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Selma Blair Talks Playing Junkie Mom in ‘The Poker House’

14 Jul, 2009 By: Billy Gil

I’ll come out and say it: Selma Blair is one of my favorite modern actresses. She doesn’t act as much as emote, using her whole body and curling her mouth into a pout that hides a thousand dirty secrets. She seems off and weird in everything she’s in, and it’s completely affecting in a bizarre way.

Blair’s distinctive persona is on at full force in The Poker House, Lori Petty’s directorial debut, coming to DVD ($29.99) Aug. 18 (prebook July 21) from Phase 4 Films. In the film Blair plays a fictionalized version of Petty’s mother, Sarah, a boozy, drug-addicted woman with three children who runs a “house of ill repute,” with prostitutes and gambling, in small-town Iowa. Blair sways and slurs her way through the film, showing hardly a shred of concern for her daughters, even in the face of sexual abuse.

Selma Blair in The Poker House

I spoke to Blair about her tough role and what inspires her.

IndieFile: From where did you draw inspiration to play this role?

Blair: Not to be too simplistic, but I thought it was written in a really good, poetic and hateful way. We all have some horrific sides. And I am not saying this is my mother, but you draw things from people, or I do as an actress. Some of the mannerisms did come from my mother. I did copy some of her mannerisms to play an adult because I never do it! I’ve cultivated this weird world of adolescence in my career.

IndieFile: What was the hardest scene to film?

Blair: It was all super easy, except there’s a moment where I go into the bathroom after [the rape scene]. You feel so much for Jennifer (Lawrence, who plays Agnes, the fictionalized version of Petty) and she extends her arms to me and … I’m going on about what a pain in my ass she was. That was one of my more painful moments. I had to hold back from crying. She’s sitting in the tub, naked, crying to me … and I don’t think my character would be as effective [if she broke down], as she didn’t want to feel that.

IndieFile: What’s it like going back and forth between characters such as this and your role as Vi in Storytelling versus films such as the Hellboy movies?

Blair: I love it. I love both experiences. I love the scope and the expectation of big studio films, but the independent films you really kind of get left alone. … Most of these films are made out-of-pocket and there’s a lot of love and sacrifice that goes into it.

IndieFile: Speaking of which, are you working with Guillermo del Toro again soon on Hellboy or another project?

Blair: I wish I could say differently, but no, he is busy on The Hobbit and I am not in that, as much as I would love to work with Guillermo in any capacity again – I love that man and I love what he creates. I loved being in his vision for Hellboy, but for now it is completely on the backburner.

IndieFile: Do you think you’re a different actress on TV (“Kath & Kim,” “Zoe”) versus movies?

Blair: Yes. I think if maybe it were cable and there were a tone you were allowed to have, it would have the same kind of, I don’t know, spirit that comes through. … But I love the immediacy of TV. I don’t watch it much, but I appreciate it. It’s really hard work to make things look that phony in technicolor. That’s a real game that is really fascinating to me. Kim was a really sloppy, confident girl that was fun to play.

IndieFile: Did you do anything special for the “Kath & Kim” DVD?

Blair: I did a commentary for a few episodes. I hope that that show lives on, on home video, and that people enjoy it because there were some outrageous, silly moments, and when I tuned in, I really enjoyed it. I will not listen to myself on the commentary though.

IndieFile: Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I feel like you do a lot of difficult projects and a lot of difficult acting. In a film like Cruel Intentions, which is more on the Hollywood side of things, your role is smaller but still unforgettable. And I keep coming back to Storytelling and how awkward that must have been to play. Do you think you’re drawn to difficult roles?

Blair: I think I definitely am. I don’t know if it’s because no one else wants those roles. I love Storytelling. I love Todd Solondz’s rhythm and these silent awkward moments in the film. I am drawn to that. Parts of me wish I could be this really vibrant leading lady that can make something out of a really boring role. I’m sure I could do it, I’m not saying I suck, but I think my strength is in playing awkward, uncomfortable people who are really kind of ugly, who have real obvious weaknesses.

IndieFile: There are also a lot of difficult sexual issues at play in your roles. Is that also something that intrigues you as an actress?

Blair: I guess so. I guess I’m just drawn to the awkward moments. I think I just view it as part of life. I don’t view them as difficult roles. Those are the ones that are easier for me. It’s when I have to sit at a dinner scene and make a toast and be charming I think, how do people do this? I’m pretty in touch with the things that make people lie awake at night.

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