Just a regular It girl

Goofball "Scary Movie" siren Anna Faris chats about her rapid rise, her rabid Internet fans and her plans to do indie drama. Oh, and she's not spoofing Cameron Diaz in "Lost in Translation"!

Published October 23, 2003 8:00PM (EDT)

Even if you haven't seen Anna Faris in any of the frighteningly successful "Scary Movie" movies, in which she channels teen scream queens Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt to hilariously earnest effect, her winkingly bubbly presence onscreen has probably made you laugh by now. The Seattle-bred actress, who turns 27 next month, sillied up the screen with great gusto in Sofia Coppola's shimmering "Lost in Translation," in which she played Kelly, the daffy actress who more than a few people have concluded must have been based on Cameron Diaz.

The morning after the Hollywood premiere of "Scary Movie 3," which hits theaters Friday, Faris, still recovering from the red-carpet hoopla, phoned Salon from Los Angeles to discuss her new status as an It girl (so dubbed by W magazine), the thrill of making people laugh, and how the actresses she's spoofed over the years have reacted to her gentle -- and not so gentle -- jibes.

So how was the premiere?

It was really fun. I've never done so much press. So it was really insane and overwhelming. It felt really good being the veteran of this series and being able to close the book on this film that I felt I just spent half my life on. Because we filmed for so long -- almost five months -- and we filmed so much. The movie itself is very short, but for these movies, they have to film a lot.

Was last night the first time you'd seen the finished product?

No, I had been to a test screening with a young audience about a week ago. It's really hard for me to watch myself. I get very sweaty and nervous. But I think everybody really enjoyed it. It's PG-13, and I think a lot of people really appreciated that there isn't as much sexual humor.

Did the director of this installment, David Zucker, best known for "Airplane!" and the "Naked Gun" films, deliberately tone it down more than the Wayans brothers had?

Yeah, definitely, because the Wayanses are kind of known for their envelope pushing when it comes to sexual humor and David's style is much more slapsticky. But they really wanted to be able to market it to a wider audience, and it's really successful. It still pushes the envelope, I think, but in different ways.

Was the experience making it really different than the last two for you?

Yeah, it was. For a number of reasons. Of course, without the Wayanses, the set was a much calmer environment. I loved working with David, but I do miss the Wayanses. But it was also great to work with the man who created the genre with "Airplane!" and to learn from him. And it also felt really good, because I am so new in this industry, to feel confident and experienced coming into this one.

What was the most challenging thing you had to do for the movie?

All the physical comedy. There are a bunch of scenes where I get hit or I have to walk into a boom mike or there's a vase that lands in my head. All that stuff is very difficult because it has to be carefully choreographed and there's a lot of luck involved in it. The scene in which I walk into a boom mike we had to do it like 17 times or something, because I kept walking right past it or not hitting it quite right. All that stuff is much more difficult than people realize.

Did working with a new team help you stay fresh in a role you originated so long ago?

You know, it is a challenge to keep the role fresh and do something new with it. The easiest thing for any actor is to play a really well-developed character. Here, you can't always stick with the character because you have to do what's gonna lend itself to the joke. So I just made sure I played it sincerely. Cindy's very innocent, naive, not always the brightest girl. She doesn't have much of a sense of humor.

Are you planning to come back to star in "Scary Movie 4," which I understand is now a go, or have you had enough?

You know, it depends on how I'm feeling at the time, what's going on in my life. I get really anxious to work and I hate not working, so if it's at a time in my life when I'm not really excited about anything else, then ... I mean, it's definitely something that I've done and I love doing, but I'm really excited to do other stuff.

It's sort of a double-edged sword. It launched your career but it also demands continued attention. It must get frustrating.

It does, because this is such a specific genre and so broad that people don't think of me when they're thinking of casting their new young-person drama. It's been wonderful to establish myself as a comedic actress because, first of all, I never thought that I was! I always did drama before. But also because there are so few of them out there. It's wonderful to be able to make people laugh.

How do you account for the ongoing -- endless -- appeal of the "Scary Movie" series?

