5 April 2001 (Sun Newspapers, Cleveland)
'ALONG CAME A SPIDER' STAR MONICA POTTER
Success means different things to different people.
To some, it means a sprawling gated mansion. To others, it's a shiny new Lexus parked in the driveway. For Monica Potter, success is all about dairy products.
"I just want enough money to buy the good cheese at Giant Eagle," she says.
The Cleveland native and resident of the city's North Collinwood neighborhood calls it part of her effort to focus on the simple things in life, such as being able to afford brie instead of Velveeta.
"Sometimes, Velveeta is awesome for grilled cheese, but for wine and cheese, I don't want a big hunk of Velveeta," Potter jokes. "You know, 'We're having a wine and cheese party. Come on in. Here's some Mad Dog 20/20, and everyone, just take a big chunk of the Velveeta.' "
There is nothing cheesy about Potter's latest movie, "Along Came a Spider." The film, which opens Friday in theaters nationwide, is a sharp departure from lighter roles she has played in movies such as "Patch Adams" and "Head Over Heels." In fact, Potter says she was shocked at how scary this one was.
"I sat in the screening room, and I just was looking at it, and I was like, 'Wow,' " Potter recalls. "We had a really good director (Lee Tamahori)."
Potter says Tamahori allowed her to write a synopsis of her character, Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannigan, based on the script, which is something she likes to do before filming any movie. By doing that, she says she was able to create a sense of vulnerability in Jezzie that makes her believable. The thing that most impressed Potter about the film, though, was how it was put together.
"You know, people always say, 'You should always go by the script and the director,' " Potter says. "I say the editor should be the first person that you look at. How they pieced that thing together, to me, I mean, I couldn't even wrap my mind around it."
Potter describes filming of "Along Came a Spider" as grueling, especially since the crew didn't know exactly how they were going to end the movie.
"This is the hardest I've ever worked on a film, and I would have Lee screaming behind the camera, 'OK. Now, next line.' The tape's still rolling. 'Change one word.' You had to be so focused."
Potter also credits Morgan Freeman, who reprises his role of Dr. Alex Cross from "Kiss the Girls," with helping her get through the filming.
"He never told me what to do with my character," Potter says. "Whatever choices I made, he supported."
Their chats reminded Potter of growing up watching "Superhost" on WUAB-TV here and one particular movie called "Don't Look Down in the Basement."
"I would always watch those movies with the sound turned down because I would learn so much more by just the actors' eyes and what they were trying to convey," Potter says. "(It's) sort of like a tree, you know, starting at the root and coming up through the eyes."
She says that is how Freeman acts and that is the type of acting she enjoys.
"It's the stuff that's unsaid," Potter says. "I'm not a big dialogue person and (that) banter back and forth. I think it's tiring, and I think it's annoying to the audience. Each person in the audience is able to make their own assumptions through the actor because they're sort of embodying the actor. They're living it with us."
Potter, a member of the Euclid High School class of 1989, says she wants to do more comedies and love stories in the future. Her next film, "I'm With Lucy," which starts filming in a couple of weeks, is what she considers a smart comedy. Yet she is open to a variety of roles.
"I'd like to do a bunch of different things," she says. "I never want to become too complacent. But I always have to believe in the script and the director or else I'm cheating everyone and I don't want to do that."
For that reason, Potter keeps her workload to no more than two movies a year.
"I think that's enough, you know, one movie a year while everyone is in such a race against the clock out there now," Potter says. She adds that her pace emulates the careers of actresses like Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange and Sigourney Weaver.
"They kind of have this thing about them that's very relaxed," Potter says.
Speaking of actresses, except for the blonde hair, Potter in many ways looks like Julia Roberts. She even has the same agent. It is a comparison she has not grown tired of hearing.
"I take it as a huge compliment," Potter says. " She is the highest-paid movie actress in Hollywood, she just won an Oscar, she's got a wonderful life. I think I'm so different, though. I wish I could be as happy as she seems all the time. She kind of just flies by the seat of her pants, and she's such a hard worker, so those are all the things that I admire in her.
"I think that comparison may start to dwindle a little bit, you never know. But I'll take it."
It sure beats a comparison often made by her sister, Bridget, when they were children. Sis loved to compare Monica to Milton Berle.
"When she would get mad at me, she'd be like, 'Shut up, Milton Berle,' " Potter smiles at the memory. "I don't know if it was because my (maiden) name was Brokaw, so (my initials were) M.B. Who the hell knows? She's like, 'Your lips look like Milton Berle.' "
Though Potter admits she'd like to have Roberts' salary, she is taking a simplistic approach to life.
"The thing is, when you have simplicity in your life, you enjoy everything else," she explains. "You're not always looking for more, more and more. There's something to be said for that. As long as your kids are well taken care of and they're happy and healthy, that's good stuff."
Despite her rising Hollywood stock, Potter chooses to live with her two sons, ages 10 and 6, in North Collinwood. She grew up in the area and enjoys living in what she considers a secure community.
"There's something about it that feels good," she concludes. "I have a small house and it's nice. The neighborhood is good."
Still, Potter admits to looking at homes in Gates Mills and Beachwood and could move to one of those communities in the next year or two. The big obstacle for her is the $500,000 price tag attached to many of those homes.
"I'll wait until I'm making like $20 million a picture," Potter laughs.
Of course, if things really go well for her, she may even upgrade her cheese shopping.
"Heinen's would be good," Potter says. "If this movie does well, I'm in cheese heaven."