A different face

"Spun," a new indie film by Swedish director Jonas Akerlund, splays the lives of a pack of speed junkies on a three-day crystal-meth odyssey in the North Los Angeles Valley. In it, 24-year-old Mena Suvari turns out a greasy-haired, mercurial performance as Cookie, Spider Mike's (John Leguizamo) endlessly spun girlfriend.

Her performances in such mainstream films as "American Pie" and the Oscar-nominated "American Beauty" don't foretell this de-glammed role, but Suvari says she likes the edgy, offbeat taste. It's the polar opposite of her new gig as the fresh, flawless young face of Lancome, Paris.

This might be an understatement, but what an unglamorous role.

Exactly. That appeals to me. I liked the story and character first off, but it's nice to play around with strange personalities. Usually you go to the set and get made up to look better, but here they'd draw veins in; they put red eyeliner in your eyes, paint bags under your eyes. The brown teeth came from a resin stain that looked like nail polish and hardly came off. At the end of the day I'd be scraping my teeth. I didn't wash my hair for a week and with the brown teeth would go out to dinner. The whole energy around you changes when you look like that.

When did the Lancome deal happen?

That was after "Spun." When I was in London doing some photo shoots for them, the Lancome people said, "Yeah, we want to have a screening of 'Spun.' " I thought, oh no, if they see that movie, I'm fired.

Some of the characters are so repulsive they're fascinating. Did you find them sympathetic at all?

I was very touched by the film when I first saw it. I think it's poetic and really beautiful in a way. Nothing is glorified about these people and the drug, but they're normal people. You see all the sides to the characters.

It's an extremely realistic drug film, but the characters still have humanity.

The writer seems to have intimate knowledge of his subject. Did you get to met him?

There were two writers, in fact [Will De Los Santos and Creighton Vero], and the film is basically their lives, which is kind of scary. The outrageous things in the film did happen, which gives one great pause. This film shows how cracked up these people get. Battery acid and household cleaners are apparently some ingredients of methamphetamines, so you can imagine what it does to one's brain and one's thinking.

There was a lot of nudity in the film, yet your role steered clear of that. Is it hard to maintain after your early experience with "American Beauty"?

I didn't even think about it at the time because I was so young in every respect; in the business, in life. It's funny, because I always said I was never going to do nudity and then that happened. So yes, I've had to work very hard and say that I won't do nudity. Even the films I've worked on after "American Beauty," it was taken out or redone, when originally in the script it was written in. I mean, it's understandable because sex sells. But when it's done for fluff or kicks, I don't want a part of it, thanks.

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