[Laughs.] You know, I think people really want something that doesn't take itself seriously. And also there really wasn't any kind of movie like this for the younger generation before "Scary Movie," and I think everybody realized how silly yet enjoyable a lot of the teen horror movies were. We can love them but also make fun of them.

I was checking out some of your seriously devoted fan sites. They're so sweet, and you really seem to give back a lot to your fans.

Yeah, it's so flattering that people sort of embraced this crazy character of Cindy Campbell and just are fans of what I do. It's really wonderful. Though I now see the importance of maintaining some distance for security reasons.

Have things gotten a little scary for you?

Not really. You do hear awful stories. More and more people have been warning me about not to have any contact with fans. Like if you write your fans, don't get personal at all, just send them a photo. Just sort of keeping a distance. At first I was so excited that people liked me in the movie that I would write everybody back. Not like a letter, of course, but I would sign a personalized photo. Sometimes attach a little Post-it note saying, "Thank you so much. "

You worry that people might take that the wrong way?

I do get letters from prison and people who want to establish a lot of contact. You have to use your head.

How has your life changed since the first "Scary Movie"?

Now I'm able to make money off what I love to do. So that's the biggest thing. Before I never thought of acting as a career. It was always sort of a hobby. Otherwise, not a lot has changed. I lead a pretty low-key, private life, which is really easy in L.A., where there are so many stars who are much, much bigger than myself. I do live in L.A. -- I probably wouldn't have made that choice if I wasn't acting. I have Seattle roots.

So you're not really into the whole Hollywood scene?

No. My favorite things to do are spending time with my fiancé [actor Ben Indra] and my family and my close friends. I love to cook and I love to hike and I love to shop. I do love to shop. But I don't really go to a lot of events and I don't really like to go out to clubs or anything. It's just not my style. I'd much rather go to a dive bar or a local place. I just don't love feeling awful, having to tell people, "Hi, yeah, I was in 'Scary Movie.' Do you mind if we come in?" I mean, it's so awkward.

Is fame what you thought it would be?

Gosh, yeah. I guess it kind of was. It is the way it's portrayed, you know. The red rope and all the beautiful people. It's very self-perpetuating. It loves to be what it is, just to hold up that reputation.

Did anything about it surprise you?

I think how beautiful everybody was. I knew there were beautiful people here -- I just didn't realize how beautiful. And, I think, the awfulness of the red rope, how exclusive places have to be. The pandering to the stars is so extreme that it's still shocking even if you've heard about it.

In an interview in Raygun magazine a couple of years back, you bemoaned the overemphasis on looks in Hollywood, blaming L.A. for your skinny physique and saying, "It's a little weird, all the stuff about boobs." Do you still feel distressed by the focus on actresses' physiques?

You know, not as much. But I do think it's the physical differences that make you special. Debra Messing once said, "I was convinced I would not be funny with huge boobs." And although "Scary Movie" might try to disprove that, I really admire her. I think it is your differences that make you a person and help the audience relate to you.

Do you ever get irritated by the pressure to look a certain way in Hollywood, to be thin, for instance?

It annoys me a lot. I have a few friends who have slightly bigger bone structures, just bigger frames than I do, and they have a hard time getting work. It really seems like you can't be too thin here.

You posed for Maxim, which I guess for a while every up-and-coming starlet had to do. Were you conflicted about doing that spread?

No. I wanted to do something sexy, but not too sexy. I wanted people to see me a little sexier than I am in the "Scary Movies." And I wanted to feel sexier. But would I do it again? No.

Why not?

I guess I don't feel as desperate. I feel like there was a time and a place maybe a few years ago, when people like Kirsten Dunst were doing it. Now it's like everybody's doing it.

How did the "Lost in Translation" role happen for you?

