Article: 19891001087

Title: 20 Questions: Geena Davis

20 Questions: Geena Davis
HMH Publishing Co., Inc.
Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis met with Contributing Editor David Rensin wearing a yellow dress with a tiny print, her long, curly locks, seen in "Beetle-juice," "The Accidental Tourist" and "Earth Girls Are Easy," replaced with a new haircut in a singular shade of red. When lunch arrived--a turkey sandwich and potato chips--Geena set it on the carpet in front of the couch. From time to time, she cast an eye in its direction. "I bet you'll write, 'She kept staring at the turkey sandwich,'" she said.

Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis met with Contributing Editor David Rensin wearing a yellow dress with a tiny print, her long, curly locks, seen in "Beetle-juice," "The Accidental Tourist" and "Earth Girls Are Easy," replaced with a new haircut in a singular shade of red. When lunch arrived--a turkey sandwich and potato chips--Geena set it on the carpet in front of the couch. From time to time, she cast an eye in its direction. "I bet you'll write, 'She kept staring at the turkey sandwich,'" she said.


[Q] Playboy: America got its first peek at you in Tootsie--in your underwear. Is that how you imagined your big break?

[A] Davis: When I went to the audition, they said, "It's a movie with Dustin Hoffman" and I said, "Right, fat chance." So I was just fooling around. I had no idea that it would pan out. It was one of those fabulous life experiences. [Pauses] It's not been the same since. I've had great parts, but that was the only time in my life that I'd wake up every morning and say, "Oh, yeah, I get to go work on the movie!" It was absolutely like when you're in love and you're just floating and everything is wonderful and your whole life is perfect.


[Q] Playboy: After studying acting in college, you went to New York to make your fortune. What can a gal see in the big city?

[A] Davis: I'd always wanted to see a play on Broadway. I'd had some idea that it was going to be mind-blowing, that I would just go nuts and it would be the most fabulous thing ever. And I was so disappointed. I thought, It's boring and regular and I've already seen plays that were as good as this. Broadway itself seemed crummy and dirty. Of course, I'd never been to New York before. After I'd lived there awhile, I loved it and everything about it. [Pauses] There have been a few things that I'd fantasized would be so fabulous and so ga-lamourous that I'd be blown away. Las Vegas was another. I had some image from the movies that there would be people in evening gowns throwing dice and stuff, but it was more like a Greyhound bus station.


[Q] Playboy: Describe the magic of a Las Vegas wedding--yours, for instance, to actor Jeff Goldblum.

[A] Davis: It was Jeff's birthday a few days before and we wanted to go somewhere we'd never been and have this fabulously exciting time that would blow our minds. We got there and were instantly and unutterably depressed about how it looked: It wasn't even groups of people having fun and betting and screaming; it was single people not speaking to anybody, just grim and very depressing. Then we had this very depressing dinner and we couldn't think of what to do next. Should we see a show, or would that depress us, too? And then some friends we were with said, "Why don't you get married? Or at least we'll go see what the wedding place is like." Later, when they started leading us to the altar, I started crying [smiles]. But at the time, it seemed the thing to do to try to whip some excitement into this weekend. Then we became terrifically excited and ended the evening just screaming.


[Q] Playboy: Your home decor includes life-sized-cow and giant-chicken sculptures. Explain your barnyard obsession.

[A] Davis: I'm fascinated with large things and funny things, things that look like cartoons. I got the cow first. Jeff gave it to me for Christmas. One Christmas morning a couple of years ago, I was looking for my present. It wasn't under the tree. Jeff said it was being delivered. And I started thinking, Oh, boy, it's big, and I love large presents. Pretty soon, this big cow's head started coming through the door. I'd seen this fiberglass cow when I was driving about six months before and I'd said, "Guess what? There's this cow on the street and you can buy it." Jeff didn't seem that enthusiastic, but he remembered. Then another day, we were driving down Melrose in two cars, and in front of one store, I saw the big chicken. It's about eight and a half feet tall. I started honking at Jeff: "Hey, hey, hey! Pull over." I said, "That chicken--we gotta go buy it." I don't know what Jeff was thinking about, but I was very determined.


[Q] Playboy: Any other animals you want to add to the collection?

[A] Davis: I've seen horses, but I don't know; it's got to have a certain something that strikes me. A big duck or something would be good [smiles]. Actually, there's a dinosaur I've seen on the Columbia [Pictures] Ranch [used for location shooting]. It's about two stories high, a Tyrannosaurus, and it's all messed up. But I had an idea how to get it and told Jeff, "I bet if we told Columbia we'd fix it up if they'd lend it to us, and they could borrow it back any time they wanted, we'd get it. We could put it behind the guesthouse so it's rising over the top. It would really scare the shit out of people."


[Q] Playboy: You're a confessed catalog freak. Which are your favorites?

