Irish America: Ethnic News Watch

Can a strong Roman Catholic woman survive in today’s Hollywood? The answer is a definite yes. Twenty-seven-year-old actress Moira Kelly, who once asked the permission of her pastor before committing to do a nude scene, is not merely surviving, but greatly succeeding. Film credits include Twin Peaks–Fire Walk with Me, The Cutting Edge, Chaplin, and With Honors. You may also recognize her voice as Nala in Disney’s The Lion King, or playing Alla in her current release, Little Odessa.

Moria grew up on Long Island, New York, and worked as a nanny to put herself through Marymount College, where she was discovered by her agent in a talent showcase. She has worked non-stop, from her first role as a 12 year-old manic-depressive in The Boy Who Cried Bitch, to her latest, playing Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, in a yet to be release film about the woman who devoted her life to serving the poor and homeless.

The daughter of Irish immigrants, and the middle child of six, Moira comes from a talented family — her sister’s a clarinetist, her father a violinist, and her younger brother is studying music. In a recent interview, Moira spoke to Kristin Cotter about her future desires, which include playing Joan of Arc and being a mother.

Irish America; What has been your favorite role so far?

Moira Kelly: I don’t really have a favorite role — I love them all. I don’t believe in one technique of acting — every character you play, you build differently, so you have to deal with them separately. I’m not the type of person who has to live in my character’s shoes for the whole duration of the shooting. I’d go crazy if I had to do that.

IA: How do you choose a film?

MK: I read it, and realize if it’s a character I can commit to. I usually know by, say, the fifteenth page, whether or not I want to do the script. There’s a lot I won’t do. I’ve done films that were violent and films with nudity, but there’s a fine line between what’s necessary and what’s not. I’ll ask myself, “Does it glorify it? Are these characters that grow and learn from it?”

IA: What do you think of films that cross that line?

MK: Those films–the violent ones, the provocative ones, the exotic ones, whatever–they’re going to be around for a long time. As audience members, it’s our responsibility to choose not to go and see certain things, or when we do go to see a film, see the whole story. It maddens me more than anything when people take certain scenes and focus on those, taking them out of context.

I was interviewed once by a person who focused on this one scene in Twin Peaks where there was nudity. I asked: “Did you see the rest of the film? Did you see the scene before and after that scene you’re talking about?” Because if he really was a responsible audience member, he would have realized that in the scenes before the nude scene, my character was drugged, and in the scene afterwards, she was depressed because she couldn’t believe she actually did what she did. The character goes through a catharsis, a learning process of “What I did was not right.” All that is part of the story. And that’s why I did it, because it didn’t glamorize it. It showed a girl who couldn’t deal with what had happened to her and showed that it wasn’t the nicest thing in the world to have happen.

IA: Are there any films in particular you feel go overboard with violence and nudity?

MK: Something like Basic Instinct, for instance. Not the whole movie, and I don’t want to take scenes out of context either, but I thought it had excess nudity that was just not necessary — people got the point. It was like being hit over the head with something that’s extremely obvious and that’s abusive. It’s the same with all the violence in most of the action flicks. I get sick of it. Claude Van Damme movies bother me–I don’t go tot Claude Van Damme movies. I don’t go to a lot of films. I tend to know just from looking…..

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I won’t go see Priest. I know what it’s about, period. It’s not going to be entertaining and it’s not going to make me laugh. I don’t need to be educated about it. It’s somebody’s take on events and situations that have occurred, and personally I have my own opinions formed on those events and I don’t need someone else’s. I’d see a film like The Madness of King George. Because I didn’t know about George and his madness, that would be a film that would educate me as well as entertain me, and I enjoyed that film–incredible performances across the board.

IA: Do you feel something’s been lost in films?

MK: Something has definitely been lost, though it’s hard to say what it is. The majority of classic films relied on good stores and good characters. Without that, the film would not be successful. Jerry Seinfeld said that he doesn’t curse in his comedy act because it’s cheap, and that comedians who feel they have to curse only do so because they can’t think of anything funny to say. Nowadays, in films, it’s pretty much the same thing. When you see too much stupid stuff in films, it’s because they have no talent for putting out a good story.

IA: Who, maybe a fellow actor or director, have you learned a lot from?

MK: I didn’t know anything about being in front of a camera, and so the first director I ever worked with, Juan Campanella, really thought me a lot. You learn something from all of the, they’re all sort of different–their ways of working, their vision. Also, I would definitely say my father and my mom. Especially my father, being the artist , and my theater teacher Michael James. there are so many people that you meet in your life, and they all give you a little something to go on.

IA: What are you dreams for the future?

MK: Wanting to work with children, I think, has always been there. My mom’s a nurse, so I’ve always been around that type of mentality of wanting to care for people. I love kids–they’re so wonderful to be around and to be inspired by.

I want to open a children’s theater in Ireland and make it a center where they can develop stories and skills on how to build sets and work the whole production themselves. From there I’d like to branch out and use theater as therapy for children who are either handicapped or psychologically depressed. There is so much talent in Ireland, but not as much opportunity for kids to get involved with such a program.

IA: What was it like growing up a first-generation Irish American?

MK: Because my parents are from Ireland, they’ve been very old-fashioned with sort of the old-country way of living. They maintained a very strong sense of Irish culture in the household which we all grew up with. And there are some values and morals that I’ve had instilled in me that are due to being brought up Catholic, period.

IA: Is having a family of your own one of your goals?

MK: It’s a dream of mine. But there is absolutely no way I could work and have children. I couldn’t do it. Being a mother is a full time job–how could you possibly do both? I’d have to get nannies and other people to care of my children. Why have them if you have to give them to someone else?

A lot of time it has to do with both parents having to work in order not to place a financial strain on the family unit, but I say, do with less just so you can afford to be with your family. There are choices to make–where is the sacrifice?

People have become too self-centered focusing on what it is they want to achieve and what they want, and that’s not what we’re here for. It has nothing to do with what we want, it’s what we’re supposed to do, period. We’re not here, really, to be successful, we’re here to be faithful–to each other, to God, and to human growth.

IA: Where do you see yourself in terms of a career and/or family in twenty years?

MK: I don’t really think that far ahead. There’s so much to deal with right now, in making sure I stay on the straight path, and in attempting to do the right thing. You never know where you’re going to end up.