PROFILE : Sean Young, Seriously : She’s not just a wild spirit, she insists, but a sensitive soul too; certainly she’s brave--her next step is to sing and dance on stage
“Hi-eee!” The dusk curfew imposed during the recent L.A. uprising is approaching, but Sean Young, rather than hiding indoors with the more timid folk, is cheerfully waving at a passing helicopter, most probably on its way to quell looting and arson in more troubled areas of Los Angeles. Perched on the trunk of her borrowed Honda Civic outside a San Fernando Valley dance studio, the pale, gamin-like actress seems unlikely to be picked out by the pilot. But to presume this is to underestimate Young’s star quality.
She is spotted. “He blinked his light,” she says, pleased at the aerial acknowledgment.
Even as a speck on the ground, even in the midst of a riot, Sean Young commands attention.
Sometimes she asks for it, and sometimes it just comes to her; Young would seem to be a press agent’s dream and nightmare all wrapped up in one. Before Sharon Stone came along, Young pretty much had the lock on combining model looks and outrageousness, generating a fair share of controversy that she’s courted on her own terms (like the infamous lobbying for the Catwoman role) and some that she hasn’t (the infamous harassment suit filed against her by James Woods).
Though her last major hit movie was 1987’s “No Way Out,” the public fascination with Young remains strong enough to land the lean and lovely 32-year-old on the front of plenty of magazines, including a recent Entertainment Weekly that flagged its cover gal as “Hollywood’s Most Dangerous Beauty.”
“Controversy is something that’s painful,” she says, “but because we live in a very mechanized and modern world full of dead people who need drama and controversy to make them feel less dead, people will never hate you for bringing drama into their lives--not that I’ve noticed. You understand what I’m saying? And I have not been hated by anybody.”
Hated, perhaps not. Whispered and endlessly speculated about, assuredly. Tell someone that you’ve met Sean Young, and you come up against a curiosity that’s rare in biz-jaded L.A.: So what’s she like? Which, in some inquiring minds, are code words for: Tell me, is she really nuts?
Young is very much aware of this voyeuristic interest in her psyche and, rather than deny it, chooses to have a good time--or at least a cathartic one--playing off it.
“In Japan they have this training for businessmen, where they get up and sing a song in front of 10,000 people and totally embarrass themselves, because the idea is that once you’ve completely embarrassed yourself, you’re free,” she says.
There are similar rituals Young can point to in her own life. When she was being sued by ex-co-star (and, it was rumored and denied, ex-lover) James Woods--what she refers to as “the height of my difficulties"--rather than retreat into hiding, she actually ventured into the limelight of the Catch a Rising Star club in New York to try out a stand-up comedy routine for three straight nights.
When she told comedian Richard Lewis (her recent co-star in the film “Once Upon a Crime”) about this, “he said, ‘ What? Are you crazy ?’ He thought it was an insane thing to do. And it was actually fairly insane. But my logic was, if I can survive this, I can survive anything. . . . I wasn’t like a rave, smashingly funny, but it didn’t really matter; it was the fact that I did it and overcame the fear.”
More recently, Young filmed a cameo in a film comedy called “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me"--as a certifiable nut case. Given her reputation, there are bound to be wiseacres who’ll call that typecasting. Which plays right into why she did it: “Only a person who had a really good sense of humor and was in my situation, where everybody was asking whether I was sane or not, could actually play an insane person and make that much fun of it.”
And now, she’s taking another leap of faith, not only making her professional stage debut but also dancing and singing publicly for the first time in “Stardust,” a new musical centered around vintage Mitchell Parish songs opening tonight at the Wilshire Theatre. She’s third-billed (after singer Toni Tennille and veteran stage hoofer Hinton Battle) and doesn’t have to carry the show, but it’s still a risk, given the derision a film actress sometimes can face flopping on the legitimate stage.
“People were asking me, ‘Are you sure you want to do this in L.A.?’ But I’ve only got two solo numbers, really, plus four with the ensemble, and it’s a very nice introduction for me. I’ve bitten off just enough to be able to master it and not be foolish.”
So is Young naturally all this brave?
“Yes,” she says, unhesitating. “Naturally, yeah, naturally that way.”
Such fearlessness inspires awe in some quarters and, well, fear in others. Viewed as a recklessly loose cannon or a refreshingly candid maverick, Young is certainly the kind of personality that’s historically made Hollywood fun . Whether she can be the kind of personality that makes Hollywood money, too, remains to be seen. But for now, there is the latest Japanese singing ritual, her new stage turn.
The cross-discipline demands of Young’s “Stardust” role might seem like a stretch, and the singing probably will be. But dancing has always been her first love, though this is her first shot at it professionally. Even here in the parking lot, she’s prone to jump off the trunk to give an impromptu demonstration of essential differences between ballet and rhythmic styles--tapping while Rome burns, as it were.