[A] Davis: I like the ones with gadgets, like Hammacher Schlemmer. Once I got some pasta forks--and this is not a gag item, which is the sick thing--that you stick into the pasta and you turn this little crank on the top and it spins the fork part around. And it says in the catalog, "Helpful for people who are not that coordinated." Well, who can't spin a fork around? I don't keep catalogs. I get them, I look, right away, I chuck 'em. Now that I've become an expert, I know immediately which ones I don't want. I literally get about twenty-five catalogs per day--a giant stack. If there's something I like, I hit the speakerphone and order with the eight-hundred number, because I know my credit card by heart. Then I trash them. It's very demoralizing to Jeff, because he feels that he gets no mail. It seems like every day, the U.P.S. guy, Nick, comes around ten and there's something that I ordered several weeks before--and by then, I've no idea what it is. So it's like presents every day; it's really fun.


[Q] Playboy: What's your secret vice?

[A] Davis: I like scaring people. I like scaring Jeff. I can remember scaring people a lot growing up. I have an elbow that bends the wrong way, and I'd do things like stand in an elevator and the doors would close and I'd pretend that my arm had got caught in it and then I'd scream, "Ow, ow, put it back!" I enjoy shocking people. They, possibly, expect me to be sort of nice or ladylike. So I like to try to turn that around. My favorite thing that happened, ever, was when Jeff and I were in an elevator and he had the hiccups. You know how you always go "Boo" at somebody who has the hiccups and that never works? But I took him completely by surprise. I was leaning very casually against the wall, and then I threw myself in his face, screaming "Boo," and he almost had a heart attack and it cured his hiccups. And that's the truth.


[Q] Playboy: You and Jeff met on the film Transylvania 6-5000. How did you know it was love and not just another on-the-set fling?

[A] Davis: I'd never fallen in love with anybody on the set before, so I didn't know. There was something about Jeff--beyond its happening on a set. It was the one time in my life that I looked at somebody and instantly thought, Well, fine, this is The Guy. It was kind of remarkable. And he claims that the same thing happened for him. He says that he took one look at me and was instantly mad--thinking, Here's somebody I could really like and I know she's not going to like me and I'm furious. So he was very cool toward me in the beginning, which, of course, I found very attractive. I was having fits of terrific shyness. Crippling shyness. I couldn't even carry on a conversation with him and it was very embarrassing, because I was thinking, God, I really like this guy, but I was just mumbling into my chest all the time, and he was probably thinking, See, she doesn't like me. Finally, when I was just stammering and trying to answer something he'd asked me, I said, "Please bear with me, because I'm not always like this. You'll see." Now he says when I said that, he didn't realize how different I'd be. "Remember those days you were so completely different, honey?"


[Q] Playboy: As a two-actor family, how do you handle the long separations when one or both of you are on location?

[A] Davis: If I'm free, I sometimes go where Jeff is and try to spend as much time with him as I can. But it also makes me crazy. I have fits that last weeks. All day long, I'll wear my bathrobe and sit around the hotel room. I'm not one of those people who want to uncover a city, someone who buys the guidebooks and hits all the art galleries. Nope, I order room service and watch foreign game shows and get very depressed.


[Q] Playboy: Have you ever bought the hotel bathrobe?

[A] Davis: Yeah. I have one from the Savoy and one from the Ritz Carlton. I buy them only if they have long sleeves; I hate it when they're really short. Or high waisted. When the belt loops are too high, it's very annoying.


[Q] Playboy: What movie do you think best describes your life with Jeff?

[A] Davis: Isn't it obvious? Pee-wee's Big Adventure!


[Q] Playboy: You've said that you sometimes alter yourself to make others like you. Do people make you nervous?

[A] Davis: People who appear terrifically self-confident make me feel insecure. If I meet somebody who's terrifically self-possessed, I start feeling embarrassed, like, Oh, no, they're not going to think that I'm self-possessed like they are. I'm going to seem like a jerk. So in case you run into me at the store and want to intimidate me, just start acting very self-possessed [laughs].


[Q] Playboy: When is it best to lie in Hollywood?

[A] Davis: If it's job related, constantly and as much as possible. Whatever will help. If there's a way that you think will help you get a part, then use it. I've done all that. I've said I can do anything. [Pauses] Of course, I haven't actually had to lie too much to get parts. In fact, I've had to do it less in acting than I did in modeling. I lied a lot in modeling; I learned right away that you should say anything--make up height or age or weight or size. I remember I was trying to get into runway modeling and hadn't had much success. Then I went to a meeting for a fashion show. They said it would have a Western theme, so I said, "That's fabulous, because I did a play in college about Western stuff"--which I had--"and I know how to twirl guns." Which was very far from the truth. I could spin it once and flip it into the holster, but twirling guns is a whole thing. But these people said, "Oh, my God, that's fabulous!" and called my agency and hired me. Turned out I was working with the top models, Iman and Jerry Hall. And the only reason they took me was that I said I could twirl guns. I was going to be the big finale. So I rented a gun and with only a week left before the show, I tried to learn to twirl. I practiced and practiced--until I finally wore all the skin off my finger and it was a bloody, blistered mess. But then I thought, Maybe this is good. I can say, "See my finger? I can't twirl a gun. Ordinarily, I can, but now I can't." I showed them my finger, but they said, "Forget it; you're doing it anyway," and they put some tape around it. So I went out. I wore this outfit of white fur chaps and a Lone Ranger mask. They'd put blanks in the gun. I spun it a couple of times and I shot it off and whooped a bit and got by. Fortunately, nobody said at the end, "So what's this about twirling guns?"


