Head of The Class

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Post  DonMarta on Sun Sep 13, 2009 9:25 pm

Head of the Class?

The star of 'With Honors' seemed like the ideal Harvard roommate, but in a surprising interview, Moira Kelly reveals what she really thinks of college kids

By Elizabeth Logan

Location: Old St. Mary's Church in the middle of the bustle and tourism of Chinatown. Time: around noon on a weekday.

I was:

a) Going to Mass.

b) Listening to an organ concert.

c) Talking with actress Moira Kelly ("Chaplin," "The Cutting Edge," "With Honors") about her new film "Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story."

The correct response is c, as bizarre as that may seem.

During our interview, Kelly, who always acts perky and energetic in her movies, seemed withdrawn and awkwardly quiet in person. She rarely made eye contact and must have yawned a half dozen times.

In all fairness, she was probably exhausted from the grueling publicity junket. Then, halfway through the interview she sprang to life, exploding into a mantra of her beliefs. They poured out in a seemingly endless dissertation:

"I don't believe in technology.

"I don't believe in wasting money on items rather than using it to help people who are down and out.

"I don't believe in having more than you need.

"I don't believe in the self-centered attitude of people today.

"I don't believe in societies looking out for No. 1.

"I don't believe in this new welfare bill. . . .

"I don't believe in a society looking on a president to take on the responsibilities of the country. . . ."

Feisty and fearless replaced withdrawn and distant. Yet many actors today say one thing and practice the other extreme. But a hypocrite she's not; Kelly practices what she preaches.

Kelly currently lives in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City. She does not own a television and admits to having few friends in the Hollywood scene - a scene that she detests. She sees acting as a stepping stone to her true calling, music. She wants to open a children's theater in Ireland to share her love of music. Kelly, who hails from a musical family, plays the violin, piano, drums and flute.

Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Kelly is the third oldest of six children. Her parents are Irish immigrants. Her mother is a nurse, and her father a musician, but according to Kelly, at times he worked two other jobs to make ends meet.

Kelly's mother did not work when Kelly and her siblings were young. Her parents believed that getting love and guidance from a full-time parent was more important than material comforts. Kelly praised her parents' decision.

"We have a young generation that has grown up having taken care of themselves . . . and that has created a very confused, and I think bitter, generation," said Kelly. "We have our priorities all messed up, not just in this country, but in the world. . . . Money and material items take precedence over kindness and human caring."

With all her energy, she seemed to fit in perfectly with many of our impassioned speakers at White Plaza. So I asked her about her own college experience. At first, she was reluctant to answer.

Kelly, who is only 28, said college was so long ago that she couldn't speak of it. Minutes later she softened and returned to my question, perhaps regretting her initial refusal.

Kelly implied that her years at Marymount College in New York were not the best of her life. According to Kelly, she enjoyed her theater and writing classes, the city and her friends but did not like being in classrooms.

Kelly sounded frustrated with the "financially driven" college "kids" of today, especially those who are pre-med or pre-law students only because "it's good money."

She misses "the times when people wanted to be a lawyer because they wanted to help or a doctor because they wanted to cure. . . . You do what you do because you love to do it, not because you make money and not to make money."

Kelly loves to act, but says she never envisioned herself doing what she does.

Kelly offered "college kids" a bit of advice because she knows we "love having something to have a voice about." She believes Hollywood is guilty of "gluttony," spending as much as $170 million on a film "that benefits no one but the people who put it out."

She also believes Hollywood has found a safe place in this supply and demand market, "regurgitating the same stuff over and over again." Kelly suggested that students refuse to pay the outrageous ticket prices to force change. Her repetitive use of the word "masses" reminded me of CIV. Her publicist must have a permanent migraine.

After her intriguing sermon on greediness, Hollywood and the not so good old days of college, we returned to the film that brought us to Old St. Mary's, "Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story." Executive producer Ellwood Kieser, present at the interview as well, is also - shock of all shocks - the Rev. Kieser, a practicing Paulist priest. For the non-Catholics out there, like me, the Paulists are an American order dedicated to spreading the love of Christ to non-Catholics.

Kieser's film fulfills his mission, spanning over 20 years of the life of Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker's movement. The movie depicts her ministry with the poor, her rocky relationships with men, including playwright Eugene O'Neill, and her struggle to find the abundance of life.

Originally, Kieser deemed Kelly too young for the part. According to Kieser, he eventually reconsidered after looking at the 30 or 40 biggest names in Hollywood. Kieser offered the role to a few of them, though he gladly admits they turned him down. He says the Lord saved him from his own mistakes.

After one of those infamous Hollywood power lunches, Kieser hired Kelly. According to Kieser, he based his decision on the fact that she possessed a struggling spiritual quality similar to that of Day's.

True to Kelly's call for thrifty movies, the film, also starring Martin Sheen, cost a mere $4.5 million. Hundreds of extras from local Los Angeles parishes crowded onto the the Paramount lot for six days of filming, working only for food.

Kelly is very modest about her performance, but her Day is truly inspiring. Kelly has more of Day in her than she is willing to admit, such as strength of character and an outspoken nature. Day didn't just work for the poor, she became poor to serve them and see them all as her angels. Day acted on her convictions, as Kelly does.

Kieser referred to Day during the interview as "the American Mother Teresa" - made of steel inside yet covered with sandpaper. Although Kelly's demeanor may have been a bit scratchy, her beliefs and passions are securely anchored. Day's words, that begin the film, can be seen as a guide to understanding Kelly.

"I wanted the abundance of life. . . . I did not have the slightest idea how to find it."

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