Thora Birch

Thora Birch was born in 1982 and as a toddler was the star of numerous commercials. It was when she played Jane Burnham in the Oscar-winning
American Beauty that she became a household name. Sci-fi Online caught up with her as her last movie, The Hole was released on DVD and video...

Sci-fi Online: What impact has the success of American Beauty had on your life?

Thora Birch: It gave me a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things, which I was kind of surprised about. I thought I'd only get offers for very sullen, depressed teens, but actually the opposite happened. A lot of people put emotions in Jane that maybe weren't even there, and they took her to all the extremes. They saw me as being someone very sweet and innocent and young to someone who's very mature and old. So it was a great range of projects that I got to look at. American Beauty became the film that took me from kids roles to adult roles.

SFO: What offers particularly surprised you?

TB: The role of Liz in The Hole. The gamut of emotions was so broad and there were so many layers and facets to Liz that I was really surprised. I thought, 'Wow, they watched American Beauty and thought that I might be good at this?'

SFO: Maintaining Liz's ambiguity must have been the real challenge of this role.

TB: Actually the real challenge was trying to figure which one was the real Liz. At first I had broken her into three characters but then I realised there were really about five. Sometimes she's two or three of them in the same moment. I came to the conclusion that the first time we ever see her, when she's just come out of the hole and has a little scream, is the only real Liz that there is. The others are kind of degrees of her.

SFO: Do you think she was really in love with Mike, or is it just a crush?

TB: Throughout shooting the film I maintained that she was genuinely in love. Then everyday we would get subtle revisions from the writers, and one day we got a new scene completely and it had this speech which I thought was one of the best speeches in the film. It was this speech where she says that doing things this way, Mike never cheats on her, leaves her, or grow old. That's when I realised it wasn't love; she was just completely and utterly obsessed.

She needed to possess him. If she could do that, it would complete her life. She's already strong, she's already smart, and she's already on top of the school. She isn't popular within the in-crowd, but she is a popular girl. She has everything except that one thing. And once she had got that one thing, she would have been sorted.

SFO: You said around the release of American Beauty that you related to Jane's outsider status because you were an outsider at school yourself. Was this what also attracted you to Liz, and to Enid, the character you play in 'Ghost World'?

TB: Enid is definitely an outsider but I don't think Liz is. But when I said that before that was just my mood, actually. I wasn't really so much an outsider at school but post-American Beauty I was like, 'Yeah, I'm a rebel! I never got on with anyone' and kind of relishing in that. But I've got to be honest it was an act. I wasn't a cheerleader or anything but I did get along with kids and I still have some of my friends. An outsider? That's an awful term. No one's really an outsider. When I said those things in previous interviews I thought it sounded very actorly. But I read it just recently and I was I like, 'You're a lying tart, Thora'.

SFO: It must be odd then looking back at old interviews.

TB: Yeah, I mean a lot of things that you don't realise you're saying are suddenly in the written word and to me the most powerful thing is the written word, because ever since I was a little girl that is how I'd memorise my lines. I actually saw the words in my mind and that would help me remember them. So now when I see some of the stuff I've said, I tell myself, 'No, we're not going to go down that road again'.

When I was younger and I watched my own movies, I did feel like just your average audience member. I was totally disconnected with the idea that that was me up there. Now that I am actually paying attention to the work that I am doing, I make myself sick at certain moments. It's not like I'm retching and vomiting every time I see myself on the screen, but when there are certain things coming that I know were personal or that I had issues with, I have to look away. I can't cope. It's really bizarre.

SFO: How do you feel about watching yourself in The Hole?

TB: It's really uncomfortable. It's not fun It was a stressful shoot - kind of - but I'd really rather shoot the whole film again than face some of it. That's not to say that I don't like it and that I'm not happy with it, though, because actually I am proud of it. I think it came out well.

I grew up in the industry. So anything that happens, whether I shoot way, way up there or fall way, way below, wouldn't surprise me. Of course I'd be ecstatic or completely upset and depressed, but it wouldn't shock me. Because of that I don't even think about it. Sure there's certain cons, like maybe a stalker watching you when you go out in public, but I don't even think about that because I love meeting genuine fans.

When I go to a premiere the photographers are a bit of a pain, but then you see these 13-year-old girls who have been standing there in the freezing cold, with a little autograph book in their hand, and you just melt. I run to them because they're real fans, and because I'd rather sit and talk with them than wave to the photographers.

With thanks to Louise Gray at DSA PR

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