On screen, Fiorentino is very good at being bad

October 15, 1995|By NEWSDAY

"I'm a nice girl," Linda Fiorentino says, curling up on a couch in a Manhattan hotel. Is she convincing? Not very. But being nice wouldn't be a good career move for an actress who can be so good being so bad.

Ms. Fiorentino, cat-like, vaguely feral and prettier in person than she is on screen, made movie history with her portrayal of Bridget Gregory, the demi-whore with the heart of stone in John Dahl's neo-noir "The Last Seduction." Never before had such an irredeemable character been played by a woman.

Which was delightful (for some men, scary). And got her attention (including a New York Film Critics Circle best actress award). And marked a new low for female characters, which also means progress.

Ms. Fiorentino slinked back to the screen Friday in William Friedkin's "Jade," a thriller wrung from the pen of Joe ("Showgirls") Eszterhas. The film also stars David Caruso and Chazz Palminteri. Ms. Fiorentino plays Katrina Gavin, an eminent psychologist married to Mr. Caruso's character.

Although Ms. Fiorentino's performance in "Jade" is bound to be compared to "The Last Seduction," she said they are very different parts.

In Mr. Dahl's film, one sensed that the Bridget character was in control of her own destiny; in "Jade," Katrina seems more a tool of the director and screenwriter. She protests that the degrading things she does are of her own choosing. But the audience is not entirely convinced.

"They all get caught up in their own ambitions," Ms. Fiorentino says of the "Jade" characters. "I think there's a direct ratio between how much wealth and power you have and how much unhappiness -- that's what the story's about anyway."

And Katrina is unhappy -- particularly with her husband. "I think we've made major strides in the feminist movement," Ms. Fiorentino said, "but we still want to be taken care of by our men. I think there's two sides to a woman's personality, and while you want to be independent and have your own life and be a professional, you want your husband to take care of you. Not financially, necessarily. But emotionally. You still want him to be the father figure, so to speak."

Heady talk for a woman whose cinematic mission is to take no prisoners. Not that it's always been so: Her filmography includes "Vision Quest," "After Hours," "Gotcha!" "The Moderns," "Chain of Desire" and numerous projects that landed on cable. Not a lot of work; but ask her if she's choosy and she semi-balks.

"Choosy? Depends. Sometimes I have to take the role because I need money."

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