THE VERY QUESTION OF MONICA
A pyjama-clad Monica Potter fields the inevitable question from ANDREW L. URBAN ….and just puts another slurp of castor oil on her eyebrows.
Monica Potter is sitting on the couch in her living room, drinking coffee and wearing pyjamas with blue pants and a white top. She lives in the Valley, "far from Hollywood," and the tv is tuned to Oprah. Soon, a friend will be coming over and there’ll be some wardrobe clearance – before she has to sit down and pay some bills.
"So this is my big Hollywood life," she says with gentle irony, suggesting perhaps that she is not so naive as to be totally enthralled with stardom per se. But then Monica Potter needs a sense of humour, partly to deal with life (more on that later) and especially now, to deal with the one inevitable question she always has to deal with.
"Oh, I know what you’re going to ask, it’s OK," she says laughing and reassuringly, her mouth stretching into that familiar, irresistible smile that’s a trademark …of Julia Roberts.
"What do you say when people compare you to…." Goes the question. "Oh, I just smile," she says, which is either an innocent and sane response, or a very clever rebuttal. "Like she smiles," Potter adds, referring to her friend, with whom the subject has been drained of interest. Yes, many film critics and others have remarked on Potter’s Roberts-like screen image and the echo of the Roberts face is certainly evident. But it’s hardly cloning… "Look, I see it like getting this huge compliment. When I was a young girl, my sisters used to call me Milton Berle, so I reckon this is an improvement…"
This interview is given to help promote her film, The Very Thought of You (originally called Martha Meet Frank, Daniel and Lawrence, which she much prefers). Potter plays her first really big lead role, as Martha, who is pursued by three men, none of whom know about the others, and all three are best friends.
"This is only my second or third film," she says, "and it was a little scary. There was a lot of dialogue and I wasn’t used to that." (Maybe she was thinking about her support role in Con-Air . . .) "I stayed scared and that kept me on my toes. I didn’t want to be too relaxed."
Potter says the experience was memorable as much for spending all that time in London – her first time – and discovering all the differences of the culture and the people. "It all seems so precise and proper," she says.
Although she had never met her co-stars Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes and Tom Hollander before, they "got along really well. Every day I had a different boy….so it never got boring and it was often very spontaneous. Rufus liked to improv a lot…"
When Potter first read for director Nick Hamm (a name no actor would be seen dead with) she did a few scenss "10 different ways! But we really hit it off. We’d get mad at each other once in a while but it was a healthy way; if we had a problem we’d just say it."
Across the country in Ohio, Potter’s two sons (8 and 4) are with husband Tom, who has his own career, but who plays dad with his family, so that Potter can stay in Los Angeles and work on her career. Cleveland, Ohio is Potter’s home town, where she went to Villa Angela Catholic School for Girls – and promptly fell pregnant at 19. Her looks gave her a way out of town, and she began modeling in Chicago and for two years in Miami before trying Hollywood.
"Coping with young children is very, very difficult," she admits. "They go to school in Ohio and I have a house there, so I live between the two places. I don’t involve any of them in any of this," she says, as if it were the plague.
"People sometimes say why don’t I have a nanny and take the kids along, but that’s dumb; it’s not the kids’ fault their mother has to travel like a circus act. I look at this as a career but it will have to work out so we’re all happy. We came to this decision [about how to manage career and family] together. It took some adjusting," she says frankly.
With her pert face, upturned nose and generous smile, Potter seems ideal for romantic comedies, but she’s hoping to get a chance to show her broader range. "I don’t want to say what’s coming up in case I jinx it," she says with a smile. "I’m reading scripts and meeting people, and there are a couple of projects I’d really like to do." (In the meantime, she can be seen with Donald Sutherland and Billy Crudup in Without Limits, which opens in Australia July 15, 1999)
Although a vegetarian, Potter says she loves fish and especially can’t resist sushi. As for an eccentricity, it’s known that she puts castor oil on her eyelashes and eyebrows to make them thicker. "That’s true – when I was little, my dad told me about it; and it works!"