The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky on October 24, 1999 · Page 101
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The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky · Page 101

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Sunday, October 24, 1999
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H2 THE Actress conquered Manhattan Continued from Page H 1 says. "1 had gotten a job in a restaurant, I had started modeling, I had found a high school." "Well, now," Crump says. "She's 15. She had signed herself into the Professional Children's School up there. She had . . . renegotiated the models' apartment to take control of it so she could say who she was going to room with. "We didn't know this. So her mother and father come up. She says, 'I'm not coming home, this is what I want,' and they signed the papers. We're about to have a heart attack, saying, 'What in the world are we doing?' " TWELVE YEARS later, Gayheart seems unsure how she mustered the moxie to create her own little urban legend. "I really don't have a clear answer," she says. "1 think you're fearless when you're 15, and I knew I wanted to be an actress, and I wanted it so badly that I knew if I stayed (home), it would never happen. "My mom always said . . . nothing is impossible. We weren't allowed to say 'can't.' 'Can't' is a dirty word in our house. So I figured I can do it; there's nothing I can't do." (Her parents have done some semi-legendary things, too. Her mother, Flo, has bought bulldozers and sold cosmetics for a living. Her father, Curtis, is a contract trucker who has worked the steel mills in East Chicago and the coal mines in East Kentucky. He took the family to see "Coal Miner's Daughter," and Rebecca was enchanted. She soon realized she wanted to act. And sing. And drive a Ferrari.) Rebecca was smart and determined, and as presumably unawed by New York as she was by, well, Carr Creek Elementary School. "How many kids can go through Professional Children's School up there, which has higher standards than schools in Kentucky, and not miss a lick?" Crump asks. "She graduated with honors. She went to Japan and never missed an assignment." "I think I was more mature then (at 15) than I am now," Gayheart says. "I was a very, very good kid My mom still feels bad about letting me leave home so young, but I was a straight-A student; I was very responsible." Back home, she had been just wild about school. "I had perfect attendance," she says. She was a cheerleader; she was a hurdler and long jumper on the track team. And she was in the drama club, playing Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet." "I played Lizzie Borden once," she recalls. "With much enthusiasm. It might have come in handy for my role in 'Urban Legend.' " ("URBAN LEGEND," the family's favorite Rebecca movie, is also the source of some irritation. About 30 family members went to see it in Hazard. Before they settled into their seats, one piped up, "You know Becky's the killer, don't you?" It ruined the ending, but it enabled the family to focus more sharply on Rebecca's performance. "I enjoy sitting down and watching her act," says her father. "I can tell improvement every show that she's in.") What did folks back home in Pine-top think of her decision to take on New York at 15? "I think," she says, "people just thought it was ridiculous and it kind of was, because I didn't know what I was getting into. . . . Once I JO i ecker Stores The Super Stores UK and UofL Headquarters Best Selection of UK and U of L Gifts and Apparel Oxmoor Center Outer Loop Plaza 7900 Shelbyville Road (502) 425-4172 7517 Outer Loop (502) 239-6037 KWMMIl ' U u v A Leafuuard Lexington 606-225-5203 ofkenwckiana 502-394-0440 visit our weD site at Choose an Exceptional Quality Entry Door.. Now with DOUBLE the Selection! ' ; " i COURIER-JOURNAL FEATURES SUNDAY, OCTOBER 24, 1999 got there, I figured it out." She never allowed herself to believe she could fail. Never considered another career. "None. Never had a Plan B. Because I think if you have a Plan B, then your Plan A definitely won't work.' Still, she faced many potentially crushing moments in Manhattan. "I had lots of people in New York tell me to go back home that it would never happen, that I would never be an actress, or that I wasn't pretty enough to be a model," she says. "I didn't believe them. I was stubborn. I was really stubborn." "Strong-willed," says her brother, Wayne. "Ever since she was 7 years old She's always had that drive about her." Once the folks in New York began to take her seriously, what did they want to change? "I think my innocence," she says. "Everybody wanted to change that. ... My accent. There were lots of things. I was told to have my moles removed. I was told to lose weight. And of course the only thing I actually listened to was losing my accent, because I was told by lots of casting directors, "You're pretty, you're talented, but you have no range; you can only play a Southern girl.' So I lost my accent, and now all I get is Southern roles." (She studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute. And she worked to dispel her accent. Her elocution is so precise that she bites off words as crisply as other people gnosh celery. The word "tent" comes out "tentah." Every once in a while, a relic of Southern speech bobs to the surface; she'll catch herself saying, "I'm fixin' to . . .") Gayheart, who actually seems more bright than hot, soon deduced that practically every aspect of her persona had two sides. Like being Southern. "I think there is a bit of a stigma attached to being a Southerner when you go to New York or Los Angeles," she says. "They think that Southerners aren't as smart or aren't as educated, and that the accent sounds ridiculous. But then later, they find that charming and intriguing. "AT FIRST THEY THINK, oh, a