Girl, Incarcerated

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Girl, Incarcerated: An Interview with Cherish star Robin Tunny

Perhaps best known for her role in the Goth-girl-power saga The Craft,
Robin Tunney is one of those chameleon-like actors; her seamless performances make it difficult to connect the dots of her
fifteen-year career (for the record, Empire Records, Niagara, Niagara and the Schwartzenegger film End of Days
are among them). In the new film Cherish, Tunney plays Zoe Adler, a
twenty-nine-year-old computer animator who is falsely accused of killing a
cop and spends most of the film held captive in a warehouse. An electronic
tracking bracelet confines her to a fifty-foot radius, sugary ’80s tunes from an FM radio are her only entertainment, and her sole companions are the humorless security agent who visits to check her anklet, and a grumpy, gay, Jewish little person who’s confined to a wheelchair. A lonely misfit who can’t find happiness when she is free, Zoe comes into her own when she’s forced into isolation. Cherish is a portrait of one women’s search
for self that doesn’t (thank the heavens) depend on her finding the love of
a good man.

What drew you to this film and the character of Zoe?

It’s been really difficult to find something, anything, that’s
character driven. I loved the fact that Zoe started as one thing and
blossomed into something else. Even though she’s annoying, it’s coming from
a really human place a lot of people can identify with, which is our desire
to be liked.

The electronic tracking anklet that Zoe has to wear — what does that
symbolize to you?

I think it’s a manifestation of Zoe’s greatest fear: being alone.
A lot of women fall into the trap of thinking that they need to be
with somebody, and I love that Zoe’s transformation came from
within. I think that if this film had been your typical romantic comedy, she
would meet a guy, he would find her eccentricities charming and
everything would be okay. I just thought that had been done to death, and
it’s also not good for women, you know? ‘Cause what happens when you break up? It happens all the time.

Have you ever been like Zoe at the beginning of the film, sort of a doormat?

Completely. As far as wanting to be liked and talking too much and getting,
you know, verbal diarrhea. And I was actually wrongly accused of a crime
once. I was renting this house in southern California when I was making a
movie, and when I came home one day, there were, like, seven cops in the
kitchen. They made me get up against the wall, and they frisked me, and they
made me identify myself. I started crying because I thought that no matter
what it was, I’d done it, I was immediately guilty. It turned out the woman
who rented me the house had embezzled $300,000 from a store where she worked. The police tagged and took all of the furniture out of the house. They
thought I was her.

Have you ever stalked somebody?

Johnny Manion in the seventh grade. He broke up with me and wanted nothing
to do with me. I would call his house and hang up. I feel like caller ID has
really done a lot of bad things to romance.

I agree, totally.

How can you call somebody and find out if they’re home, or if they didn’t
call you or  . . .

 . . . or if they called and hung up.

I liked not knowing and assuming they did try.

Right, that’s true, ’cause if you get the definitive answer, then your fantasies are shattered  . . . so in the beginning of the film, Zoe says the music helps keep her focused or connected. What is it about ’80s music?

I decided it represented a time when she felt safe. Like,
as a child, there were fond memories.

From her teen years?

No, younger than that. I highly doubt Zoe had a lot of friends in high
school either. It’s like a third-grade, roller-skating party kind of thing,
you know?

Before things went terribly wrong and she found herself roller skating in
prison. So why a gay Jewish cripple as Zoe’s foil?

That character’s based on a very close friend of Finn’s [director Finn Taylor] who passed away. He
was in Dream with the Fishes, and he was a gay, Jewish crippled guy.
He seemed really grumpy and screamed a lot but dared people to come closer.
That’s who the film is dedicated to  . . . only in Northern California [laughs].

I was wondering if it was some kind of Living in Oblivion spoof  . . .

About independent film needing  . . .

 . . . some “deep” element to remind you of your humanity.

I think that beyond the film being about obsession, it’s about loneliness,
and what you do with it.

So you’ve played troubled women before, a Tourette’s-Syndrome sufferer in Niagara, Niagara, a budding witch in
The Craft. Do you seek these roles out, or is it typecasting?

I don’t have much desire to be the ingénue, the giggling girl that
somebody wants to be with. I’ve never really identified with those roles,
and they don’t give you much to do. So I think that, generally, the roles
that have been the most interesting to me tend to be aberrant.

So what did you see in a role like End of Days?

Well, I couldn’t believe they wanted me to be in an Arnold
Schwartzenegger movie.

So they offered it to you without an audition?

We met, and Arnold had seen Niagara, Niagara and really liked it. It
was weird. I felt really hurt after Niagara came out, ’cause nobody went to
see it. And I thought, “Well, people don’t want to go to the movies to see
stuff like that, and I want to be in movies that people go and see.” Did it
turn out exactly how I wanted? No. But I’m glad I did it.

So, two years ago, you acted in a film called Investigating Sex that was never released in the States. What’s it about?

It’s about Andre Breton, an important surrealist writer who wrote
a book called Investigating Sex. He, Dali and Manet all got together
and tried to define sex and sexuality — which is impossible.


Alan Rudolph read that book, and he started thinking, “Well, who wrote
this down?” So he wrote a fictional account about how they hired female

There’s sort of a Stanley Kubrick-type orgy scene?

No, no, there’s no orgy. That’s part of the reason why it didn’t get an
American distributor. ‘Cause they’re talking about it and not demonstrating

Did you learn
anything about your own sexuality?

You know, it’s weird. She’s the most sexual character I’ve played. She’s outgoing, she likes to
talk about sex, has absolutely no problem with it and enjoys male attention.
That’s never how I felt, I’ve never considered that my trump card.

Did you ever think The Craft would become such a definitive film for angsty teen girls?

Not at all. It’s very strange. I didn’t realize the value of it until I saw
things like Varsity Blues and American Pie, where the girls are playing male
fantasies, and they’re so stereotypical. None of these movies are all about
girls. In retrospect, I understood why it struck
a nerve. All the characters were fairly accessible. They weren’t the total
hot chicks in school. It explored the girls who were left-of-center,
which I think is how a lot of us feel in our teenage years, even if we’re not.

It spawned Charmed and Buffy, and really contributed to goth chic. No small cultural feat.

It’s funny, Liz Phair [a co-star in the movie] said it best. Everybody will always remember her for writing the
song “Blowjob Queen.” And she told me, “Robin, The Craft is your ‘Blowjob Queen.'”

Cherish opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 7.

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