I had to kind of fight for that role. Sofia wasn't familiar with "Scary Movie," but one of her producers was and he brought me in to audition for her. But it was really early in the process -- before Bill [Murray] was attached -- and I think she wasn't sure what her vision for the character was yet. So I was on the back burner and I think she had a bunch of other girls read for her. Eventually she looked at my tape again and I got it. It was just wonderful working with her. It's an actor's dream. She just let us do whatever we wanted. You have to understand her vision, but she gave us so much freedom. It felt so good. Even having done all the improv for "Scary Movies" and stuff, it was just so rewarding to be able to play such a specific, well-written character that it seems like we all know versions of here in L.A.

Were you spoofing Cameron Diaz in particular?

No, that had never, ever occurred to me. There was another actress that I was sort of inspired by, that I had heard some stories about, and when Sofia and I talked about it, we talked about a couple of people, but Cameron's name was never mentioned. I think it's so odd that people have picked up on this and sort of gotten that impression. But no. I feel awful that people thought that I was making fun of her, because I really like her. I don't know her, but I really like her as a comedic actress.

So she hasn't gotten in touch with you and said, "Hey!"?

No. [Laughs ruefully.] I feel really awful.

Can you tell me who some of the other actresses are that you based your portrayal on?

I always imagined someone who was really successful at a young, young age, like as a child, and who grew up in the business, grew up famous and successful and just lives on a different plane. Is totally in her little insulated bubble.

Why do you think people see Cameron Diaz in your portrayal?

Maybe it's because she's animated and friendly. I don't know, actually. Whenever I've heard her speak she actually comes off as really funny and certainly not ridiculous like Kelly is.

So a lot of the role was improvised?

Yeah, I think all the stuff in the press junket was improv. And a lot of the stuff when we're having drinks. But Sofia came up with the anorexic father and a lot of that stuff when you first meet my character, when she says [to Giovanni Ribisi's character], "You're my favorite photographer."

Have the actresses that you've spoofed in the "Scary Movies" -- Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt -- ever contacted you about your take on them?

Yeah. Jennifer Love Hewitt sent me a huge bouquet of flowers and I met her a while later and she said, "I never laughed so hard." She was really kind and gracious and friendly. Neve Campbell, I've never run into her, but I imagine people can't really take it too seriously or get too offended because they are such goofy movies. I just hope people understand that we're not spoofing other people's acting. It's just the characters and the dramatic elements of these horror movies.

I noticed you were dubbed an It girl a few months back by W magazine. How does that feel?

Well, it feels great, I guess. But there is this weird flavor-of-the-month thing here in Hollywood that I don't quite get. It seems like a lot of young actors become really popular really fast without quite earning it or deserving it or having quite yet proved themselves. So I think that element is really weird, that someone's the talk of the town and then they're cast in all these movies and then maybe are faced later on with a declining career because the popularity came on so fast and strong. I really like the idea of coming up slow and just trying to do good work and good movies and just continuing to chug along.

Are you starting to get offered roles, as opposed to having to audition for them?

Well, I was just offered this bit on "Friends" -- I'm doing three episodes -- and that was one of the first things I've ever been offered. It's already a pretty scary experience because I've never done that kind of live TV before and also working with these enormously successful people on their turf. So I was really nervous. I was like, "How can they know how I'm going to play this character?"

What's the character that you're playing?

I don't know how much I can say about it. All I can say is that I'm involved in Monica and Chandler's storyline.

Your 27th birthday is coming up in a few weeks. Are you pleased with where you are?

Oh my gosh! Yeah. I was able to buy a house because of "Scary Movie 3." It feels great. It's also really scary because actresses come and go. It seems like there's a much shorter time span for actresses but, yeah, I just can't believe how fortunate I've been.

What are you hoping to do next?

I go back and forth between being very picky and fussy about projects and feeling very desperate about wanting to get to work. So I don't know. I think if I want to get into dramatic film, I'll have to go the independent route because I don't know how much studios are looking at me and saying, "Oh yeah, let's put her in a drama." So I think I'll have to prove myself.

Regina Hall -- who's also a "Scary Movie" veteran -- we want to do a buddy comedy like the men do, something less broad, not necessarily action-oriented, but I think the time is right for female buddy comedy. We want to be like Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. We want to produce and create a lot of our own projects like a lot of male comedians do. We want to do a lot of stuff.

By Amy Reiter

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