The actress: The phrase “show business is in my blood” is a bit of a cliché, but it certainly applies to actress Rosanna Arquette, whose grandfather (Cliff), father (Lewis), and siblings (Patricia, David, Alexis, and Richmond) have all worked in Hollywood in various capacities. Although she started in theater and slowly built a foothold on television, earning an Emmy nod for her work in the 1982 TV movie The Executioner’s Song, the majority of Arquette’s career has been in film, where she made her mark with such classic films as After Hours, Desperately Seeking Susan, and Pulp Fiction, which is newly out on Blu-ray.
Pulp Fiction (1994)—“Jody”
Rosanna Arquette: Quentin [Tarantino] called me and invited me to go to coffee with him at Swingers, I remember. I think people were talking about me, my agents or somebody, so I had heard about this film. But I had known about Quentin because of his writing. He had a film that… before it became Natural Born Killers, it was called Mickey And Mallory. It was one of the best screenplays I’d ever read in my life, and I wanted to do it. And there was talk of it, but I read the screenplay years before it was actually made by Oliver Stone. I wanted to do that movie so bad! [Laughs.] So there was a point where people were talking to me about doing it, so that’s how I discovered his writing. And my sister [Patricia Arquette] did True Romance. I just remember him wanting to go and have coffee. So we went to Swingers and had a meal at the counter and talked. And I got to play Jody. So that was neat.
AVC: Your scene might be one of the darkest slapstick scenes in recent film history.
RA: [Laughs.] I know! It is, right? I love to see the humor in things, so for me, it was really fun and effortless. I do have a dark sense of humor anyway, so that was fun to do that. He’s a master director and writer, but what he was able to do and how he’s become that is because he puts together his cast and he rehearses like it’s a play. We had all of this rehearsal time, so you could work things out and discover and play.
The Dark Secret Of Harvest Home (1978)—“Kate Constantine”
RA: Oh, with Bette Davis! I remember a day where a camera broke. We were in Ohio, and it was hot. The heat was really hellacious. And she kind of grabbed me, gave me a hug, and sat me on her lap, and said, “This is Hell. And just remember, you cannot have a career and a relationship. It will never work.” And it haunted me all my life! And you know what? God, she was right! [Laughs.] Well, that’s not true. Some people do it. But I just remember her telling me this, and I was, like, “Really? Is that the truth?” And, you know, The Red Shoes was always such an influence on my life, and I opened my documentary, Searching For Debra Winger, with that: a woman who has to choose between her art and her love, but she can’t make that choice, so she kills herself. It was very haunting, her saying that to me.
Searching For Debra Winger (2002)—“Herself”
RA: That was a wonderful experience for me. It was really wonderful to connect with these powerful, beautiful women that are so iconic and talk to them about balancing life and art and relationships. It was wonderful to do that. I’m still on the journey. There’s another documentary in me that I’d love to do, which could be really fun and really intense. About menopause! [Laughs.]
AVC: So you enjoyed the chance to be behind the camera?
RA: I did. And I feel really good there. When I see people’s work, all the amazing work that’s out there right now, especially women’s performances that I’ve seen, I always look at those and go, “Wow.” I don’t go, “Oh, I wish I could be in that.” I think, “I really want to direct them.” That’s how I think now.
After Hours (1985)—“Marcy Franklin”
RA: Oh! Probably the most fun I’ve ever had working, even though we were all so exhausted. Because we did night shooting. The whole thing was done at night. So, basically, you’d start work at 4 in the afternoon and go to 5:30 or 6 in the morning, ’til the sun rose. It was such a fun time. Sleep deprivation can make you a little kooky. [Laughs.] So that alone inspired me. And there’s another director [Martin Scorsese] who loves to rehearse, but then lets his actors do their thing and gives you complete freedom and trust. Once you have that from a director, then you’re just free to do anything. Because you know they have faith in you, then you have faith in them, and it’s a great creative marriage when that happens.
AVC: What were your thoughts when you first read the “Surrender Dorothy” speech?
RA: I felt this kind of goofy laughter that kept coming up, and I just remember Martin Scorsese cracking up at the side of the camera. He was just hunched over laughing. So if it made him laugh… That was also a great script. When you have a great writer like Quentin Tarantino, when the dialogue is effortless, it just works somehow.
