at the end, when you have this one single kiss, you've got to feel a certain change over that character opening up a little bit. But she's so cute--and I couldn't not kiss her.[Laughs]

Now you are responsible for three legendary woman-on-woman love scenes in movies. I'm in three? Or two? [Remembering] In Showgirls.

Showgirls.You guys don't get really far, but the dance around each other is very sexy. And I know gay guys who had never even kissed a girl in high school who saw Bound and were really turned on by it. Well, Bound--Jennifer and I definitely made out to be like, "All right, let's make this really hot." We wanted straight girls to want to be gay, we wanted gay girls to want to be us, we wanted guys to just..."Let's get everyone in there."

When you got the script, could you tell it was as good as it was, or did you feel at that point that it was just a noir film with some lesbian stuff going on? Well, when I read it, I was doing Showgirls, and I was really tired. That was an exhausting shoot. I remember when I got the script, my agent said, "They were really interested in you for the role, but we don't want you to do it." They were really against it because it was a lesbian movie--a love-scene movie.

You're kidding. When Bound came out, you have to understand, there were no other "lesbian movies" that were out. And I've got to say, my agent and everyone was saying, "You are not doing this movie." I read the script and I said, "These guys are great writers." As soon as I met them, I could tell they were great directors. The script was great; I love the characters. But I wasn't sure--they were first-time directors, it was a lesbian movie, "It's going to ruin your career"--that's literally what people were saying to me.

You mentioned that you had a concern that maybe they didn't know enough about women, which is ironic considering the scuttlebutt about Larry Wachowski. Oh, no, I just didn't know, you meet these two big guys--basketball-playing Chicago boys--and I kept thinking, So how did you guys write this movie about women, and how are you going to do it about women? They were so guyish to me, and I wanted to meet their wives beforehand. I met their wives, I really liked them, and I got it.

Interesting. It turns out they have strong female instincts. There's a female side to them.

Definitely. Obviously, they did a great job, and they're very sensitive, but they're really odd at first, but it all worked out OK. They're great directors--that's the bottom line. When I met them, I got giggly and I started asking them zany questions, and I just thought, These guys are really good. I kept hearing, "You just did Showgirls, now a lesbian movie..." And I said, "First of all, Showgirls is not a lesbian movie. This could be a great film, and these guys are really good." I ended up losing my agency over it.

Wow. One of them said, "Showgirls is going to be a huge movie--you can't do a little independent film about a lesbian." And I said, "Let me tell you something: Showgirls is not going to be what everyone thinks it's going to be, and this script is great and could be a good film." So I did it.

It's funny that you say that, because one of the things that people say about Showgirls now is that you're the only person who knows what movie she's in. Everybody else is operating on this other plane, and you're just like, "This is what I've got to work with, folks." I kept trying to tell everyone, and no one would listen to me. I was saying, "No, this is funny." I've never in my life changed my idea or the way I was going to work on a character as drastically as I changed that character as soon as I walked on the set.

Really? I thought it was going to be dark and intense, like Paul Verhoeven's Dutch films--really psychologically disturbing--and that my character was going to be consumed with envy and jealousy and rage. And as soon as I walked on the set I thought, Oh...OK. I called my friend and said, "Oh, my God. Everything we worked on we might as well throw out the window." I was in this intense, dark place; I just turned her into...she was somewhere that everything was kind of sunny. Because if you stick with a certain idea and it's not what's going on, you look like an asshole. And I'm dancing half naked, and I thought, This movie could destroy me. So I had to make it OK and make it make sense to me.

What was the tip-off for you? Was it the actual dialogue? Was it the sets? Oh, many things. [Laughs] I could write a book about Showgirls if I weren't so discreet.

Oh, honey, please. Honestly, I could write a book about it.

Write it and put it in a safe until everybody dies, I beg you, because we all want to know. But you're obviously OK with your place in the Showgirls phenomenon. Well, I think Showgirls would've done really well and it would've been celebrated in the way it should have been, but you have this movie where I was telling people it was really funny, and the drag queens are going to want to dress as me for Halloween--and then suddenly you come across a rape scene in there, and you think, What is this scene doing in this movie?

I'm with you on that. It's campy, it's fun, then all of a sudden there's this dark side to what I thought the whole movie was going to be. That shouldn't have been there.

But you were told not to do Bound, and you did it anyway. When Prey came along, did you ever think, Oh, God, I can't ever do another lesbian love scene?

Obviously--well, not obviously--I've gotten a lot of offers to play lesbians. But honestly, I don't look at characters as to whether they're lesbians or straight; I just look at the character. It didn't really occur to me that I was playing a lesbian; I didn't look at it that way. When I saw the first screening of the movie when they first put it together, and I saw the scene with Lori and Shelly--they're really the lesbian girls of the movie--I literally thought, Oh, my God, I just did another lesbian movie! [Laughs] But you know, the thing I like is that a lot of the reviews--obviously you'll bring it up because you're The Advocate--a lot of the reviews don't really mention it, which I really like because it's really not about that. I think the community appreciates it because they're not being depicted as, "Cue up the lesbians." They're these girls in a band who happen to be lesbians. It's not a big deal.

