Janeane Garofalo

Janeane Garofalo talks about dating, dog people and how she reclaimed her virginity.


Andrew O'Hehir
October 3, 1997 2:03PM (UTC)

JANEANE GAROFALO -- even in the highly artificial circumstances of a film studio's publicity junket -- is a regular gal. I don't mean that she comes off, as many movie actors do, like some Stepford vision of the mythical suburban girl or boy next door. I mean that she immediately seemed to be someone I knew, a friend of a friend, a bohemia-tinged artistic type verging on midlife, very smart, self-deprecatingly funny, a little neurotic, a little too confessional. Think Mary Tyler Moore, if Mary had listened to the Cramps in college, read and enjoyed "Lolita," gotten a tattoo, moved to downtown Manhattan.

Of course, it's precisely this instant, indefinable likability that makes Garofalo so effective in mainstream romantic comedies like "The Matchmaker," a genial new offering from Australian director Mark Joffe. Like any comic actor, Garofalo obviously wants to be loved. What makes her unusual is that her need and vulnerability seem not repellent but completely sympathetic, completely familiar. Although she's actually a poised and attractive woman, with flashing eyes and an irresistible smile, we somehow accept her as the "ugly duckling" (in "The Truth About Cats and Dogs") or the dateless workaholic (in this film). We invest in her emotional life, in some subconscious, alchemical way, as though her yearning to be loved were actually ours.

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In "The Matchmaker," Garofalo plays Marcy, a supposedly hard-ass political aide who blunders into a Irish village's matchmaking festival while trying to dredge up a struggling Massachusetts senator's Gallic roots. Naturally Marcy immediately dislikes the apparently irresponsible and carefree Sean (David O'Hara) -- she encounters him first in the bathtub of her hotel room -- and naturally circumstances will throw them together, teach them to respect each other and pull them apart again.

Garofalo arrived for her early-morning round of interviews in a New York hotel suite and answered questions in the rapid, boisterous cadences of her native New Jersey. Even in an age of increasing celebrity paranoia and journalistic prurience, hearing her talk about her sex life, her dogs and her childhood somehow seemed the most relaxed thing in the world.

Can you talk about the sorts of scripts you see and the sorts of movies you end up doing? "The Matchmaker" is a pretty conventional romantic comedy, while you're a pretty unconventional actress. To some extent, that's what makes it work, but I can't help wondering why you chose this material.

I'll tell you -- the lion's share of scripts most people get are romantic comedies, because for whatever reason the studio thinks that's money in the bank. I get these very good indie scripts that have not a chance in hell of ever being made, and that's why I've been unemployed a lot lately. There were two movies I was supposed to do that fell apart right before I did them. There are scripts I get that are laugh-out-loud funny, incredibly dark, really weird, interesting dialogue -- and there's no way anyone's going to make them. Unfortunately for me, I get involved with them, have the meetings, block out the time and then they just go away. And what you're left with is: Oh my God! Here's the conventional one that's actually a green-light project. Do you want to work?

So you don't yet have enough power to get movies made?

Almost no one does, even very powerful people. The business of moviemaking is so complex and takes so long that you really have to be one of the top five actors to have a smooth-sailing thing. Even people you would think could do it, like Jessica Lange -- I think it took them 10 years to make "A Thousand Acres." There's a movie I want to make called "Girls," based on a book by Frederick Busch about a campus policeman and his wife. I cannot recommend that book strongly enough; it's just a small story. Well, my character, that I want to play, is 40. If I start trying to get the movie made now, I'll be 40 by the time it gets made!

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In your previous film, "The Truth About Cats and Dogs," you played the "ugly girl." In "The Matchmaker," you're the object of many men's desires ..."

That's the great thing about an Irish film -- their priorities are in the right place. They don't have the rules that we have here about "pretty" and "ugly." There was never the producers' meeting about how I needed to lose weight. There was never that wardrobe meeting about "Can we put her in something different?" In every movie I do here, there's always the "little talk" we have or the "little message" my agent has to give me about somebody suggesting that I might want to think about losing weight. There's always endless hours of wardrobe where they have to find the most monochromatic Donna Karan suit with no pockets and no zippers and tell me that if I'm wearing certain things I should be sitting down in this scene.

What's that about? You're a thinner-than-average woman.

Of course in real life, I'm fine. Body-wise, I'm OK. But when you put me on film I turn into Girard Depardieu. I just get rock solid.

PHOTO BY PAUL CHEDLOW | COURTESY OF GRAMERCY PICTURES | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Do you consider yourself an attractive person?

Well, I can't honestly say that I sit around and say, "I'm a pretty girl." But in real life, on a day-to-day basis, existing in New York City and going out socially, I don't think of myself as unattractive. I think I'm just split down the middle completely. I'm somebody where if I walked into a bar you wouldn't notice me, but at least a circle of frat guys isn't going to make fun of me like they did in college.

Did that really happen?

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Oh, sure. I was huge -- I weighed 160 pounds. Every Friday and Saturday night, I would walk on eggshells back to my dorm, like, "Please don't let there be a group of guys, please, please." Of course they made fun of me. Guys in a group? Come on. The worst.