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)—“Roberta Glass / ‘Susan’”
RA: Well, it was really one of the first films that was all female. The studio head was Barbara Boyle, it was female producers, female writers, a female director. It was one of the first out of the box like that. That didn’t really happen. A female-driven movie about females? It just didn’t happen like that. You didn’t see films with women running them in every way, shape, or form. I remember that one of the producers, Sarah Pillsbury, had just had a baby, and there was a discrepancy during filming about whether Roberta had amnesia at this point in the film or not. There was this back-and-forth bickering. Because it was shot out of sequence, and we’d be confused about whether she still had amnesia. So we were all in a little huddle, and… we were all weeping! [Laughs.] I’ll never forget that. It was, like, “There you go: This is why they don’t have movies done with all women.” That just cracked me up. It was only just that one moment, but we were all in such a hormonal state trying to work this thing out. And then we all laughed. It was, like, “Okay, this is silly, let’s get back to work.” So we figured it out, we went back to work, and it was all good.
AVC: How was it to work with Madonna? Was there a major learning curve for her, given that she hadn’t really done a film before?
RA: Yeah, I mean, she wasn’t an actress. She had no acting experience. But she certainly had a presence. She was becoming the biggest thing in the world as we were doing the film. So she wasn’t that big, but she was this presence on MTV, so I kept seeing the “Lucky Star” video and just being obsessed with how gorgeous she was. She has that star quality. She really does. It’s like Angelina Jolie, where she walks in and you just go, “Wow…” She has it. And she always had that presence. I’m really looking forward to seeing her movie that she directed. I’ve heard it’s good, and I’m really excited for her. We got to know each other during that film, and for a while we were really close. I just found an album of Like A Virgin where she wrote, “Rosanna, I love you!” I thought, “I should really frame that.” [Laughs.] But we’ve lost touch over the years. I wish her well, though, and I’m happy for her that she’s doing so well. And that she has such beautiful children.
RA: Oh, wow. Well, there’s another director I loved working with. I loved working with [David] Cronenberg. He does these very kind of twisted, intense films, but he’s sort of a soft-spoken, really nice, normal guy. You’d never think the stuff was coming out of him. [Laughs.] It was a very strange time. My baby was 1 year old, and I was breast-feeding, yet here I was doing this weird, dark film. But I had a great time working with Holly Hunter and James Spader. Just wonderful actors. It was a good time.
Gone Fishin’ (1997)—“Rita”
RA: I was also doing the movie Gone Fishin’ at the same time I was doing Crash. So I had to go down and do this movie with Joe Pesci and Danny [Glover], and then fly back up and do Crash, and then back down again.
AVC: That’s a little tonally schizophrenic.
RA: A bit, yeah. [Laughs.]
What About Brian (2006-2007)—“Nicole Varzi”
RA: Oh, boy. [Long pause.] Next. [Laughs.]
AVC: That much fun, huh?
RA: You know what? Let me just say this: I think it was a really good show. People stopped me all the time to tell me that they loved that television show, and I guess ABC… They have a new regime now, but the regime then just didn’t get it. People loved that show. And they kept changing the timeslot, changing this, changing that. I don’t know what really happened with it. J.J. Abrams was an executive producer on it, but he wasn’t there for the day-to-day. Too bad: If he had been, we might’ve been on the air forever. I don’t know if it was a political thing, but it didn’t make sense. Dana Stevens is a really good writer, but… You know, I felt like there wasn’t a lot for me to do, so it was a little frustrating. But it could’ve been quite a big show, had they given it a chance.
The Executioner’s Song (1982)—“Nicole Baker”
RA: Oh yeah, wow. I think of Tommy Lee [Jones]. So intense! [Laughs.] It was hard, because I remember the scene in the car, when he’s screaming at the car, and it really scared [the kids]. They didn’t know. I hate that. I was trying to talk to them and tell them that we were pretending, but they were too young to understand that it was just pretend. You can see me looking upset and trying to protect them. When we were finished with the take, I said, “Okay, that’s it. One take, done. I’m not scaring these kids anymore.”