But a lot of actors are really conscious about that sort of stuff, and that dictates how they approach it.Right.

If you're nonchalant about it, you are the future. I don't like being pigeonholed into anything. I probably have been already--"Let's get Gina, she'll do a lesbian movie." It's not about that. I think after this, it would take a really amazing part for me to do that. Not that I have anything against it--it's just that you do start to get pigeonholed a little bit. I wanted to play a rock-and-roller; I told my agent, "Finally, a rock-and-roll script--I'm going to start singing, I'm going to start playing." So she sent it to me, and she didn't even mention it.

Have you always sung? You know what? I started out as a singer--more like a song-and-dance girl. All I did was sing and dance. I did musicals, and I actually got paid to do them. My whole life I've had a lot of friends who were musicians. My family are mostly musicians, so I come from that background. Friends of mine have been trying to get me to do an album for years, but I put it away because I wanted to concentrate on being a really serious actress for a while. Luckily, today you don't have to give up one for the other--although I get kind of selfish about things.

What musicals did you do? My first professional show was a play called Faces on the Wall when I was in high school; that was my first paid job. I sang in that. I went to school in Boston and I did another show, Runaways, and I sang in that. I played a singer on [The Days and Nights of] Molly Dodd. My whole life--I was talking to Prince about doing Purple Rain. He kept saying, "If you change your name to this..." For some reason I backed off then.

You could've been Apollonia. I could've been. I wasn't quite ready for it yet. I think I got a little nervous. But then I love his music. He's been one of my closest friends ever since. He's kind of shy, you know. He's been trying to get me to do a record for a really long time, and I love singing with him. So this movie was great--it blended the acting and my music together, which was really exciting.

There are a lot of musicians in your family. Did they know the rock world at all? I know your uncle wrote the Charlie's Angels music. Yeah!

Doo-doo-doo... That's so cool! He did that, and he did Barney Miller. [Gershon imitates the famous Barney Miller bass line.] He did a lot of that stuff.

I guess my question is, Did you do research? Was this an area that you were familiar with at all? No. It really wasn't my music. When I was growing up, for a second I thought, Oh, maybe I'll be a country singer. A softer sort of rock. This sort of music I listened to a little bit. I wasn't obsessed with it in the way that I needed to be, and so of course I started really listening to it again. I love the Stones and the Clash, but I hadn't listened to hardcore, like Patti Smith and the Sex Pistols. I just opened my mind up to Iggy Pop and people that I listened to but didn't really study.

When you worked with Joan on the singing and the guitar, did she tell stories? Did she give you any of her own background that you were able to use for the character? She worked with me on the album. Joan was playing on it.

I know there were some possible litigation threats going on. Yeah. Which isn't Joan. I really dig her. I think she's great. I think sometimes people around her are not giving her the best advice. But I dig her, I like her a lot, and I think she's so talented. I mean, she's Joan Jett--she's so good. When I was learning how to play stuff, she gave me pointers on how to hold the guitar and what she did--just her whole attitude. In fact, that necklace I wear through the whole movie--that was Joan's.

Oh, wow. She was wearing it, and at some point--it was like the third time we were going to be playing--I said, "I really like that necklace." She says, "Oh, yeah, it's been with me through Afghanistan and for the last few years. I sweat in it," and she went on and on. She took it off and said, "I'm giving it to you for good luck." I thought, Oh, my God, it's Joan Jett's. So I kept it on. I didn't take it off throughout the movie; I kept it on until the end.

After Bound, did women start hitting on you? Oh, my God--you have no idea! All the time. My guy friends really loved going out with me because the hottest girls came up to me all the time and hit on me so's incredible. Sometimes it's really fun, and sometimes I really...if a guy did to me what a girl does to me, I would smash him across his face. I'd say, "Get your hands off me." They're so bold--they just come up and start feeling me up sometimes, and it really throws me because I'm just like, "Excuse me..." Women are funny that way. Actually, it has helped me a lot. It made me feel a little...not sad for women, but I could see why guy actors and musicians and stars are kind of fucked up, because a guy [fan] comes up to you and they're very guylike--they think you're cool and you've got a good career. They're very cool about it. And women throw themselves at you. They say, "Oh, my God, I love you, I'll do anything you want--do you want to come to Japan, do you want to..." And I say, "Honey, you don't know me. Don't do that to someone you don't know." It's a very interesting difference--there's a real difference between men and women. And I have had some women whom I've just had to tell, "Don't do that. Get your shit together--get help." When they've been waiting outside and they just want to... I haven't seen a guy do that. So I don't know what that is. I think they're more willing to put themselves out there, or maybe their fantasies are bigger or something. But on the other hand, the ones who are cool are the greatest. So I like it--I love having this big lesbian fan base. I think it's cool. The coolest women I know like me.

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