Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi 200 Cigarettes

By Devin D. O'Leary

MARCH 1, 1999:  At age 28, Martha Plimpton is a veteran of over 30 films. As a child actor, she starred in such movies as The River Rat, The Goonies and The Mosquito Coast. Since then, her acting talents have graced both mainstream hits like Parenthood (in which she weathered the indignity of being married to Keanu Reeves) and well-respected indie productions such as Beautiful Girls, I Shot Andy Warhol and John Waters' Pecker.

Starting Feb. 26, Plimpton can be seen in the ensemble cast comedy 200 Cigarettes. MTV Films has gathered Plimpton and other hot young stars like Ben Affleck, Dave Chappelle, Angela Featherstone, Janeane Garofalo, Gaby Hoffman, Catherine Kellner, Courtney Love, Jay Mohr, Christina Ricci and Paul Rudd to tell the story of one fateful New Year's Eve circa 1981. Plimpton's character, Monica, is throwing the New Year's bash to end all New Year's bashes. Unfortunately, her guests are enmeshed in distracting stories of their own, and Monica's party stands in serious danger of becoming a bust.

Weekly Alibi had the opportunity to chat with Plimpton recently about movies, music and the MTV generation.

So your character ties this whole story together?

The party does. I don't. People take a long time to show up, and I end up getting really frustrated and drunk and pass out and miss the whole thing--which is sort of the story of my life. ... I pass out and miss the whole party. I miss out on Elvis Costello coming to the party. Everybody else gets laid, and I don't. Stuff like that.

With such a big ensemble cast, how many of those people did you actually get to work with?

Well, that's the thing. It's, technically, not really an ensemble. We shot all of these stories separately. So each couple of people, or three people, or four people had their one storyline shot for a week or two and then left. I only worked with the people who I'm in those scenes with. ... All three of the people I worked with were great: Gabby Hoffman, Katherine Kellner and Brian McCardie. They were all lovely.

Since your character was passed out drunk at the time, did you get to meet Elvis Costello?

The cool thing was that at the end of filming, he came in to have his photograph taken with all the actors. The idea being that they would show these Polaroids during the credits of the film of everyone with Elvis. I insisted that they fly me back. I was working elsewhere at the time, and I basically threatened them. Because Elvis is, you know, I always loved him. So, yeah, I got to meet him. It was outrageously cool. I could barely stand it. I'm not generally starstruck, and I was speechless. I had all these great things I was gonna ask him. As soon as I got in front of him, I froze. Any chance of sounding at all intelligent went right out the window.

You spent a good deal of time as a child actor. Do you look for different things in your characters now that you're an adult?

Oh, yeah. Definitely. Just as long as it's well written. And many things aren't. Sometimes as an actor living in New York, you just get desperate and you take something because you'll get to wear nice outfits. (Laughs.) I don't know. I have a career as an actor that I have to maintain, but I also have my dreams and wishes for my future, and those two things are living in very separate, compartmentalized worlds right now.

Do you think your characters have grown as you've grown?

Sometimes they have, yes. I did a movie a couple years ago called Eye of God that nobody saw that I was incredibly proud of. It was unable to get any real substantial distribution deal. But I was very, very proud of that movie, and I think that the kind of work we did on that movie reflects the kind of thing I've always been interested in doing, no matter what age I was playing. ... There was a period there in the late '80s/early '90s where I was sort of pursuing a different kind of career. I wanted to try and hook more substantially into the mainstream. I found that to be a really frustrating pursuit and have since decided if it happens, it happens, and if not ... whatever.

Did you ever make a conscious decision, at least initially, to be in independent film?

No. It wasn't some moral or idealistic decision. It was where the work was for me. And still is.

Do you find yourself more drawn to offbeat directors like John Waters, for example?

I don't know if I'm drawn to them or if those are the ones that hire me. This is the reality really. You know, I'd love to say I do these things because I don't want to make millions of dollars, but that would be a lie. I would love to make millions of dollars and be nominated for all types of fancy awards. But no one asks me. So, in other words, I'm not some snob who's shunning the studio system. The studio system is a world in which I apparently do not have a place. The interesting thing is that letting go of that has brought me more opportunity than I had when I was actively pursuing some kind of career/star thing.

Since 200 Cigarettes was an MTV production, did they have a bunch of network pinheads standing around making sure everybody was hip enough?

(Laughs.) Yes, of course they did.

The hair, the clothes, all that?

Of course. Let's be honest here. This is the movie business. I think the week that I was shooting there were probably eight to 10 producers from all different production companies sitting around a monitor not talking to anyone. That was interesting. But fine. It wasn't like we were making The Deer Hunter or something. It was a comedy. It didn't really bother me at all. I still don't know many of their names.

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