Posted: 8/1/99


Profiles: Lili Taylor and Kris Kristofferson

In this column we will present brief biographies and commentary on the careers of two contemporary film personas. This month we focus on two actors who have recently been involved with biographic films about other celebrities.


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Lili TaylorLili Taylor

Lili Taylor has been announced as the star of a film about Janis Joplin, the Sixties' most individual singer whose meteoric career only hinted at her musical abilities.

Lili Taylor has been both celebrated and criticized as director Nancy Savoca's choice for the part. Taylor's young career reveals great acting ability and intensity that is uncommon among actors of any age. Her dedication to the art of acting is revealed in her interest in all its forms - stage, television, and film.

Born 1967 in Glencoe, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Taylor has been one of the past decade's most prolific character actors. Her first starring roles were in two of Nancy Savoca's films: "Dogfight" and "Household Saints." Both earned Taylor immediate recognition as a serious actress. Recent big budget films in which she has appeared include "Ransom" and "The Haunting."

But the upcoming "Janis," currently still in the early development stages, will reunite Taylor with Savoca in a vehicle whose topic may just prompt the production company to give it proper promotion, and thus bring recognition to Taylor at long last.

While both early efforts with Savoca allowed Taylor the perfect opportunity to immerse herself in unusual centerpiece roles, both were admittedly "small" films. The subject matter associated with Janis' life, and ultimately her death, lends itself to the level of hype of which big studios are so fond. For an actor of Taylor's degree, this opportunity could not present itself at a better time.

While a singularly attractive young woman, Taylor seems to prefer reliance upon her exceptional talent and her love for the craft above and beyond the typical dependence upon looks and following the latest trends, as so many young actors do. There is a sense of accepting some inner challenge in her having taken on the role of "Rose" in "Dogfight." This is an overweight, folk-artsy character who is verbally and emotionally abused by a group of young soldiers led by River Phoenix. This is not the type of role most first-time actors would take on, for obvious reasons. Yet Taylor did take it on, and she created a memorable character full of strength and emotional dimension that leaves an impression of an incredible talent that should be given the opportunity to shine and grow.

The parallels between Taylor's ability and Janis' talent are remarkable, and this film should propel Taylor into the public's consciousness as the important young actor she is.

For more on Ms. Taylor:
Lili.net
Lili Taylor.com

Kris Kristofferson Kris Kristofferson

In 1999's
"A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries," Kristofferson portrays James Jones, the successful author and veteran of World War II. While the story is told through the eyes of his daughter's growth and rites of passage into womanhood, the indelible impact of her father, so capably played in this otherwise uninteresting film, cannot be denied.

From early perfomances as a stoic antihero ("Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid") to comedic parts ("Semi-Tough") to Sixties/Seventies everyman roles ("Cisco Pike" and "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"), Kristofferson has been a solid and exceptional actor capable of much greater emotional depth than many similar actors. The difference is the subtlety in the way he portrays these elements, whether as a lead actor or a supporting character.

His ability to enlarge the stature of an otherwise minor film through use of this subtlety of character is simply unique; few "seasoned character actors" seem as capable of pulling off the same feat.

Most recently Kristofferson played the supporting character "Smilin' Jack" in John Sayles' "Limbo." He was given the task of portraying a character that is at once full of menace and hope for the main characters. When their lives are threatened and they are lost in the wilds of Alaska, the lone plane that lands nearby is piloted by Kristofferson. He delivers a brief dialogue, possibly two minutes in length, revealing his having been hired by the never-seen bad guys as an emissary. And yet he is most empathetic with the plight of the main characters and offers the sole ray of hope at this crucial point in the film.

Similarly, in last year's "Blade" about a vampire hunter played by the athletic Wesley Snipes, Kristofferson portrayed "Whistler," Blade's sidekick and mentor. When his character is killed, there is a sense of Whistler's having been the soul for Blade's barely two-dimensional character. A difficult task to pull off for any actor.

Born June 1936, Kristofferson has been acting since 1971. Before that he was a Golden Gloves boxer, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, and a Ranger in the U.S. Army. While working as a janitor in a Nashville studio he struck up a conversation with Johnny Cash, who agreed to record one of Kristofferson's songs. This became the Number 1 hit "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Kristofferson has won a Golden Globe, several Grammy's, and an Oscar for best original score for "Songwriter."

Kristofferson has successfully transcended the Hollywood stereotype, while proving quite capable of personifying it in any role. His exceptional talent deserves another opportunity to shine in a career-defining role.

For more on Mr. Kristofferson:
Kris Kristofferson Tribute Page

Del Harvey, founder of FM, has served his time at The Directors Guild, The Walt Disney Company, and Lucasfilm, and enjoyed every minute.

Got a problem? Email Del at filmmonthly@hotmail.com