In "The Matchmaker," you play a Boston political operative who gets caught in the middle of a traditional Irish matchmaking festival. If you did go to a matchmaker, what would you tell him? What would be your criteria for a significant other?

The through-line of all the boyfriends that I've ever had, starting back in high school -- because they're all incredibly different -- is that they have to be funny. Now, as I say that, I don't mean the type of person who will tell you that he's funny, or the type of person that's the life of the party. Do you know what I mean? I don't want somebody who's like "Whoo-hoo!" (makes a party-animal noise). Do you know who I suspect is the type of funny that I like? David Duchovny. Something tells me that he's very funny -- and I have no evidence -- but quiet funny, where you would have to be standing right next to him to hear how funny he is.

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So if we made a relationship pie chart, the way the matchmaker does in the film ...

Yes, "Having a Laugh" would be in my relationship pie just like it is for my character in the movie. Also somebody who's very smart. And I'm not saying that because I'm very smart. I'm just saying it would be nice if my boyfriend was very smart. Let's see, what else? When I go home to visit them at Christmas, they have to be really, really nice to their sisters and mom. Because that's actually indicative of how they're going to treat you once the shine is off the relationship. They have to be well-mannered. I can't stand it when you go out to eat with somebody and you realize they're treating the wait staff horribly. And how somebody drives -- that is very indicative of personality. I mean, you can get angry if it's warranted, but there are some people who go to anger the second the car door shuts. And then they're really angry. And if somebody goes to a racial slur or a misogynist slur right away, that's very telling. Like if a woman cuts them off and they use the C word -- that to me speaks volumes.

Tell us what you make of that book "The Rules."

Oh, I can't get started on "The Rules." We don't have nearly enough time. I find it embarrassing for all of us as women. It's an affront. Basically it's a way for very average people to snare other very average people into marrying them. People who have nary a special quality, but their main goal is to get married. And then the book purports to say, "No -- you must think of yourself as the most special creature in the world!" They'll say things like, "When you meet the guy and after the third date you're sure you want to marry him" -- What?

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If just getting married is your main goal, I don't think that speaks well of you. You're willing to lie to this person that you supposedly want to marry. That probably means your reasons for marrying him are things like his bank account or what he looks like, things you would know by the third date. So then you basically lie to him until the ring is on your finger. That's "The Rules" to me. It's all about planning and conniving.

Can you imagine yourself ever getting married?

Oh, I'll get married. I've got no problem with getting married. And I never used to say that; this is new. I'm 33 -- in fact, I'm 33 today. But it's not like I'm actively seeking to get married. I would have to actually meet somebody first. But the baby thing ... I have three dogs, so I'm not quite so baby-crazy now, because it's an unbelievable responsibility having three dogs! I think about them all the time. My life has changed completely -- I cannot do certain things. Mark Joffe (director of "The Matchmaker") said, "Come to Ireland next week -- we'll go to the cast-and-crew screening of the film." I would love to go, but I can't. I can't find three people at the last minute who I can trust and I know are good to the dogs -- because I can't give them all to one person, that's too much. I can't travel like I used to, and I can't stay out very late because the oldest dog has to be walked every two and a half hours. So everywhere I am I have to go home to walk him. The dogs are just a fraction of what kids would be, and I'm already obsessed with the dogs and thinking about moving to the suburbs, where you can own land.

I've got three dogs, and I'm thinking about getting a house. I've gone dog-mad! I'm insane! I walk down the street and I'll stop and pet other people's dogs and talk to them at length about dogs and dog food -- conversations I never thought I'd have, in a tone of voice I never thought I'd have, as if I'm an upbeat person and I'm into that kind of thing.

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Do you remember the first date you ever had?

Of course. My first date was with Tommy Devereaux. It was in sixth grade and we went to a movie in Madison, New Jersey, at our one movie theater. I'm trying to think right now what movie it was. It wasn't "Jaws," because I went to that with my friend Susan. I remember because I fell down in the rush to get in and people actually trampled a small girl to get into "Jaws." I learned that people were willing to walk on an 8-year-old girl to see "Jaws."

Well, that was also my first make-out kiss with a boy. I remember, clear as a bell, going home where my mom and dad were up watching Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett. That was the Saturday night lineup at the time, and they had made it all the way to Carol Burnett by the time I came in, and there they were, waiting for the story of Janeane going out. I remember -- and this is going way deeper than you could ever want to know -- feeling very odd and wanting to turn back time and be younger, watching Carol Burnett with them. I remember deliberately going and lying on the couch with the blanket the way I always did as a younger kid. I felt so awkward, telling them about kissing a boy, so I tried to recreate being 7 years old, on their laps, watching Carol Burnett.

I told them about the date and my dad tried to make a joke about it, in his way, and I felt horribly embarrassed. I said, "I think we're going out!" I thought that was a cool thing to say. And my dad said [jocular Dad voice], "Where ya goin'?" And I felt horribly embarrassed, although I don't know why. That started a lifelong embarrassment with boys and my dad. To this day I'm awkward explaining to him anything vaguely sexual. I still won't tell my dad if I have dates. He probably thinks I'm still a virgin. And I am! I get to reclaim it, since it's been eight months since I've had a boyfriend. I have reclaimed my virginity -- my hymen grew back!

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Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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