Claire Forlani| Death Becomes Her

Meet Claire Forlani, a thoroughly enchanting young actress who, in a career-making role, shows Death — Brad Pitt, that is — what life is all about.

While Claire Forlani and Brad Pitt were looping Meet Joe Black, tagged as perhaps the most expensive (at a reported $90 million) Hollywood romance ever made, “she was obsessing about something,” director Martin Brest says. “I was teasing her about it, and I said, ‘C’mon, Claire, don’t turn into Frances Farmer on me!'” Surprisingly, Brest’s euphemism for nutcase did not go whizzing past the young actress’s radar. Quite the opposite: Forlani let everyone know that, in fact, as a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl in London, she had read Will There Really Be a Morning, Farmer’s harrowing account of her decent from stardom to drug addiction and institutionalization.

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What’s more, Forlani reread it a few years later, after she and her family moved from England to the San Francisco Bay area. This 26-year-old knows her old movie stars.

“It was a little one-uppy there for a second,” Brest says. “I thought she wouldn’t have any idea who Frances Farmer was. I mean, what would possess a thirteen-year-old girl to read Frances Farmer’s autobiography?”

“Her book was the first that literally made me feel pain, made me feel sadness, made me feel tragedy,” Forlani says. Her voice maintains the same fragile, nearly breathless tone whether she’s bestowing praise, going on the attack, or beating herself up, which on this oppressively sunny afternoon appears to be her major M.O. She is the kind of actress who can reply to a question about not doing nude scenes by saying, “If I had a great body, I’d be naked all the time.”

The self-deprecation doesn’t stop there. Bring up a few of her darker moments on film, such as Mallrats and Police Academy VII: Mission to Moscow, and she instinctively covers her face: “My filmography!”

Brest, on the other hand, insists that he had no mysterious dream pick for the role of Susan, the daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur (Anthony Hopkins) who falls in Love with Death, a.k.a. Joe Black (Brad Pitt). “I couldn’t find anyone. I just held out hope that there was somebody nobody knew yet.” Finally, he saw Forlani on another actress’s demo reel. “Claire appeared for maybe three-quarters of a second in a long shot” from Basquait, and Brest had to know, “Who is that?”

She’s far more relaxed when trashing some of her movies, such as The Rock, in which, as a girl named Jade, she had to tell her long-lost convict father (Sean Connery), “I don’t think that we should romanticize something that happened between you two in a bar after a Led Zeppelin concert and my being the result!” It was her one big scene, a fact that thoroughly amuses her. “You read the lines sometimes and they just sound so awful, and you think, ‘How do I not look like an asshole in this scene?’ I did so much homework with that thing. I worked on it for weeks.”

And then there’s Basil, a British costume drama in which Forlani costars with Jared Leto and Christian Slater. Originally scheduled to be released this year, it’s going straight to the Romance Classics channel. “I just walked away from that film after I did it. There was so many infights that we didn’t get to shoot what we needed to shoot to make a movie.”

“That’s not true,” Basil director Radha Bharadwaj says when told of Forlani’s remarks. Although the film’s producers, Kushner-Locke, “wanted to hijack the film from the beginning,” Bharadwaj claims, “the director’s cut had everything.” Still, she describes Forlani as a totally committed actress, perhaps a bit too much so. “She was worried the very first day: ‘How many takes am I going to get?'” Bharadwaj recalls. “Hopefully, the one thing she came away with from Basil is that she doesn’t need all those takes. She can do it straight away.”

So the verdict is in: Claire Forlani is a tad obsessive. Even about where she lives. These days, it seems that every self-respecting Young Hollywoodian makes his or her home east of La Brea, and Forlani can’t wait to move back to her old apartment in Beachwood Canyon, where, she says, “Lauren Bacall’s husband lived.” It’s a strange lapse for someone so well-versed in Old Hollywood. She thinks a moment, then it comes to her: “Bogart.”

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in Premiere Nov.1998.

November 1, 1998 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links