"Charlotte Lewis? She's not your type," a movie producer friend of mine happily concluded, as though an imaginary list of contenders had been reduced by one.
"Not my type? But she made love upside down while watching a fashion video," I told him. "That's my type."
"That was a character you wrote into your film," he said. "You created that type. That wasn't Charlotte."
Yeah, so maybe I did write the screenplay for that movie. It was called Sketch Artist and it came out on cable a year ago. But the fact is she still did what I wrote. And anyone willing to indulge my fantasies—which are equal parts sex and humor—earns a place on my list of would-be mates.
Charlotte, who is half-Irish, half-Arabic—a combination that endows her with mystery items for eyes—holds within her a synthesis of exotic and wholesome features. Kind of an R-rated Marcia Brady. If Charlotte were lying on her side and cooperating, you could roll a croquet ball under the wicked curve where her hip meets her waist.
This is cello-playing Charlotte, the one who likes beer on hot days, steals pepper mills and bric-a-brac from restaurants, burns incense in her car and takes the nitrous oxide when she has dental work. Her London accent turns "migraine" into "me-graine," her phrase of the month is "his sorry ass" and, lapsing into French existentialism, she murmurs, "No one really knows what anyone deserves, but no one deserves to be hated." Three minutes after we met she was singing Elvis Costello's The Juliet Letters to me.
"I could never go out with a writer," she tells me over salads that look like forest settings for a toy train. Such is lunch at Ivy, the Los Angeles restaurant where we met. "I know these writers who have to hibernate, rent this cabin in Alaska to get their work done," she goes on. "It would be, like, 'What do you mean, you can't go out with me tonight? I'll sit in the corner and I promise I won't distract you.'"
Roman Polanski was the first director who was professionally distracted by Charlotte Lewis. She was just 17 when he hired her to spend nine months as the only woman (she played a Spanish princess) in his film Pirates.
"Roman's girlfriend at the time was a girlfriend of mine and she introduced us," says Charlotte, now 25. "Pirates was, like, part of my youth, part of the time I spent becoming a young woman. It was a strange way to grow up."
Before you could sing "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum," Charlotte landed her second film role, even though critics keelhauled Pirates and audiences stayed away. Without formal training ("I studied automobile engines in school and missed my calling as a mechanic," she notes) or even the usual acting aspirations, Lewis was on a jet, coming to America. She would co-star in The Golden Child with Eddie Murphy, who was stomping around Hollywood like a huge science-fiction creature after the success of Beverly Hills Cop. And that's where she really learned the meaning of bad.
"It took me quite a while to get the American sense of humor," she says. "I didn't get that bad means good, or if someone glares at you, it means they dig the shit out of your work. In England, no one talks or acts like that, this brother talk. Now I actually love it and would love to talk it, but it probably wouldn't go down well on me."
After Child, Charlotte did something unprecedented in the actress rat race of L.A. She took time off. She gathered some friends for a rucksack tour of the globe. There were trips to India, Singapore and Africa. Then it was back to the fiscal reality of room, board and heating bills—not for herself but for her mum in London.
"I've always looked after my mum," says the good daughter. "We didn't have money when I was growing up and she raised me by herself. Now it's my turn. I mean, I can't afford to buy her houses and (text concluded on page 140) cars, but she'll always be warm in winter and cool in summer. She's the reason I'm so driven. I want my mother to have everything."
All of that was a boon for the producers of the 1992 Showtime movie Sketch Artist, which I survived despite the fact that the director brandished a gun in one of our story meetings. But it was Charlotte who started the picture off with a bang, playing the role of a high-priced hooker in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"I've done a handful of cable and feature films, including Storyville," says Charlotte. She's also done Excessive Force, due this summer from New Line Cinema, but I sensed flattery coming on, so I didn't interrupt. "My work on Sketch Artist amounted to three days, but the amazing thing is that more people come up to me and say, 'Wow, I saw you in Sketch Artist—it was great.'" She's being sweet, I know that. I bow deeply. She hits me over the head. "I just want you to know that I'm not normally upside down with strangers or anything like that. I'm quite celibate."
Another dream dies. But she did tell me she likes to bounce up and down on beds. "I just broke up with a boyfriend," she continues. "But we were more like brother and sister, because we'd gotten into a nice, comfortable, homey routine of living. He was—is—an art director, a very nice man."
Most of us are familiar with this sort of language and it requires little translation. I see a poor guy somewhere, clinging to a sinking bed, going down with his heart torpedoed into little bits of static cling.
"I decided it was time to be on my own again. The good thing about being alone is you get to know yourself. It's great, I love it, and I've decided that I really like myself. But I also can't wait to be married. I just have no idea who it will be. It could be Lassie. Or Trigger."
Charlotte asks the waiter for a toothpick. Informed that they carry none—this is Ivy, where people don't get stuff caught between their teeth—Charlotte improvises with an olive sword. Peering out into the open-air miracle of Beverly Hills, she sees a man wearing a ponytail, the emblem of industry warriors.
"I'm sick of long hair on men. I'm just over that," Charlotte announces. "Snip it off. I think men need to have short hair and be like men."
What does she measure a man by?
"Imagination," she answers, chin up.
"To me, a man is somebody who's strong—stronger mentally than me, in his personality. I like strong men. Smart, with a good sense of humor. I have bizarre tastes, as far as looks and things."
"I'm not into what other people consider a good-looking man. I like that quirky, offbeat look. But I don't have a type. All different shapes and sizes. I mean, I hope I end up married to somebody. It's not that easy, you know."
Now I see what my friend meant. Charlotte is no one's type and everyone's luminous possibility.
"Actually, from Sketch Artist I made enough to buy a lamp," Charlotte recalls as, with larcenous intent in her eyes, she assays a sugar pot.
"Hey, it didn't come cheap, baby. It's gorgeous. People say they want to photograph it."
And suddenly I'm certain that Charlotte and I were meant for each other: I made enough from Sketch Artist to buy a light bulb.