Young began studying ballet in high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and upon graduation headed to New York’s School of American Ballet. Soon her potential as a dancer took a back seat to a burgeoning career as a fashion model, which in turn was shoved aside as she found favor in the movies.
Her modeling career lasted less than two years before she made the shift to dramatic film work in 1980, but for an inordinately long time, before the press had any better peg to put on her, the actress was frequently referred to as “ex-model Sean Young.”
A cover girl’s blemishless face made her ideal casting as the embodiment of glamorous android perfection in 1982’s science-fiction classic “Blade Runner.” But it wasn’t until her role as the doomed mistress in “No Way Out,” with its infamous back-seat sex scene between Young and Kevin Costner, that she starred in a commercial blockbuster.
Lately she’s appeared in ill-fated sexy thrillers like “A Kiss Before Dying” and “Love Crimes,” but what she’d most like to do is more comedy. It’s not an inappropriate goal: Despite the maxim that people don’t like to laugh at a pretty woman, Young has a manic energy, a propensity for mugging, an engagingly goofy quality and a prankster’s spirit that could conceivably fill the filmic void of genuine screen comediennes who are also lookers.
“I keep my crews in hysterics,” she says, adding that she had one of her happiest shooting experiences recently filming the yet-to-be-released “Blue Ice” with Michael Caine, “who’s a giggler like I am.”
“Having a sense of humor is kind of an acclimation one has toward life. Is your approach to life lighthearted, or is it heavy? Because when people take things too seriously, I feel like they feel they’re more important than God. . . . You need that level of self-consciousness, because when you get around people who just are so serious, oof , that’s why they’re always so serious--they get stuck being serious and they wonder why nobody wants to be around them anymore.” At this, she cracks up.
Young doesn’t laugh everything off, though. She enjoys doing TV talk shows but dreads print interviews and avoids her own press clippings--"I couldn’t take it, I’m too sensitive"--with a paranoiac’s disdain. You wonder if there was a certain point when she made a conscious decision to stop reading them.
“Yeah, there was, yep, yep, there sure was! Heh heh heh!” Her voice takes on an artificially cheerful, ironic tone. “Yep, I think it was right around the time this actor sued me, yep!” (Indeed, the media had a field day with the $2-million harassment suit Woods filed, settled out of court in 1989 for an undisclosed amount, alleging that she sent her former “The Boost” co-star and his fiancee “graphic representations of violent acts.” Today, Woods’ vague comments on the matter are cryptic yet conciliatory, while Young’s remain bitter.)
In reading all those interviews that Young doesn’t, you get two seemingly irreconcilable pictures of her: one, as a sensitive soul genuinely hurt by the innuendoes that have surrounded her, and the other, of a wild spirit looking controversy in the eye and seeming to say, “ Bring it on .”
“Well, can’t both be true?” she asks. “Both are true. After I had to deal with an actor suing me--which I don’t think any other actress has ever had to deal with--that, of course, was very difficult, but I never blamed the press, because it was a good story. If I were press, I would’ve covered it.
“But hey, we all have our karma to deal with, and like I say, I’m gonna have the last laugh, because I was an honest person. I have everything to look forward to, because the good Lord looks on me and says, ‘Don’t worry, baby, you’ll be OK.’
“Bad experiences are our greatest teachers, so I have become really strong. Ever since then, the press has just wanted to devour me, you know what I mean? They’ve just always wanted to know about me and hear about me. That, to an actress, is a hard thing to even buy.”
Not that Young entirely minds being devoured.
After the Woods imbroglio--at the time of which it was speculated by those who bought his side of the bizarre story that Young might be just a little off her rocker--died down, anyone might have reasonably figured that Young would play it safe for a while, just to safeguard a sober, responsible image. Lie low might seem like the sensible operative plan.
Then one day you turn on the TV and she’s on “The Joan Rivers Show,” parading back and forth in front of the set in a Catwoman costume. This, just days after she gave “Entertainment Tonight” a homemade video of herself sneaking onto the Warner Bros. lot in the same get-up in an abortive guerrilla attempt to meet with “Batman Returns” director Tim Burton for the role, which ultimately went to Michelle Pfeiffer. (A few years prior, she had been cast by Burton in the Vicki Vale role in the first “Batman” movie, but had to bow out after a horse-riding accident, and was irked at Burton’s lack of follow-up.)
Some bewildered industry observers figured Young must have a career death wish, while others enjoyed her TV spectacle as a display of chutzpah at its finest. Though not everyone did, you almost had to love it.
“Yahhhhhh!” she laughs, recalling her kittenish-with-a-whip grandstanding on Rivers’ show last July. “Everyone else thinks it’s crazy, but I think it’s funny. And I tell you what else too, the public absolutely loved it. Because (A) they love underdogs, and (B) I should have been Catwoman. Those are two facts of the matter. Catwoman in the comic strip had brown hair, a little pointy nose, had my type of face, was tall and thin. I still really don’t understand why the director and the producers and studio people wouldn’t see me for it. They must have had either their deal set, or somebody at some studio who wanted to pull a favor here did this, or (Pfeiffer) is the biggest box office, or whatever it was.
