There’s a star on the dressing room door, and inside, an overpowering scent from massed bouquets of flowers. Notes are pinned around the mirror, with scrawled endearments such as “Break a leg!” from the likes of Ben Kingsley and Tom Conti.
It’s all so very . . . actressy.
“Ah just lerv all this,” says Jerry Hall, with genuine enthusiasm infusing her Texan drawl.
As well she might. Hitherto, Hall has been best known as an international model and as the constant companion of Mick Jagger and mother of two of his children--in other words, someone who’s well-known for being well-known.
Now, at 33, Hall is also being taken seriously as an actress. She’s starring at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in a production of “Bus Stop,” the 1955 William Inge play about a group of lonely souls stranded in a Midwest diner overnight during a snowstorm.
The drama was memorably adapted for film--and Jerry Hall has taken Marilyn Monroe’s role of the self-styled “chantoose” Cherie, the vulnerable small-town showgirl with big-time aspirations.
Given that she’s a fledgling actress coping with a starring role, and that she’s also stepping into Monroe’s high heels, expectations for her West End debut did not run high.
But Hall has received praise from London’s theater critics, even those who did not feel Inge’s play has aged well. There’s been a lot of talk about Hall’s deliberately bad rendition of the classic song “That Old Black Magic,” dressed in a provocative showgirl costume.
“All the critics said I could act,” notes Hall. “They grudgingly admitted it. But that was nice.”
Although many reviews compared Hall’s portrayal to Monroe’s, Hall insists: “I’d look silly if I tried to copy Marilyn Monroe. I hadn’t seen the movie for a while. I liked it, but I didn’t want to watch it and try to pick up any of the things she had done.
“I think a lot of the critics were expecting the movie, which is completely different from the play,” adds Hall. “It’s a delicate play. Not a lot happens. It’s about lonely people looking for love.” (The film also omitted a crucial character, the middle-aged pedophile Dr. Lyman, and downplayed the sexual aspect of Cherie’s relationship with her brash cowboy lover, portrayed here by Shaun Cassidy.)
Still, advance bookings for “Bus Stop” are sufficiently healthy to ensure it will complete its scheduled six-month run.
And that’s reason enough for Hall to be beaming as she sinks into a chair in her dressing room. She’s clad in a tiny red mini-dress, which accentuates her height (around six feet), her svelte frame (achieved without aerobics or fitness routine), and her legs (about half as long as Piccadilly).
She has softer features in person than in photographs, which can make her look angular. Her long blond mane often cascades over one eye, Veronica Lake-style. She flings her arms about to emphasize a point in mock theatrical gestures, and adopts a vampish, tongue-in-cheek demeanor, allowing her Texan vowel sounds full rein.
“I always liked acting,” she says. “Throughout my modeling career, I always tried to get acting parts, but it was always a small role where I was a model, I walked on, said a few lines and walked off again. Nothing substantial.
“My first big break was given to me by Lorne Michaels, producer of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ He asked me to host the show, which was a really heavy-duty thing for me. But Lorne liked me and had faith, and I did it and everyone said I was real funny.
“Then I was asked to do a pilot for NBC. It was a sitcom, and I was a model. I’m glad it didn’t get picked up actually, because it was typecasting. Instead they picked up ‘ALF'--you know, the dawg from outer space? You know you’re in trouble when you’re beaten out by a dawg .”
She had a small part in the movie “Batman,” and made her debut in “Bus Stop” in 1988 at the state college Theaterfest in Montclair, N.J.
Phil Oesterman, the production’s director, saw her in New York on “Late Night With David Letterman.” “I had no idea who she was, she was just this blond, fabulous woman,” said Oesterman by phone from New York. “Then she and Letterman started talking about Mick, and I realized it must be Jerry Hall.
“Tommy Tune had told me about her, because she had gone in to audition for him for the Twiggy part in ‘My One and Only.’ Tommy told me she couldn’t sing or dance well enough, but there was something special about her.
“After the Letterman show was over, I lay in bed wondering what would be good for her, and I eventually realized ‘Bus Stop’ would be ideal. I called her agent the next day, she came over to read about noon, and that was it. I felt I’d known her all my life. She was born about 20 miles away from me in Texas, so it was like there was this spiritual bond or something.”
Hall recalls thinking she could make her stage debut being in a backwater like Montclair without fear of failure. “Boy, was I naive!” she says. “What I hadn’t figured was that the world’s press would be camped out there, waiting for me.”
Still, reviews were good, and British producer Michael White, who had traveled to Montclair to see “Bus Stop,” decided to try it in the West End.
“It took 18 months,” says Hall now, “but it was worth it. The interesting thing about this play is that a lot of young people are coming to see it. There’s a lot of students, a lot of Americans. And the box-office people told me they say things like: ‘Are these seats near the screen?’ ” She giggles at the thought.
