Stage Whispers

Last year one husband-wife/director-star team -- Renny Harlin and Geena Davis -- ran off to Malta to make a movie with some 70 million dollars of studio funds, then returned with nothing to show for it but an insipid little bit of derivative drivel entitled Cutthroat Island. Meanwhile, another husband-wife/director-star team -- Henry Jaglom and Victoria Foyt -- raised about one-fiftieth as much money as Harlin and Davis, rounded up a sparkling ensemble cast of New York City stage veterans, and headed for the director's family's summer home in East Hampton, Long Island, where they produced a charming, witty, insightful movie called Last Summer in the Hamptons. Which says something about money, marriage, and moviemaking, although I'm not sure exactly what.

Last Summer in the Hamptons marks the second full-blown collaboration between Jaglom and Foyt. (The first was 1994's Babyfever.) It is also Jaglom's eleventh go-round as writer-director and, like all ten of its predecessors, Last Summer in the Hamptons bears the iconoclastic filmmaker's distinctive stamp. Jaglom films are extremely personal, low-tech, dialogue-heavy works, usually shot on the cheap. They depend upon scintillating conversation and quality acting to compensate for their technical shortcomings and unimaginative camerawork. Eating (1990) serves as a perfect example -- throw a bunch of (predominantly female) yuppies together at a party, encourage them to improvise like crazy, and record their conversations about a universal topic like food. (Similarly, Babyfever coalesced around a baby shower, and the subject was, as the film's title suggests, the myriad ways in which the guests responded to the tick, tick, ticking of their biological clocks.) Along the way Jaglom has become known as one of the few male directors who can accurately portray the way contemporary women really think and speak.

While women still rule in Last Summer in the Hamptons, the film represents quite a departure for Jaglom. Most notably, it's far more structured than his earlier work, and it covers a narrower topic A life in the theater.

"That's probably my influence," claims Victoria Foyt during a recent telephone interview from the Santa Monica, California, home she shares with Jaglom and their two children. "It reflects my training as an actor, my need for structure. Henry gives actors freedom; he tends to work backward -- casting a person and then writing a character for them. I really love story; he stresses theme. This time there was room for improvisation, but not as much as in Henry's other films."

While Foyt lives in California now, she grew up in South Florida and considers herself a "semi-native," having attended Pinecrest Elementary, Westminster Christian high school, and the University of Miami, from which she graduated with a bachelor's degree in foreign languages. Foyt's parents recently moved to Key Largo, and her brother lives near Dadeland. The actress remembers Kendall when it was all "tomato patches and strawberry fields."

"I miss the Latin influence in Miami's culture," she sighs. "I like Miami's cosmopolitan nature. I always found it stimulating. L.A.'s more [entertainment] industry focused."

To date, Jaglom's 1992 Venice Venice has been his most industry-oriented film. In it Jaglom plays a maverick American filmmaker -- big stretch there -- whose most recent picture has been selected as the official U.S. entry in the prestigious Venice Film Festival. It was perceived by many as extremely autobiographical, although Jaglom is a savvy enough promoter to know better than to kill the mystery by setting the record straight. In the same art-mirroring-life vein, he began working on Babyfever at about the same time he and Foyt became parents. Which sort of provokes the question, How much of Last Summer in the Hamptons is autobiographical?

"It doesn't parallel anything in Henry's life, except to the extent that the family in the film parallels his own dysfunctional family," Foyt laughs. "It's a nonsugar-coated portrayal of a family. Your family is your family and you're stuck with them. That's true for everybody. And the house -- that was Henry's parents' summer house. He wanted to make the film there before they sold it. But the film is about the craziness and the love of acting and actors, particularly in the theater, and that doesn't really reflect Henry's background.

"The house and Viveca [Lindfors, the marvelous Swedish actress who makes her final film appearance in Hamptons -- she died last year -- as the impassioned family matriarch] were the inspiration for the film," Foyt continues. "My character is this outsider who comes in. . . . She's very different from me. I'm not an overt, manipulative seductress." Foyt chuckles to herself at the thought.

Foyt's character, Oona Hart, hits it big in Hollywood playing Mary Marvel, a bargain-basement Wonder Woman. But she wants to be taken seriously as an actor, so she accepts an invitation to the Long Island retreat of theatrical doyenne Helena Mora (Lindfors), a Hollywood starlet of the first magnitude in the Forties who turned her back on Tinseltown in order to hone her chops on the stage. Oona will do anything to get the right part to further her career, and the brilliant but eccentric cast of writers, actors, and directors gathered at Helena's retreat -- some are Helena's blood relatives, some aren't -- afford Oona plenty of opportunity to realize her dreams.

Foyt recognizes the insecurity that drives Oona. "Actors are extremely vulnerable because they're hired hands," she says with conviction. "It's horrible. You're always at the whim and mercy of others, facing constant rejection, begging for parts. That's what I was trying to underscore."

But Babyfever was a breakthrough film for Foyt, and her winning performance in Last Summer in the Hamptons should only consolidate her status as a rising star, which means she shouldn't have to resort to tactics as manipulative as Oona's to find work. "Projects are starting to come my way," she confirms. "If something came along, an opportunity to work with Wayne Wang, or Lumet, Nichols, Scorsese, Martha Coolidge, Diane Keaton, of course I'd be interested. I don't feel like I'm that dependent on Henry. I think I could bring just as much to any other work. I'm an actor!

"I think in many ways that's what this film is about," she goes on. "If you're an actor -- how noble a profession that is -- to sort of rekindle the love. Everyone in their soul is an artist. Some people express that through their home or the way they maintain a child. Some people express themselves through arts and crafts. It's very valuable and important to acknowledge that within you."

But when Victoria Foyt looks inside herself, she sees a wife and mother as well as an actor and writer. "The last four and a half years have been very intense," Foyt admits. "Two kids. Cowriting and costarring in two films. I'm looking forward to the luxury of not having to wear so many hats. But things are settling down a bit now. Since I've become a mother I've developed a deeper appreciation for my own parents. My mother raised four kids without help -- no nanny, no maid. Women are heroes." Mary Marvel would be proud.

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