From: New York
Learning the Value of Being Intimidated
By MARGY ROCHLIN
SANTA MONICA, Calif.
ALISON LOHMAN may be considered brand-new in Hollywood. But there are those in the California retirement community Rancho Mirage who have long known her as the daughter of the architect Gary Lohman and the bakery owner Diane Lohman and as half of Sing-Sation!, a locally touring teenage duo.
In her faded jeans, striped T-shirt and flipflops, Ms. Lohman, who is tiny and waiflike, would have no trouble passing for her high school self. Or even younger.
"My friend and I, we'd get out of class and put on little performances around the desert at country clubs, parties here and there," said Ms. Lohman, now 22. Looking back, she's still proud of the highlight of her singing career ? warbling a cover version of "The Trolley Song" for Frank Sinatra ? though she would leave out the frenzied, Judy Garlandesque hand gestures these days. "I thought I was a real Broadway belter," said Ms. Lohman, her face reddening at the memory. Anything else? "I'll never forget looking at Frank Sinatra. Just looking at his blue eyes. I think it's probably the most petrified I've ever been onstage."
Acting in every scene of "White Oleander," the film based on Janet Fitch's best-selling novel, may have provided Ms. Lohman with a new high-water mark for performing under pressure. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Ingrid, a charismatic mother who is sentenced to life in prison for murdering her boyfriend. Ms. Lohman, as her only daughter, Astrid, is thrown into the Los Angeles foster-care system. There she finds herself torn between her mother's influence and a succession of surrogate parents, including a born-again former topless dancer (Robin Wright Penn) and a needy, insecure actress (Ren*e Zellweger). When asked what it was like carrying a Hollywood movie featuring such stars, Ms. Lohman said, "I was almost numb with fear, right?"
Right. She'd made her screen debut in 1998 as a spandex-wearing space soldier with psychic powers in the sci-fi film "Kraa! The Sea Monster," and her best credit to date had been her turn as a rich, inquisitive teenager on the short-lived television series "Pasadena." But Peter Kosminsky, who directed "White Oleander," found an outlet for his star's churning uncertainty.
"If you think about the part, Astrid had to be in a subservient mode in her relationships with these women," said Mr. Kosminsky, a British documentarian making his American feature debut with "White Oleander" (opening Oct. 11). "She was always a chameleon, sort of saying: `How do you want me to dress? How do you want me to be? Who do you want me to be?' So Alison's feelings of intimidation were useful. I said to her, `Use your sense of nervousness about holding your own with one of the world's great movie stars' " ? Ms. Pfeiffer ? "and she did."
Over the course of the film, Ms. Lohman's Astrid ages from 14 to 18. Assisting Ms. Lohman as her character made the laborious journey to late adolescence were wigs, seven in all, ranging from a jagged punk bowl-cut to a dark Goth pageboy.
Judging from the story Ms. Lohman tells about her first "White Oleander" audition, she needed all the wig experience she could get. Having shaved her head to play a leukemia patient in Kevin Costner's supernatural romance "Dragonfly," Ms. Lohman was self-conscious enough to wear a cheap, long, brassy yellow hairpiece to meet the "White Oleander" casting director, Ellen Lewis. By all accounts, Ms. Lohman had what it took for the role, with the possible exception of one thing: a forehead.
The problem? "My wig was on wrong," Ms. Lohman said. "I'd put it on too low. Embarrassing." She wrapped her bald head with a kerchief for her callback and landed the part.
In her next film, Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men," she will portray a 14-year-old who insinuates her way into the life of her father (Nicolas Cage), an obsessive-compulsive con man who isn't even aware he has a daughter. For someone who is extremely close to her mother and her father, Ms. Lohman seems to be cornering the market on bad-parent movies.
"It's weird," said Ms. Lohman, almost apologetically. "Right now, my process involves doing research, writing notes on my script and dreaming about the character. Sure, some of it should come from experience. But for me, it has to all be about the imagination."
Back to White Oleander Articles