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I Dream of Gina

Actress Gina Gershon uses drive and dreams to forge her varied and sometimes risqué career.
Paul Chutkow
From the Print Edition:
Gina Gershon, Sep/Oct 98

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"Sandra totally changed my acting," Gershon says. "Instinctively, I was always in love with psychology and my dream life had always been very important to me. Ever since I was 15 years old I had been writing down my dreams. What's really exciting to me about Sandra's work is that it changes your life, almost on a psychic level. Now I'll get parts and in working on them, she'll say, 'Well, let's see how you're developing, as a human being.' Because the parts you're doing, it's no accident. Those parts affect your life and they kind of illustrate the map that your life is following."

The dream work is now a cornerstone of her creative process. "When I'm working on a certain project, before I go to bed I actually ask questions. So you dictate what kind of dream you're going to have. You say, 'I need to find out this.' There's a whole ritual about how to go about it. And then Sandra will work on it with you. Then, in classes with her, you'll actually cast them and act them out, which is unbelievable. You almost change the molecules in your body by doing that. It's really powerful. The first couple of times I did that, I actually got physically sick the rest of the week. It was super-powerful."

One of Gershon's biggest inspirations as an actress is Jessica Lange. "I was really moved by the work of Jessica Lange in films like Frances. I thought, that's the sort of work I want to strive toward. Frances is exactly the sort of part I want. It was really visceral work and it really hit you on some level." Seacat worked with Lange on Frances, Gershon says, and so the fit has been very powerful. "I've worked with Sandra for many years now and she's been a huge influence on my life. She was in the [Actors'] Studio with Brando and those guys, and everyone said that as an actress she was incredible. But I think her true calling in life was to become a teacher."

With this foundation, Gershon began working in New York and Los Angeles. Her film debut was in Pretty in Pink in 1986, then in 1988 came Cocktail and Red Heat, followed by parts in John Sayle's City of Hope in 1991, Robert Altman's The Player in 1992 and a handful of other movies. She also did work on stage, most notably with the New York-based theater company Naked Angels, and she had recurring roles in movies and series made for television. In 1992, she played Nancy Sinatra in the CBS miniseries "Sinatra."

"It was an amazing experience," Gershon says now. "Nancy Sinatra is hands down the nicest woman I've ever met in my life. Without a doubt. She's pure heart. She's an amazing woman. I wasn't sure I could do that part until I met her. Because I didn't understand a lot of it. When I met her I thought she was so terrific, and she explained a lot to me, so I thought, 'OK, this will be a good movie to do.'

"And I got to meet Frank. That was one of my conditions. I said, 'I'll do this, but I've got to hang out with the big guy,'" Gershon continues. "It was so upsetting because the night I was to meet him, I went with Tina Sinatra [his youngest daughter] to Radio City [Music] Hall and he had laryngitis. All the doctors were there and he was so wound up and he wanted to go on and all the doctors were saying, 'Frank, you cannot perform tonight.' And he was genuinely upset. 'All those people out there, they've all come from Jersey and Brooklyn, and they're going to be so disappointed. I gotta go on.'

"I was in Nancy mode and when he was reaching for a cigarette, I found myself almost going, 'Frank, Frank, you shouldn't smoke.' And I'm thinking, 'Gina, don't tell Frank Sinatra he can't smoke.' So I said, 'Would you like some tea?' I was in this maternal mode with him. And he turns to me and says, 'So how's the picture goin'?' 'Oh, the picture. It's goin' great, you know.' I loved him. I just wanted to go out and drink with him."

Then came Showgirls, the 1995 film based on a Joe Eszterhas script with Paul Verhoeven directing. The movie generated almost universal sneers, but most of the barbs and hoots went to the creators and to newcomer Elizabeth Berkley. Gershon got plenty of exposure (literally and figuratively--she played a Las Vegas diva who dances nude in a volcano) and came through unscathed.

If taking on the role of Cristal was a gutsy choice, taking on Corky in the Mafia thriller Bound was even more so. In a different Hollywood era, it would have been a role for Robert Mitchum: a tough ex-con, just out of prison, making a living as a handyman. Sexy woman comes on to Corky and draws her into a scheme involving the Mafia, murder and a few million bucks. In a lovely twist on an old theme, Corky walks off with the money and the girl, in this case played by Jennifer Tilly.

So how does a nice Jewish girl wind up with a role like that? And what does she tell her parents about it?

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