There’s vague talk of continuing the production after August, maybe even taking it to New York, but Hall thinks she’ll have had enough of Cherie by then. Still, she feels an affinity with her character: “I came from her kind of background--small town, big family, not a lot of money. I had all these big dreams about making it.”
Indeed. She grew up in an unfashionable town called Mesquite--not to be confused with Mustique, the Caribbean isle where she and Jagger now share one of five homes. (The others are in London, New York, Texas and a chateau in France.) “At home, I was always the class clown, the ham, the one who would get up and do comedy routines for relatives,” Hall recalls.
“I wanted to be like Lucille Ball or Carole Lombard. I won awards for acting in high school, but then I fell into modeling. I was making money, getting all sorts of recognition, and thought that was good enough for the moment.
“I still think modeling is one of the best jobs in the world. It’s so easy, and it pays so well. There’s no hassles and no homework. You get there, you get dressed up and they tell you you look beautiful.”
Hall’s growing celebrity and casual ease in front of the cameras landed her a host of commercials--for L’Oreal, Revlon and others. She’s currently seen on TV pitching Diet Coke. “I got a call from People magazine, wanting an interview about it. Can you imagine? What can you say about a commercial ?” In Britain, she appears in self-mocking commercials for a beef drink called Bouril, dressed in an outfit reminiscent of the Famous Chicken.
She now lives primarily in London, has carved out a niche for herself here on the talk-show circuit and as guest star on TV variety shows with her straight-talking personality. The British people seem especially to like her ability to laugh at herself and her glamorous image.
“Well, I love them too,” says Hall graciously. “I first lived here in the mid-'70s, when I was engaged to Bryan Ferry (singer with the rock group Roxy Music). We were always in the newspapers, and they used to like to write about us. Then of course, with Mick, they’ve kept up with everything we did in the last 13 years--his divorce, us getting together, our break-ups, our children. They show a keen interest. So people think they know us.”
She has wanted to live in England since the birth of her children (Elizabeth, 6, and James, 4). “As soon as my daughter turned school age, I wanted to get her going in kindergarten. I think the education system is better in Britain and so does Mick. Plus the fact the children have an English father.
“And I think the lifestyle is nicer, certainly nicer than in New York, where we lived before, which is very polluted and dangerous. The people we call here are so much politer--much more civilized. We give a dinner party, they write thank-you notes and give one back. It’s a lovely social life.”
Hall and Jagger (when he’s in London) have become major names among London’s smart set, favored guests of the glitterati, the younger aristocracy--and thanks to Hall’s West End entree, the theater world.
“I’ve never had such an exciting time in my life,” Hall says. “Every night, there’s somewhere different to go after the show. I’m getting involved in theater things. Actors are very sweet. I have had an amazing amount of kindness--which I haven’t experienced before. Modeling is more singular, but now I enjoy the teamwork and the camaraderie.”
The attitude seems to go both ways; colleagues report that Hall is a trouper in the best theatrical tradition.
Says Chris Pickles, assistant director and company and stage manager for “Bus Stop”: “She has a terrific attitude, and everyone likes her. She has a real ability to lift everyone around her.”
Director Oesterman agrees. “She’s the most positive person I’ve ever known. She’s mastered the art of living, and she makes the most of every single moment. Fame hasn’t changed her one bit. I’ve seen her with royalty and with waitresses from her hometown, and she’s exactly the same. I’ve been with her when things were not going well with Mick, and she will not allow herself to get negative.”
Jagger and Hall have been talking of marriage for years now. “We say we will,” says Hall. “We plan on doing it. But we’ve both been so busy lately. Mick’s a roamer. He’s always working and traveling.” A little shrug.
Still, Jagger has been to see “Bus Stop” five times. “He’s very proud of me and he’s so sweet,” says Hall with a grin. “He says, ‘This is my old stamping ground. When I was 16 or 17, I used to roam up and down Shaftesbury Avenue, and to think my baby’s name is up in lights!’ ”
One of Hall’s plans is to star in a film with Jagger. “People don’t realize how funny he is. In fact he’s awfully witty, and the film work he did, ‘Performance’ and ‘Ned Kelly,’ was years ago. Yet no one’s offered him a good part.”
In the meantime, Hall is close to signing for a movie in which she will co-star with Ben Kingsley: “It’s looking . . . promising.” Can she say any more about it? “Maybe not ,” she says, coquettishly.
Still, she concedes her future is suddenly looking bright on a number of fronts. “Things happen in life when they do,” she muses. “Anjelica Huston, who’s a friend, says people only start to take you seriously when you get into your 30s.
“I’m 33, so maybe it’s true for me. I remember back in New York when I was about 21, people told me to wait till I was 30 for good things to happen. Back then, that seemed a long time to wait.”