Mum’s the word
Olive-skinned, dark-eyed former model Phoebe Cates is the natural choice for the mysterious stranger, reckoned to be Eastern royalty, in the British period comedy Princess Caraboo. She tells Anwar Brett what it’s like to be a working mother, Hollywood-style.
A general lack of decent scripts. strong competition for what roles there are. a degree of discrimination and harassment that still seems to come with the territory — life isn‘t as easy for Hollywood actresses as it is for their male counterparts. And for Phoebe Cates. best known for the TV mini-series Lace and the two Gremlins movies. there is another set of priorities on the agenda — she insists her fatnily must 1 come first. Married to actor Kevin Kline. and mother ofthree-year-old Owen and eight-month-old Greta. Cates has decided to break her golden rule in order to play the title role in a British movie, Princess Curaboo.
Based on a true story. the film tells of a mysterious woman who took Bristol by storm just after the Napoleonic Wars when. unable to speak English and dressed in exotic sailor’s garb, she was assumed to be a lost princess from a faraway land. Eager to capitalise on the social prestige Oriental royalty bestowed upon them. the great and the good of British society laid on receptions and balls for her benefit — a fairytale rise to fame for a real life Cinderella. But all the time. the niggling voices of some doubters clamoured to be heard. convinced that this Princess was really a pauper and that the whole affair was an elaborate hoax.
‘In some ways, it was a relief not having to learn so many lines because a lot of the time actors hide behind the dialogue it they don’t really know what they are doing.’
Already pregnant with daughter Greta when she took on the role. Cates was excited by the chance of ponraying a different type of character from those she is usually asked to play. Her early work — Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Gremlins — had made. the most of her girl-next-door looks. WhileBright Lights, Big City and Drop Dead Fred hadn't brought the hoped-for exposure and extension to her range. Last year's Bodies, Rest And Motion saw a slight shift in her image. as she fitted perfectly into a restless twentysomething group alongside Eric Stoltz, Bridget Fonda and Tim Roth.
‘This was certainly one of the better parts that I've
loved the story. but I really wasn't thinking of going back to work right away. I found it almost impossible
: to cope with acting and motherhood. l had brought
up my son myself. because it is so difficult to be a parent and work without proper child care. I’d read about all these actresses who went back to work and tried to strike the right balance, but I couldn’t see how I could do it. Even though there’s a lot of down time on a movie. the days are very long. It’s a twelve-hour day. not including your travel time, or working on your lines. or anything else . . . It’s not like being in a nine-to-ﬁve job where you can come home at the end of the day and have dinner with your kids.’
With her husband in tow during the filming in Hertfordshire and Wales, it was perhaps inevitable Kline should also find himself in the film, playing the sceptical Greek butler at the country house in which Caraboo finds refuge. Previously. their only appearance together on screen had been when she took an unbilled cameo in 1990’s I Love You To Death. ‘Kevin really enjoyed reading that character in the script and he was coming over anyway to help care for our son. so he thought he would have a go at that part.‘ says Cates. ‘I mean, why not take the opportunity to be a big ham and steal as many scenes as possible?‘
Kline’s role amounts to little more than a cameo, with the film resting squarely on Cates’ slender shoulders, in spite of the fact that, for most of the time, she is required to speak in foreign—sounding gobbledy-gook. For most actors, any script containing so few real lines is a considerable disincentive to accepting a role. but Cares clearly thought differently.
‘l’m not one to count my lines before taking on a role.‘ admits the 30-year-old New Yorker. ‘I don’t mind if the part is big or small, so long as it‘s a good part. I thought that the script read like a beautiful novella. In some ways. it was a relief not having to learn so many lines. but I also found it very
been offered.‘ she says of Princess Caraboo. ‘I just
challenging because a lot ofthe time actors hide
behind the dialogue if they don't really know what they are doing. I really had to concentrate on what I was doing all the time. what was going on around me, and the way that l was moving and so on.‘ While there were only a few lines for her to learn. there was plenty of other research she could do. as
7 well as having a tattoo inscribed in indelible marker 5 on a ‘delicate‘ body part for a revealing scene that goes some way to substantiating Caraboo‘s claims.
‘Even though there’s a lot at down time on a movie, the days are very long . . . It’s not like being in a nine- to-tive job where you can come home at the end of the day and have dinner with your kids.’
‘It was actually based on a Javanese tattoo that they found in the reference books.’ she recalls, ‘but it took several months to wash off. As far as the other research went. I studied Oriental and Asian movement. and Javanese dancing. We worked a lot on that together, a little bit of period research, how she would sit. stand. carry herself. A lot of it is authentic. many of the words she uses are real — for instance. Thai words — but a lot of it is made up as well.‘
Content to return to bringing up her young family after completing Princess Caraboo (the clan are currently stationed in France while Kline films Paris Match with Meg Ryan). Cates sees this as her main priority for the foreseeable future. ‘l'm taking a year off after this. My son is starting school soon, and I want to be there for that. I think of myselfas having been a full-time mother already. even though I’ve done this movie. I wouldn’t mind working in the summer. if the part was smallish and goodish. but mainly [just want to be around for my children.‘ Princess Caraboo opens on Friday 16 December.
The List 16 December 1994-12 January 1995 29