Director's cut: Kathy Baker's nine lives

Emmy and Obie Award-winning actress Kathy Baker, 55, is used to receiving– and appreciates-- minimal direction. If an actor knows his craft, she says, directors "shouldn't have to explain."

Baker's in town for Nine Lives, her fourth collaboration with writer/director Rodrigo Garcia. Garcia's scripts, she explains, are "so beautifully written, it's all on the page, and you don't have to discuss [them] much."

Garcia structures his films episodically, she explains, with Nine Lives containing– obviously– nine segments. Each 10-minute vignette, shot in real time, centers on moments of "crisis" or "revelation" in its protagonists' lives.

In her sequence, Baker says, her character confronts the "terrifying, maddening, and emotional" ordeal of the few minutes before undergoing life-threatening surgery.

Garcia is just one of many writer/directors who have directed her minimally, cryptically, or elliptically.

But this is inconsequential, she says, since "They have already expressed themselves so specifically on the page that that's their communication."

For instance, in her breakthrough role in the original production of playwright/director (and former Charlottesville resident) Sam Shepard's 1983 play, Fool for Love, Shepard would greet her with puzzling comments like "Hey, Kathy. It's voodoo time."

"Whatever that means," she laughs.

"In a different, cowboy kind of way," Baker says, Shepard reminds her of fantasist Tim Burton, who directed her as the lustful hairstylist who nearly seduces Edward Scissorhands in the 1990 film.

Burton's direction was, by no means, verbal.

"And, yet, it wasn't a problem," she says.

After Burton directed Baker with a long string of expressive "Likes" and "Y'know what I'm sayins," with seemingly nothing in between, "for some reason," she says, "I got it."

Her other major upcoming film is All The King's Men, in which she plays the mother of Jude Law's character. This is her second film with Law, whom she rates "among the best actors I've ever worked with."

Her schoolgirl laughter bubbling over, Baker confesses, "He's so cute, it's hard for me to think of myself as old enough to be his mom!"

The actress says that she would like to be "the female Warren Oates," in a nod to the brilliant journeyman character actor. She remains unfazed by Hollywood's all-pervasive age-ism.

"If you're willing to play your age," she asserts, "somehow, it'll work."

Kathy Baker, Rodrigo Garcia, and Sissy Spacek host a screening of Nine Lives at 7pm Saturday, October 29. It will be the Film Festival's premiere screening at the newly restored Paramount Theater.


Kathy Baker won an Obie in former Charlottesvillian Sam Shepard's
Fool for Love .