NY Times 1992 - Chaplin, Robert Downey Jr

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NY Times 1992 - Chaplin, Robert Downey Jr Empty NY Times 1992 - Chaplin, Robert Downey Jr

Post  DonMarta on Thu Sep 17, 2009 11:16 pm

Moira Kelly; Playing Two Roles in 'Chaplin' While Dreaming of Joan of Arc
Published: Sunday, January 3, 1993

"They used to say I was a younger Winona Ryder," says Moira Kelly, "and that always made me laugh because I'm three years older than she is."

The 24-year-old actress's performance in Richard Attenborough's "Chaplin" may put an end to Hollywood's comparison shopping. Ms. Kelly plays two characters, both of whom figured largely in Charlie Chaplin's preoccupation with pretty young things: the unrefined Irish showgirl Hetty Kelly, whom he loved and lost early on, and the doting Oona O'Neill, whom he found and married late in life.

It is easy to get Mr. Attenborough talking about Moira Kelly, but harder to get him to stop. "I found her totally beguiling and bewitching," he says. "She has an extraordinary presence. And yet there was none of that nonsense that tends to go with aspiring young actresses."

Just now, Ms. Kelly is sitting in the wood-lined surroundings of the New York Jockey Club, saying, "I feel like I've been going on fast forward for the past two years." She is all elegance and composure, although giddiness percolates just beneath the surface. The actress grew up on Long Island, the daughter of Irish immigrants. (Her mother is a nurse; her father a violinist.) She is an ardent Roman Catholic who enjoys shocking people with pronouncements like: "The role of the mother is the role of a lifetime. Just give me my paycheck, help me find a husband and let me raise a family." Ms. Kelly has a lilting, rain-in-Spain sort of voice. She dreams of playing Joan of Arc.

In high school, Ms. Kelly was an intensely musical "band-and-chorus nerd." She worked her way through Marymount Manhattan College and, three weeks after graduation, was cast as a manic-depressive in a B-movie called "The Boy Who Cried Bitch." Since then, no two roles have been alike. In 1991, Ms. Kelly was a murderer (in the television drama "Love, Lies and Murder") and a childhood sweetheart (in "Billy Bathgate"). In 1992, she was a figure skater with an attitude ("The Cutting Edge") and the best friend anyone ever had ("Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me").

Mr. Attenborough cast Ms. Kelly in "Chaplin" without auditioning her or even screening her work. He and the film's star, Robert Downey Jr., wax rhapsodic about watching film of the actress's first scene. "Richard and I literally fell out of our chairs," says Mr. Downey. "It was like watching Elizabeth Taylor's screen test."

Ms. Kelly, who takes such declarations with the requisite grain of salt, says she related more to Hetty Kelly than to Oona O'Neill. "She wasn't as well educated or as proper as Oona," she says. "She was just sort of spunky in her own little way."

Somehow, Moira Kelly manages to be both spunky and proper. The actress took a sexually explicit role in HBO's forthcoming AIDS allegory "Daybreak," but only after a script conference with her priest. Soon she begins work on Alek Keshishian's film "With Honor," starring Joe Pesci, in which she will portray a Harvard student. And perhaps one day Ms. Kelly will take on Joan of Arc, of whom she says: "To claim, at such a young age, that she heard voices and was in the company of saints! To lead men into battle! To swing a sword and burn on the stake for it -- such a wonderful, wonderful, fulfilling life!"

Ms. Kelly has the faith, and, increasingly, Hollywood does, too.

"Six months ago one might have said, 'If you can't get Winona, get Moira Kelly," Mr. Attenborough says. "Now, I think Moira Kelly stands on her own sweet feet."

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