Better Than Chocolate Interview

Dwyer and Cox proud of their starring turns in 'a film that celebrates the brighter side of lesbian life'

Dwyer and Cox proud of their starring turns in 'a film that celebrates the brighter side of lesbian life'

Nearing the end of an exhausting festival circuit tour that has taken them so far to Berlin, London, Seattle and Toronto (L.A. and San Diego are still to come), "Better Than Chocolate" stars Karyn Dwyer and Christina Cox are in San Francisco for the film fest that is arguably the largest assemblage of gay and lesbian movies in the world.

Two Canadian actresses with budding careers (Cox starred in "F/X - The Series," Dwyer will be seen in "Superstar," the next "Saturday Night Live" movie), they both say this film -- an unabashedly audience-pleasing romantic comedy about tentative, new romance thrown for a loop when one of the girls' conservative mom comes to live with her -- is their proudest professional moment so far.

"I was excited to be in a film that celebrates the brighter side of lesbian life," Dwyer boasts, fueling her interview verve with a towering cup of coffee -- an antidote to last night's late partying at a fete for "trick," another festival entry.

Sporting a head full of towel-dried tangerine curls, a baby blue, spaghetti-strapped tank top, jeans and a distressed leather blazer that looks like it was a thrift shop score, Dwyer is certainly cute, but comes across more serious than Maggie, the effervescent 19-year-old she plays in the film.

Cox, who stands about 5-foot-7 but seems somehow statuesque, is also nursing a colossal cup of caffeine and is quite a contrast to the more visually demure Dwyer. Demi-butch in character, today she's wearing a stretch knit top that emphasizes her killer cleavage and Capri pants it probably took her 10 minutes to get in to this morning. She looks, in a word, hot.

But it becomes quickly apparent that neither of them trade on their attractiveness. Assertive and audacious, both actresses talk frankly, and with a mysterious glint in their eyes, about the sex at the center of their movie -- and especially about a sensual, supremely cinematic body-painting scene that has audiences feeling steamy. However, both are protective of their private lives (as I found out with the wrong kind of questions) and are playing their true sexual preference close to the chest.

Having been touring with the film for so long, our conversation starts on the topic of hotels, like the one they're in today -- an upscale, post-modern, boudoir-style do that seems slightly out of place, located as it is on the edge of one of San Francisco's seedier neighborhoods. So you've been doing the festival circuit and staying in nice, posh hotels on somebody else's dime.

Cox: It's just not too darn shabby, thank you very much! And this is such a groovy little hotel. Isn't it though? But it's kind of ironic in this neighborhood. There's like a strip joint half a block away.

Cox: Live nude girls! Hey, baby! Well, been there, done that! And probably got paid a lot more for it, too.

Cox: I don't know. I've heard those girls haul it in. Not at this place up the street! Not the most desirable strippers. I happened in there one time, sort of half by accident...

Dwyer and Cox (in unison): Oh, suuuureee! OK, change of subject! But semi-segueing off of that -- love scenes are never easy to do, but the body painting scene in this film was...

Dwyer: Cold!

Cox: Wet!(They lean into each other, laughing) Cold and wet, OK. But it came across very sensual, unabashedly romantic, sexy and extremely personal. Yet, I'm sure it took like a whole day to shoot. Was that just an nightmare?

Cox (singing): Lookin' for paint in all the wrong places...! (Laughs) Days and days later, paint would be found. In your ear, up your nose...

Dwyer: Don't continue with that!(Both giggle)

Cox: I stopped! You heard me pause! Well, we had little tanks of hot water, and they would spray us down with that because the paint would dry and flake off. We had to run out a couple times and shower. I think we showered off twice, to start over to get all the coverage. But it did take like a whole day to shoot?

Cox: Uh-uh. Half day.

Dwyer: We shot the whole movie in 22 days. There was no dilly-dallying around this set.

Cox: There was dildo-y-dallying around.(A really large laugh from both)

Dwyer: That's right, but no dilly-dallying. But there really was no time to mess around. We weren't doing, you know, "I'll have my 57th take now." It was more, let's get it, let's do it and move on. The only time we had any rehearsal was actually for the scene you just mentioned, and it wasn't really rehearsal. It was just the day before we had to test the paints and see how they worked on the canvas and on our bodies...

Cox: To see how liquidy they needed to be, how long it took them to dry... Right, right. And I presume the resulting tapestries in the movie are the actual canvases you rolled around on.

Cox: A couple of them are the ones we made in the rehearsal, and a couple of them are the ones we did on the day we shot. So no one went in and tried to perfect them with a brush or anything.