“And that’s OK, but I guess for me, it was important to express that anger and not to absorb it myself, because I didn’t deserve it in the first place. It’s very important for me not to become angry unnecessarily.”
So was that TV shot about venting real heat, or just having some fun with Joan?
“Definitely displeasure. I was very displeased at not being able to be seen for the part of Catwoman. Yes, I was very, very upset. It did not seem fair to me at all, and it wasn’t fair. And believe it or not, there are a lot of people who admire the courage it took to say that. Even people who work in Warner Bros.!”
Warner subsequently issued a statement, politely explaining that it “had a very particular vision in mind for the role of Catwoman, and we didn’t feel Sean Young was right for the part; hence, we didn’t pursue her.” This was the second time in two years a studio had issued a statement in response to Young’s public comments; earlier, Disney had responded to her allegations that she was let go from “Dick Tracy” because she refused to be charmed by Warren Beatty.
Is it at all worrisome that her famous forthrightness in discussing such matters--these public volleys on high-profile projects with Warner and Disney--might put her future employment with the heavyweights involved at any risk?
“Disney’s just made an offer to me, so it can’t be too bad,” she says, smiling. “Maybe the press will just really never know what goes on behind closed doors, because a deal is a deal, and there’s not too much else in Hollywood that really matters. They’re not taking human considerations into account, even if they’re scared to death of you.
“That’s one really interesting aspect of show business:
“I could have fangs hanging out of my mouth, I could be displayed hanging from my toes on the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevard and if I had the quality that an executive wanted for their movie, it wouldn’t matter, and doesn’t matter, and hasn’t mattered. If you’re Warner Bros.’ enemy this week, you’re Columbia’s best friend. That’s the nature of show business. And you’ll never be everybody’s friend.”
So these power brokers of Hollywood aren’t as touchy as they might seem, then?
Suddenly Young loses her patience with this line of questioning. “Will you give me some slack here? Will you please?” she demands, sounding utterly exasperated but never losing her smile. “Can’t you ask me something more interesting? You’ve asked this three times now. Yes, I’m castable .”
No one, we meekly protest, was suggesting that she isn’t. . . .
“And have I stopped working in the last 12 years? OK. So what’s the deduction? Come on, what is it? You tell me,” she asks cutely and rhetorically, as if to a child. “OK. All right.”
All of a sudden you see why Young prefers doing TV appearances. In print you don’t see how even the keel of this defensive tirade is in context of her constantly expressive discourse, how moments later she’s laughing again, how sometimes that laughter seems to have a suppressed melancholy edge, how she calls ‘em as she sees ‘em without apparent regard to consequences and then casually changes subjects. Her volatility might be her curse, but it’s also the large part of her charm.
“It wins me a lot of friends,” Young quips of her celebrated honesty. She’s kidding, of course, but turns serious: “It wins me friends who can take it, and doesn’t win me friends who can’t.
“Restraint is what I’ve learned. My husband, for example"--actor Robert Lujan, with whom she now lives in Arizona--"is this really laid-back guy, and he can go in a room and really not like somebody at all, but they always like him, because he knows how to contain what he’s feeling.
“But what happens with me, if I spot something that I think is really dishonest or out of balance or unfair or a waste of everybody’s time . . . I tend to--if I restrain myself--start crying or something. Or I start shaking like a Chihuahua. Because it’s very hard for me to function dysfunctionally.”
Young feels she’s among the 10% or so of actors in Hollywood who are functional, or, as she more commonly puts it, “conscious.” Yoga, meditation, Rolfing and a lot of other calming practices that cynics might consider wacky prove helpful in avoiding Chihuahua-ism, as does retreating home to Arizona when work permits. (“You know, like in Chapter 12 of Revelations, when that lady flees to the desert?” she says with a chuckle.)
She must be used to achieving calm amid her storms somehow; on this evening, with the Southland’s rioting winding down, she takes note of, but is hardly fazed by, the sirens whizzing by on the street and the occasional copters overhead, whereas more easily perturbed actresses would probably just choose to do their interviews indoors during a drive-by apocalypse.
“What happens to movie stars is they get rendered helpless, because the system needs them that way. It’s symptomatic of being catered to. . . . It’s like a mother or father spoiling a child--does that help that child grow up? And then when (stars) want to fight back or actually become more mature, it becomes painful, and you have all of these little tantrums.
“I feel I am without some of the real neuroses that actors and actresses can have.” She’s smart enough to know this will sound to some of her contemporaries like the latest case of the pot calling the kettle black, but she doesn’t care. “Because I’m very conscious and very sensitive and I can spot things happening around me. A lot of people who do what I do don’t notice anybody else but themselves.
“In some ways I feel a little bit too sane to be an actor.”