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AMANDA PEET--A GIRL WHO'S BEST WHEN SHE'S BAAAAD!

My interview with Amanda Peet, whose "Whipped" took something of a whipping from the critics, was originally published in The New York Daily News on August 31, 2000. I found her refreshing and appealingly ambitious. --GUY FLATLEY

 

The buzz on Amanda Peet began earlier this year with the mob comedy "The Whole Nine Yards," in which the 28-year-old New York native upstaged Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry as a ditsy dental assistant whose heart is set on becoming a hit woman.

Tomorrow, with the opening of "Whipped," that buzz could swell to a roar. In the raunchy comedy, Peet plays a cagey, deceptively docile Manhattan swinger who succeeds in taking the swagger out of four macho buddies. Audiences watching Peet stoke the libidos and deflate the egos of these cocky dudes — and then share the ludicrous details of their sexual inadequacies with her girlfriends over lunch — may find it one of the meanest, merriest delights of the movie season.

In real life, the girl with the amazing blue eyes and playful smile is also seductive, but about as far from Mia, the flaky femme fatale of "Whipped," as silk is from leather. "I think anyone as strategizing and deranged as Mia should be institutionalized," says Peet. Wearing white chinos, sneakers and a flowery hand-me-down blouse, the slender, clean-scrubbed, 5-foot-6 Peet looks like an exceptionally pretty tomboy — and much younger than her 28 years.

On some level, Peet's disapproval of Mia's pseudo-feminist tactics might be explained by the fact that she fell in love with Brian Van Holt, the 30-year-old hunk who plays one of the saps she zaps in "Whipped." The couple now share an apartment in Los Angeles, close to where Peet toils on her WB series "Jack & Jill," and where she recently completed the feature "Saving Silverman."

"Silverman" is a dark comedy co-starring Jack Black, Steve Zahn and Jason Biggs. In this one, Peet's character is really bad news, she says, with evident pleasure. "Jason plays a total sucker, really in love with me, but Jack and Steve don't want him to be suckered into marrying me. So they kidnap me and tell Jason I died."

Is this girl at least redeemable at the end?

"What are you thinking?" Peet responds. "You know there's no character arc for women in movies. I'm bad, and that's that."

With the exception of a small but standout turn as Jennifer Aniston's kid sister in the 1996 romantic comedy "She's the One," most of the characters Peet has portrayed on film are unknown to moviegoers.
"I think ‘Whipped’ was my 13th independent film," she says. "You're always hearing stories about people who do an indie that goes to Sundance, gets everyone their money back and you become famous overnight. But somehow, I managed to do 12 indies that never made it to the video store, to the Quad or even to the Buffalo Film Festival."

Clearly, the sail to stardom has not been smooth for Peet, a dutiful Jewish daughter who lived in London with her family for four years, attended Manhattan Friends High School ("I'm a Quaker Jew — a little bit Quaker, a little bit Jew") and majored in history at Columbia. From the beginning, her parents (a lawyer and a social worker who divorced in 1990) frowned on her dream of a life in the theater. "Acting was kind of taboo in my family," she says. "It was something too intangible, too tied up with charisma and presence, not really a meritocracy. To my mother, acting was tantamount to modeling."

When she was 14, Peet says, she told her mom she wanted to become a model, and her mother anxiously asked, "Don't you know what happens to people who rely on their looks?"

But both of her parents were excited when she was accepted to study acting with Uta Hagen. "Finally, the stamp of approval," Peet says.

The actor singled out for Peet's personal seal of approval is Paul Newman. "That man is so brilliant, and he just keeps trying to learn more about his craft," she says admiringly. "He came to the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven to see ‘The Country Club,’ a play in which I was naked. So Paul Newman saw me naked — for four whole minutes!"

How did it feel to be nude on stage?

"It felt very liberating, except for the day my father came to see the play," Peet recalls. "I went to the man in the box office and told him to give my father a seat in the very back row, in a corner, on the opposite side of where I was to take off my dress. Even so, I said my lines quickly that day and got right back into my dress."

And what did her father have to say about all this?

"He didn't say much."

TO READ ABOUT AMANDA PEET'S UPCOMING FILMS, click here and browse the P PAGE OF STAR TURNS.