Cox: Couldn't do it. It wouldn't work. We tried. We even tried to change them a little bit afterwards, but it just didn't have the same look. The bleed was different, because you couldn't get the same effect without the weight of the person pressing it and mushing it into the fabric.

Dwyer: I appreciate what you said, that it was a lot of nudity, but it wasn't exploitative. A lot of people think that actors are blase about nudity, but that's just not true. You read the script and you know it's in there. You decide whether or not that interests you, then you do it. And you come to terms with how you feel about the nudity.

Dwyer: It takes a bit of courage. You probably have to work yourself up to it, getting naked in front of 40 Teamsters.

Dwyer: Well, you know... (smiles half-shyly). And also, it's explaining to your parents why you chose to do it, too. Because you're always being offered stuff that involves nudity.

Cox: But by the very same token, the reason your parents and my parents ultimately weren't as upset about it was because they know we're very selective about the kind of nudity that we'll do, in what place, under what circumstances. You're not doing any sitcoms on the Playboy Channel.

Cox: Right. You have to set a standard for yourself within the industry that says, you know, "I don't do blow-up doll performances." Every project has to taken based on its own merits. You know, there was an assumption as soon as I did this. Some casting director called and said, "I have this thing for Christina, blah, blah, blah, and there's this big love scene, but she's done that before so no big deal" -- and it was this horrible, gratuitous....(pauses, and just makes a disgusted face) blech! BLECH! And I'm like, I don't think so! So, you explained the nudity to your parents. How were they with the gay issue?

Dwyer: I was more afraid about the nudity issue. That worried me. It took me a long time to tell my mom. I waited until we were done shooting. My mom hasn't seen me naked since I was 10, and I'm sure she doesn't want the whole world to see that. But I sat her down and told her, and she kind of dropped her cup of tea on the floor, then she picked it up and said she was proud of me. And that parallels what Maggie is going through in the movie, and it tells us our parents are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for. Has your mom seen the movie?

Dwyer: No, and I don't know if she'll chose to. I know that she's proud of me, and that means a lot, but that doesn't mean she's gonna want to go sit there in a theater and watch her daughter have sex with someone.

Cox: That's hard, regardless of who the partner is (gay or straight). It's just weird. You know that thousands -- or hopefully hundreds of thousands -- of people will see this, and I don't know them! I was watching it with my girlfriend, and she was like "Oh my god, Christina! This is a lot of information for me!" And she's very open-minded. She said the love scenes were so real and convincing that she would have had an easier time watching me do (a cheesy sex scene) because it's surreal. She said these were so well done, so believable. The reality of that was harder for her to deal with. Has this film, because it's so much about relationships and by extension sex, had any effect on either of your love lives?

Cox: That's a really personal question. Well, you don't have to answer it.

Cox (with a sassy grin): You're right! But I can say, if I ever find myself at a, um, toy store, so to speak, I have had the best education! I know all about the difference between the latex ones and the silicon, and the breakdown in the aging process, how the latex ones get cracky and the color fades and all this stuff -- and I would not have no that if it weren't for "Better Than Chocolate!" We walked onto the set, and it was just a plethora of penises everywhere! The boomerang one was the one that got me.

Dwyer: The one that gets you coming and going?

Cox: No, the one for two people. The purple one. That was a weird color.

Cox: You know what? I like the surrealness of that. Frankly, me personally, if I wanted a penis, I'd go get a guy. But if I wanted a dildo, I don't really want something that looks like it was cut off someone and mounted on a stand. I don't want the flesh colored one. You don't want the Bobbitt.

Cox: Definitely not. (Laughs) You talked before about being selective in picking scripts, what was it you liked most about this one?

Dwyer: What really appealed to me was the opportunity to play a character that wasn't defined by her relationship to men. She's not the daughter, she's not the girlfriend, she's the person. And Kim (Cox' character) is a person. That's what got me excited about the script. Also, I was excited to be in a film that celebrates the brighter side of lesbian life. There are so many movies out there right now that you come out of (thinking), I'll just go slit my wrists now.

Cox: Not to say that those films don't address valid issues and have good points. But you should be able to get time off for good behavior. You should be able to leave the theater once in a while with a smile on your face. There's nothing wrong with a romantic comedy. They make straight romantic comedies all the time, and a gay romantic comedy is...

Cox: Yeah. Why the hell not? And it wasn't based on having prancing queens or big, butchy, stereotypical film lesbians. They're just real people who just happen to be in love with people of the same sex. So that becomes a secondary element.

Everyone goes, "How do you feel about making a lesbian film? Are you making a big statement?" I'm making a film about a girl who falls in love with a girl. Big deal. It's a love story.


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