I Dream of Gina
Actress Gina Gershon uses drive and dreams to forge her varied and sometimes risqué career.
From the Print Edition:
Gina Gershon, Sep/Oct 98
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Then there was Laura Nelson, the family housekeeper--and more. "Laura had been around our family forever," Gershon recalls. "She used to run numbers for my grandmother. Laura was a terrible housekeeper but she was a fantastic person. As soon as everyone left the house, she'd teach me to play craps. She always went to this place called Whiskey Pete's, on the way to Vegas, and she would tell me these stories about my grandmother and my aunt. The women in my family were really amazing."
Her father was also a very prominent force in Gershon's life. "My father was a real jock, and when you're little, I think you kind of subconsciously pick up on what your parents want. Because you have to figure out how you're going to get some attention. Because my father was a big jock, I learned at a young age that sports was a way to get his attention. I was a really little kid and I was super skinny. But I actually had a great arm. When I played football, I could really pass. My father used to brag about how far his little girl could throw the ball and occasionally he would even make bets about how far I could throw it. Then we'd split the winnings. It was a kind of a bonding thing," she recalls with a laugh.
Gershon grew up in Woodland Hills, in the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles, and she spent a lot of time by herself. Her mother, Mickey, was a busy interior designer. Her father was in the import-export business and was often on the road. Her brother, Dann, and sister, Tracy, were much older; they didn't want Gina tagging along. "Woodland Hills was quite beautiful at that time," the actress recalls. "It used to be one huge orange grove. On the street where we lived, there were only three houses. Across the street from our house was the best fort any kid could imagine, because it had big trees--plum trees, peach trees, apricot trees--and I had my little fort in the back. It was a very sad day when they put up the For Sale sign. I was so angry. So every day, I'd wait until evening and then knock the sign down."
Playing by herself so much, Gershon says, helped her to develop a rich interior life. "I had to. I was the youngest, and my brother and sister really didn't want anything to do with me." Her brother is five years older than she is, and her sister seven years, "and all I wanted to do was hang out with them and they wanted nothing to do with me. So I had my little Spanish village, I acted out a lot, I'd make up plays and all those things. Without realizing I was doing it, I was entertaining myself."
Starting around age 12, she began keeping a private journal and filled it with intimate ramblings about--what else? Boys. "One day after the next I was madly in love with some boy," she recalls with a laugh. "I like having those feelings; they're fun; awful and fun."
In her early teen years, being sensitive and chameleon-like thrust Gershon into a period of turmoil. "I really do, for better or worse, react to the stimuli around me and I just wasn't getting it," she says. "I think I was really bored. The environment was affecting me. I don't think I was stimulated that much by my friends or by my school. I was like a little juvenile delinquent, I'm embarrassed to say. All my friends were getting caught doing drugs, stealing and starting fires, and stupid things like that. I never got caught and I kept my grades up, so I was OK. Then, luckily, I started acting, and that was kind of a saving grace."
Gina did her first play in eighth grade. It was Melody Jones and she played the lead. Then came Bye, Bye Birdie, but this time Gina did not get the role she truly wanted. "All I wanted to do was play Conrad Birdie; I really wanted to be like the Elvis Presley guy, and they ended up giving me the lead, Rosie. At first I thought, 'I don't want to be Rosie; I want to be Conrad.' I was really an Elvis Presley fan."
During this period, Gina was still running with the wrong crowd in the valley. Her parents were so concerned that they decided to yank her out of the public school she was in, even if it meant moving the family. As she recalls, her parents gave her a choice: a girls school or Beverly Hills High School. "Both seemed like death to me," she says. "I was a complete surfer girl at this point; I just wanted to hit the beach. I'd cut school and hitchhike to the beach almost every day. It's amazing that I did as well as I did in school. But my father really insisted on good grades, so that was like the one thing I really had to do. Girls school--I couldn't deal with that. I was so boy crazy at the time that the idea of not having any boys around was really depressing."
So beginning in her sophomore year, Gershon went to the famous Beverly Hills High School, and in many ways it proved to be just what she needed. "There I did tons of plays," she says. "That was the thing about Beverly High, they had this fantastic drama department. I could take voice lessons, I could take musical comedy, I could take straight drama. It's like a minicollege; it's an amazing school. During the three years I was there, I met some really great people, people who were very inspiring to me, so that part was great."
In a way, though, Beverly High was the end of a phase of her youth; she was obliged to let some of the joys of her childhood slip away. "The only problem with Beverly High is that they really make you choose," Gershon says. "I was dancing at the time and I was also playing sports. But the school is so professionally oriented that you can't do everything. I had to narrow it down to one, because you just don't have time to do everything. It certainly prepares you for the 'real world' but it made me sad. I liked playing football. I liked playing softball. The coach wanted me to play on the softball and soccer teams. I was a total tomboy." But she had to let much of that go.
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