Director Martha Coolidge
has built a steady career on doing films that appeal to her. Born and raised in Connecticut, Coolidge began working toward her professional career while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. She later moved on to the New York School of Visual Arts and New York University's Film and Television Graduate School. Her 1975 short film, Not a Pretty Picture
, which dealt with a high school date rape, was conceived from an actual experience from her past. It earned her the recognition she needed to move into features. An excellent judge of young talent, Coolidge is credited with giving such then unknowns as Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Halle Berry and James Gandolfini parts that touched off their careers. Among her best known films, Valley Girl, Real Genius
, cable's Introducing Dorothy Dandridge
, which won Berry an Emmy, Rambling Rose
, which earned Oscar nominations for mother and daughter Diane Ladd and Laura Dern, Lost In Yonkers, Angie
and Out to Sea
. In 2002, she was elected the first woman president of the Director's Guild of America. Speaking of presidents, it turns out that she is also a relative of our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge. Her upcoming film, The Prince & Me
, stars Julia Stiles and Luke Malby. Ms. Coolidge took time out recently to sit down and talk about her films and her career.
Mike Smith: Are you surprised as to the longevity and popularity of your early films, particularly Valley Girl and Real Genius?
Martha Coolidge: Not really. I've learned that certain pictures, like Valley Girl and Real Genius, are really almost like anthem pictures for certain people, certain age groups. They've actually grown in popularity. When I first started going to Washington D.C. to lobby for artists' rights I would be surrounded by the aides, the young aides. There would be all of these very elderly directors that the senators and congressmen would ooh and ahh over and the aides would be all over me calling "Valley Girl!" "Real Genius!"
Mike Smith: Did you notice the difference in the way kids dressed from those early films and in your latest, The Prince & Me?
Martha Coolidge: I hate to say it, but the '80s are back! I even give a bow in The Prince & Me by using a Cars song on the soundtrack. I mean, this music is still being played, which is very interesting. Secondly, even though the 80's came out of a punk era and the glitter rock era before it, it was a very rebellious era. The punk era was a real reaction to all of the glitter and glam..........that other world. We are in a very cynical time, and all of these styles.......they're styles.........are adopted. I mean I don't know real the rebellion is, except for rap. Of course that's all been corrupted too! It's hard to make a real youthful rebellious statement and the prince in The Prince & Me is in a serious state of rebellion. He's a guy who is very angry because he's had no choice about his life. He's being squished into a mold. He has to cut his hair a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way. He doesn't feel he has a path, where she feels she has a path. But she's afraid of love. And he's afraid of love because he doesn't believe. And I think that those two characters are very representative of the kinds of perspectives that people can have today.
Mike Smith: You've worked with so many talented people; Laura Dern, Holly Hunter, Jack Lemmon. Now you are working with Julia Stiles, one of the fresh faces in Hollywood. How is it working with someone just starting out as opposed to established actors?
Martha Coolidge: Well, Julia has done several movies. Luke is the newcomer. Big time. When he screen tested he was so nervous because he had to come in and perform with someone with so much experience like Julia. I love working with young people because there is so much potential.....so much growth.......so much excitement, because a lot of time what we are doing we are doing for the first time. When I found him in England, when he walked into the room, I felt he had terrific chemistry with Julia. He has great talent and sensitivity, which is really important. It's what Nic [Cage] had.
Mike Smith: You've spoken very highly about Luke and his future. When you come across an actor like that.......a Nic Cage, a Val Kilmer, what do you see in them? I mean, it's obvious you have a great eye because they've gone on to great careers. What is it about them that makes you go, "Wow....that's the one."?
Martha Coolidge: It's funny because sometimes you meet an actor like that and they just aren't right for the movie you're doing which can really frustrate you. But you do remember them and try to get them into the next one. I felt they both had, first, sensitivity. Then vulnerability. I can't tell you how important that is. Luke was the same way. And he fit well with Julia. When I was doing Angie, with Geena Davis.........who, 6-foot tall, is an understatement.........I needed a tall Italian man. And James Gandolfini came in and that guy......I was just so blown away. He's another one. And it's not just guys. I've also felt that way about actresses. Just that the guys seem to stand out more.