(US Self magazine)
Does Hollywood eat its young? Sex
newcomer Monica Potter is about to find out as she braces for
In today´s Hollywood, one expects an actress lucky enough to find herself in Monica Potter´s situation – 26 years old, white-hot and drop-dead beautiful – to be hitting all the fabulous parties, possibly with Ben Affleck or Matt Damon on her arm. But it is clear within minutes of meeting Potter that she is out of step with her peers. “I did go to a party – once,” she deadpans. And which party was that? “It was the Good Will Hunting party before the Oscars.” Ah, so she was hanging with Matt and Ben. Well, sort of. “I didn´t fit in at all,” says Potter. “I felt like the biggest geek. It was fun, but I´d rather be home reading or listening to music or vacuuming.” Vacuuming?
As her gold Mercedes pulls up to a
Starbucks in the San Fernando Valley, Potter looks like nothing
less than the latest young lovely brought in to satisfy Hollywood´s
perpetual craving for fresh babes – starlets who are often
chewed up and spit out before audiences have a chance to forget
their names. Thus far, Potter has shot five films, but only two
– Con Air and Without Limits – have been released.
Still, the buzz on her has reached the roaring stage, and industry
prognosticators say she is on the verge of “breaking out”.
Is she, as some have said, the next Julia Roberts? Or will her
buzz fade quickly, as did that surrounding Julia Ormond, the hot
starlet of a few years back? In other words, does Potter have
what it takes to survive the “it girl” phase?
No, Potter is not your average ingenue. She married right out of the Villa Angela Catholic School for Girls and became a mother at 19. Her two sons are now eight and four. “I grew up pretty quickly,” she says matter-of-factly. Like many other Catholic girls who came of age in earlier decades, she was naive. “When I first learned about sex I was in seventh grade, because we never talked about it at home,” she says. “I didn´t know that you had to be naked to have sex – I just didn´t get it. I think that´s probably why I had kids so young, because I wasn´t really experienced.” In deference to the privacy of her husband and children, Potter prefers not to discuss them publicly: “I always think, if I were a lawyer, would I bring my kids into the courtroom? I wouldn´t.”
Although family obligations leave her little time for a raging L.A. social life, Potter´s ascending career at least had adhered to another tried-and-true Hollywood tradition: making leading men look good on-screen. She was Nicolas Cage´s wife in Con Air and the stalwart girlfriend of Billy Crudup in Without Limits; she´ll appear as Robin Williams´ love interest in the dramatic comedy Patch Adams this Christmas. While Potter is noticeable in these films, her range is barely tested. “She´s got so much more than the part in Without Limits allowed her to use,” admits that movie´s director, Robert Towne. “She´s a very unusual combination of the classically pretty girl next door with this unexpected eccentricity. Nobody´s really quite tapped that.”
The actress clearly remembers the moment when, at three years old her destiny was sealed. It was a Sunday morning before church and she and her sisters were horsing around in their parents´ bedroom. Potter´s father squeezed her between two pillows to make a human sandwich, “then he just held me up and looked at me very intently and very directly, and he said – it was almost like it was coming from God - ´You´re going to be a movie star´. And I looked at him and I went, ´Okay.´ I will never forget it. And from that moment, I knew what I was going to do.”
Potter grew up in Cleveland, the second
of four daughters in a tight-knit Catholic family that was more
David Lynch than Ozzie and Harriet. “It was very different
– like a circus family or something,” she says. “My
dad was not your traditional father who went to work in a suit
and tie and came home at five o´clock.” An inventor
whom she calls “my best friend in the world,” her
father made gizmos in the cellar. “Oh, it was a mess!”
she cries. “Fumes coming up from the basement and everything.”
Money was often scarce, but, she remembers, “the struggles
that we went through as kids, I would not change for the world.
My whole childhood was magical.” Her mother was the more
pragmatic parent. “She´s always done things to make
ends meet. She would go to work cleaning malls, and we´d
go with her. She worked really hard – I think that´s
where I get that.”
Making the film was a blast, but the movie´s premiere last fall was an unsettling baptism into the glitz of movie stardom. “I wasn´t ready for it,” says the down-to-earth Ohio girl. “You get the hairstylist and the makeup artist, and you get the dresses that are borrowed from Armani. You´re Cinderella for a night. On the way to the theater we passed a homeless man sitting on a bench, and we´re in a limo. I don´t like that, you know?” At the theater, she found it hair-raising to run the gauntlet of photographers and reporters. The next day she called her father, weeping. “I don´t know if I can do this! She cried.
“Mocky, just hang in there,”
he advised, soothing her. “Your grandfather was a journalist
for The Cleveland News in the Forties. They have to do their job.”
Certainly she has little control over just when, and if, she´ll join the A-list of female movie stars. Her breakthrough could well be Patch Adams, which the industry crystal ball is calling a year-end hit. It´s got Robin Williams´ signature blend of heartwarming drama and comedy: He´s funny; she´s his straight man. Williams and Potter play medical students who are initially at odds; in the end, she learns the meaning of compassionate medicine from him. Of course they fall in love, which posed an unusual problem for Potter. “There were certain times when I would look at Robin, and some of the expressions he makes remind me of my dad,” she says. “So it was kind of sweet but kind of weird, especially when I had to kiss him.” She lets out a big, full laugh. “I was like, ´Uh, Dad?´”
After several opportunities to play the supporting female, Potter is ready for variety, and a chance to reveal more dimensions. “I want to play characters who aren´t liked. I think everyone want to be America´s sweetheart. I tend to want to be, not a bitch or anything, but someone who is really real.”
The pragmatic Potter has no illusions about changing the Hollywood system. She sees both its constraints and its opportunities with a clear eye. That doesn´t mean she doesn´t get frustrated by how actors are pigeonholed; being tagged “the next Julia Roberts” may be meant as a compliment, but it´s irritating. “She´s still here!” she protests. “And take her place? I´m not like her. I might look like her in some ways – I mean I´ll take that, that´s great, thank you. But I´m sure she´s probably sick of hearing it – not that she´s threatened, obviously. It´s just that everyone´s go to be the next somebody else.”
Whether stardom strikes or not,
Potter has a sturdy belief in her own comfort zone. Her roots
in the heartland, with all those happy childhood memories, are
She is encouraged that there are other acting mothers with sustained careers whom she admires in Los Angeles. “I look at Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer – those are careers that I respect. Because it seems they don´t just work to work. It´s not a frenzy for them.” She plans to mirror their place. “I want to make one or two films a year. I don´t want people to get sick of me.”
Hollywood will forever be a treacherous place for blonde, beautiful girls from the “flyover” zone. But this one has a reliable inner compass. She may not know exactly where she´s headed, but she´s certain about the places she doesn´t want to go – starting with fabulous parties. “I just want to be a normal working actress,” says Potter. “It´s my job.” And with that, she heads for GapKids down the street.
The Usual Beauty Suspects
haven’t had a trainer; I don´t go to a gym. Sometimes
I´ll just turn on the radio and dance with the kids, and
we laugh. Laughing is my exercise.