[Q] Playboy: We're always hearing how tall girls--and future beauties--don't get dates in high school because they're so much bigger than most of the boys. Tell us what tall girls do with time to kill.

[A] Davis: [Sighs] Yeah. I was the tallest girl in my high school, without even a tall friend with whom to commiserate. Actually, there was one girl--a friend--who was almost as tall, but she was very popular with the boys, so go figure. It really wasn't fair. She knew how to wear make-up and had that really thick straight hair that was so popular back then. I was disappointed; I felt bad. I did a lot of stuff in my room to keep myself entertained. I made things. I had all these projects that I was constantly starting and never finishing. For a while, I thought I wanted to make leather belts, so I got one of those riveter machines and a hole puncher. I made belts for a few months. I also painted--on my wall--a copy of a Peter Max poster. It's still there, at my parents' house.


[Q] Playboy: If you meet someone at a party and you know you know him, yet you've forgotten his name, what do you do?

[A] Davis: That's my worst nightmare, because it happens all the time. If I'm walking down the street and I hear somebody behind me say, "Geena," my heart sinks, because I know it's going to be somebody whose name I don't know. I almost don't want to go out. It's gotten to a point now where, since I know this about myself, I panic--and that definitely makes me forget people's names. The other day, I was having lunch with a girlfriend and somebody came up to the table and I started panicking and I thought, OK, I know who this is, calm down. And by the time she got there, I'd remembered her name. I was so happy. And I said to her, "Oh, so-and-so, how nice to see you ... and this is my friend...." And I'd forgotten my luncheon companion's name. And this was someone I'd gone to college with. A very good friend of mine.


[Q] Playboy: You once said that The Accidental Tourist was your favorite book. Has anything taken its place?

[A] Davis: A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. I even wrote him a fan letter; the first fan letter I've ever written. I was hoping he'd write me back. [Pauses] OK, now I know how it feels when people write me a letter. Anyway, I wrote because of something he says in the book: When you want to find out where a particle is, you have to shine a light on it; and by shining a light on it, it moves. So you'll never know where it was in the first place. So I wrote, "But don't you think you will be able to figure it out someday, because if the only way you have to measure it is by shining a light on it, maybe you'll think of another way to measure it? Maybe there'll be something you can't even think of at this point; a different way to measure it by, oh, say, a radiation it gives off? Don't you think?" [Laughs] I must have had a fantasy that he'd write back and say, "Oh, my God! You have done it! Now it's all coming together for me!"


[Q] Playboy: What do you get about life that others don't?

[A] Davis: I'm not so sure that I have stuff figured out that other people don't. Gee, life, for me, is just getting better all the time, and I'm getting happier all the time. It's growing up. Maturity, for me, is happiness, somehow. I never thought it was going to be that way when I was a kid. I felt like childhood was supposed to be fun; you have a cool bike and stuff. But a lot of it wasn't fun. A lot of it was unattractive and hard. I [heavy sigh], I felt a lot of pressure. And responsibility got me down a lot. It all seemed kind of hard. But people would always say, "Wait until you're an adult; it's hell; you'll have a lot more responsibility." And I thought, Man, I'm not sure I want to grow up, because it's gonna be just like this, only worse, and I'm not looking forward to it. It will be like this, plus I'll have to write checks and balance my checkbook. But, in fact, just the opposite thing has happened. Adult life is exciting. I just want more. I want to be more aware and responsible and alive and involved and in charge of making things happen for myself and steering my life.


[Q] Playboy: How well can you parallel-park?

[A] Davis: How did you know? Why did you ask this question? I would enter a contest with anybody, because I am a brilliant parallel-parker. There's no thumping around and trying again in my parking. In fact, I can parallel-park brilliantly on the opposite side of the street, too. I am also the best perfectly straight backer-upper. When I took driver's ed in high school, my teacher said I was the best student he'd ever had. So I told him my parking and backing-up secrets, which he then used for the rest of his career--I guess. I haven't kept in touch with him. He hasn't written me any thank-you notes.


[Q] Playboy: To whom did you write your last thank-you note, and why?

[A] Davis: I wrote a "you're welcome" note recently--I like to think of little inventions that could form a catalog, and this was one idea I had. So I sent one to somebody who had sent me a thank-you note. Do you want to hear the verse? OK. It reads You're welcome on the front in fancy script. And on the inside, it reads, "Your thank you gave such pleasure, / A lovely thing to do, / That I must say, ''Twas nothing, / And you're most welcome, too.'"


[Q] Playboy: What else do we need that you're dying to invent?

[A] Davis: The kind of stuff I invent nobody needs at all. But maybe this one is a practical item. For milk cartons, I have invented a design where there are plastic--soft but firm--spikes coming out of the spout to discourage the unsanitary habit of drinking from the carton.

the uneasy earth girl brags about her parallel parking, explains the "you're welcome" note and describes the glamour of a Las Vegas wedding

Photography by Chris Callis