People Magazine, December 1992

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People Magazine, December 1992

Post  DonMarta on Sun Sep 13, 2009 9:19 pm

"What a mess!" Moira Kelly, just in from a New York-to-L.A. road trip that makes Thelma and Louise’s ride seem luxurious, can laugh…now. She stuffed all her worldly goods into her cherished ’61 Oldsmobile convertible, then she and four friends formed a convoy and hit the highway. "We camped out every night and none of us showered-we were like road kill!" Moira recalls. "We got caught in an electrical storm so bad we had to pull over for an hour. But the worst was when my car blew up at Mount Rushmore." That meant leaving the vintage vehicle, renting a U-Haul, and squeezing into the other car. Rather than collapsing once she arrived in her new digs on the West Coast, Moira dove straight into a nonstop round of photo shoots, interviews, even auditions for future roles. Yet no piece of burnt toast, she! Settling into the overstuffed sofa of a pseudo-bohemian Hollywood coffeehouse, Moira is all energy.
It’s easy to understand this young actress’s enthusiasm. Her career is on a straight-up climb, with her part in Chaplin, film legend Charlie Chaplin’s life story, marking the highest point yet. It’s a dual role, actually-Moira plays Hetty Kelly, one of Chaplin’s early flames, as well as Oona O’Neill Chaplin, his beloved wife. Talk about dream gigs: locations in California, London, and Chaplin’s own estate in Switzerland; working with acclaimed director Sir Richard Attenborough; and perhaps best of all, sharing some serious screen tie with Robert Downey, Jr. (whose performance as Charlie has already sparked an Oscar buzz).
"To me, Robert was the big time. When I was in college, I’d look through magazines and see his face, and I went to all his movies…so I was very nervous," Moira says of her initial meeting with him. "I walked in and Robert was sitting there getting his makeup done, and I remember he looked up through the mirror and smiled, and I went ‘Ungh!’ I was so shy, I didn’t say a word to him all day."
Of course, once they started doing scenes together, things changed. "He’s wonderful," Moira says beaming. "I don’t know what he does to me, but he lightens me up." Not only was she talking to Robert, she was learning from him, too. "He’s very talented and very smart. The thing I like most about him is he gives you a lot to work with-he’s not a selfish actor; he doesn’t keep it all to himself. He’s very understanding and he listens well."
Portraying Oona and Hetty proved to be as much of a challenge as any of Moira’s other roles-the abused teenager in the TV film Love, Lies, and Murder, the ice-maiden Olympic skater in The Cutting Edge, the daring Donna in wild, weird Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. "It’s a wonderful opportunity to play two roles in a film, and people keep telling me they can’t tell it’s the same person in both parts, which is the greatest compliment. And for a young actor to get to age-Hetty is fifteen, and Oona goes from eighteen to forty-six is a wonderful accomplishment, if you pull it off."
Twenty-four-year-old Moira lived up to the challenge, but it was work, particularly because the two characters were so different. "Hetty was a dancer who worked in a theater that Charlie was also working in. She was Irish and a redhead. I did an accent, but that was easy because my parents are both from Ireland and I’ve been there many times." Moira says. "Oona was a Vassar girl, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. She was elegant and refined, though a little mischievous in her own way." As Moira sees it, the only real similarity between the two-and maybe the reason Charlie fell for both of them-was in the lips. "Charlie had a thing for big, beautiful red lips."
Moira realizes that many of today’s women may not relate to Oona. "A lot of the feminists in the world-I don’t think they would appreciate Oona, because she pretty much devoted her life to pleasing Charlie. She always stood in the shadows, she was just there for him." Then again, Oona was a rule-breaker and she could handle scandal. "Her father didn’t like the idea of them getting married, so he sort of disowned Oona," Moira reveals.
What father wouldn’t be, umm, skeptical? Charlie Chaplin was not just an older man, but one with a notorious reputation for womanizing. "She was warned about him, and fell madly in love, anyway," Moira says. "But Oona was very mature for her age. She could talk to Charlie and take care of him the way he wanted. The had a beautiful love."
Sounds like there’d be some pretty steamy love scenes between Moira and Robert. "There aren’t any, really." Moira says, laughing "There’s one scene where we get to kiss each other, but it’s sort of a husband-and-wife kiss." Maybe it’s just as well, since onscreen passion has a way of sneaking into real life, and Moira’s got a serious boyfriend, a standup comedian named Chris Frangola.
But, says Moira, that doesn’t mean she and Robert can’t be buddies, "We have this incredible relationship! We have a great time together; we talk all the time." And she adds that she’d work with him again "in a heartbeat!" Chances are good-Moira’s the type of actress who gets what she wants. Her next movie, Daybreak, which comes out on HBO in the spring, puts her with another to-drool-for actor, Cuba Gooding, Jr. "Cuba is great," Moira says. "He was my saving grace on the film because there were a lot of hard scenes, and he was very supportive." Daybreak is a heavy movie about AIDS in a fascist country, set about ten years from now.
"My boyfriend always says, ‘Aren’t you ever going to do something funny?’" Moira says. "And I’d love to-but I’m afraid of comedy. I can cry at the drop of the pin. But comedy is hard for me; it’s the timing. You’ve got to have it." She’d also like to do a movie where she could show off her musical talents. Born in Queens, New York, Moira’s an accomplished violinist, drummer, and flutist (she gets it from her dad, who’s a professional violinist); in high school, she competed in opera. "I grew up mostly with classical, big band, and a lot of Irish music-I really didn’t start listening to rock and roll until I was maybe sixteen," Moira says. "Now I listen to all kinds of music except rap, which all sounds the same to me. But what I like to sing mostly is blues and cabaret style."
Moira’s the first to admit that she’s had some lucky breaks. "I never had to pound the pavement and really struggle after college." But she’s confident she could do it if she had to. "I went to Marymount College in New York City with a lot of kids whose parents paid their way, and I wouldn’t even have thought of asking my parents-they couldn’t afford it, not with six kids! So I was working different jobs-I was a waitress, a nanny-and I pushed my way all through college. I wanted to perform so much. I did everything I could to stay in college and pay my own way, so I think that if success hadn’t come so quickly, I would still be pursuing it."
Right now, though, she’s up for a little fun. Her experience with a personal trainer has turned her on to working out, and she likes playing sports. "My boyfriend has a softball game that goes on every Sunday afternoon," Moira says. "I usually play shortstop. And I hit like a bandit! Yes! The last time I played, I got two doubles and the rest were singles-they wanted to give me an award. But," she adds, slightly embarrassed, "if you hit a ball out to my part of the field, I’m sort of like ‘Aargh! Don’t got it!!! Don’t got it!’"
Well, if that’s true, it’s the only thing Moira Kelly "don’t got"!
-Nina Malkin


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DonMarta
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