little country bumpkin, a little hillbilly, things like that. But then later I think they appreciate it because they realize just what you get from being brought up in a place like this which is lots of morals, you're really grounded, you have a loving family." To her diary, she committed impossible dreams: To win an Oscar by age 17. And possible dreams: To work with Woody Allen. ("There's always something great in his movies.") Slowly, Manhattan moved, a little, for her. She got commercials for Burger King and Campbell's soup, and some work for the JC Penney catalog. Then she became "the Noxzema girl," and landed a role in the soap opera "Loving." Then, ultimately, came the movie career and the persistent, panting praise of men's magazines. Along the way, she chose good roomies, apparently. One was Carta Gugino, whose credits include "Spin City" and "Snake Eyes." Yvonna Ko-pacz, an actress who recently appeared on "Cosby," remains her closest friend. When they were 18, she taught Kopacz her modeling moves. "She took everything so seriously, even a catalog job," Kopacz says of Gayheart. "She basically had these 10 poses (and said), 'This is what we The Only Conwleta Cutter mat Never Clogs leafuuard Replaces Standard 5" end 6" Gutters LeatGuard Gutters can handle an amazing 2V of rainfall per hour-as tested. Lifetime No Clog Warranty As Seen on TV's "This New House" and "This Old House" Louisville www.ieatguara.com The PfMW Hikes Point Plaza (Next to TJ Maxx) 3 nn I 3 4074 TaytorsviUe KiL 485-OWW Hours SaL9am4pm M-F9am-6pm Sun. t Ifted Evenings by appointment 485-0600 E3ta::s Financing Available need to do.' She was extremely motivated and headstrong." (Whereupon we find that, a couple of feet below the hard head, there's a soft center.) "I think a lot of people don't see that she's just a down-to-earth, really sweet girl," Kopacz says. "She's extremely caring . . . very generous." When Maxim magazine declared her the world's hottest woman (and, presumably, Earth's No. 1 sex object), it was not exactly the crowning moment Gayheart had worked for. "I thought it was kind of funny," she says. "Of course it's flattering, but I don't see it; I see all these other firls and I'm like, 'They're crazy, hey made the wrong decision. It was a mistake.' You know, Catherine Zeta-Jones and all these girls, they're prettier, they're sexier." Her friend Kopacz says: "She defi-. nitely doesn't think of herself as the hottest babe, just because she's a regular down-home girl, and to be put in that position, I think, was very strange. . . . Stranger still is the notion that, at any moment (like this one), folks all over the globe are dialing up images of Gayheart on the Internet. "If I sit and think about it, it's very strange," she says. "That's probably why I don't think about it, because it's so bizarre. Hopefully, they'll be inspired or encouraged or motivated in a good way if they're reading about me or seeing photos of me." Therein lies a small rub. Magazines splash her over their slick pages, with little text. As if the image is all there is. "I think people would much rather see a photograph of a young, attractive woman than hear what she has to say," Gayheart says. "And that can be really annoying sometimes. But the other side of it is I understand that, and I use that to get the publicity that I need to get my next job. So it's a big game that everyone's playing." She's winning. A couple of years ago, she was losing: It was another coming-of-age moment. At 24, she landed in Los Angeles and quickly landed movie roles in "Nothing to Lose" and "Somebody Is Waiting." A stint on "Beverly Hills 90210" followed. Then, she hit a wall. "I went one year without a job," she says. "And that was really scary and frustrating. That's a fear that all actors have that you're not going to get another job, no matter how successful you are. In a way it was really discouraging, but in a way it Dozens of Choices for One Low Price! 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So I cherish that year, because I learned a lot about myself." She won roles in "Scream 2," "Urban Legend," "Jawbreaker" and the forthcoming "The Hangman's Daughter," shot in South Africa. So her plate is full. In Hollywood and at home. At the family reunion, a Saturday night spaghetti supper was only the warm-up for a Sunday pig roast. Having ingested Flo's spaghetti (accompanied by 200 garlic-laced meatballs), Gayhearts groaned their appreciation: "Flo, this is so good, I'm bustin' out of my pants." Flo's white T-shirt was speckled with spaghetti sauce from a day in the kitchen. In the farmhouse yard, she stretched in a chair and looked across the dark fields at the day's last light, dying in brilliant red streaks. "Look at this," she said. "I love this." So does her daughter, the hottest woman on the planet. Earlier, Rebecca had surveyed that same stretch of earth and sky, and said, "It'd be nice to get a little piece of property and build a little cabin and have it, to come home and hang out with the family." This observation incited a question about the places Rebecca Gayheart has called home: Pinetop for 15 years, New York for nine years, and Los Angeles for the last three. "AT HOME, I would wake up and I would feel an overwhelming sense of family and support and nature," she says. "But I also saw a lot of people wasting their lives I thought. I'm beginning to realize that that's not necessarily true Different things make everyone happy. "But there was a sense that . . . there wasn't a lot of hope for a lot of the teen-agers in my high school And I know there were a lot of kids in my high school who were extremely talented and smart and clever and creative who could go off and be amazing . . . and they never saw those opportunities, so they're working at a grocery store instead. 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