If film's a hit, call her 'star' Big break: Theresa Randle hopes her new movie, 'Girl 6,' will propel her to Girl 1.

March 17, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

She should know by next Friday. It's a big question, the one that has dominated her life for the past decade, and now it's going to be answered.

By Friday, will "Girl 6" be Girl 1? Or at least Girl 2 or 3?

That is, by Friday will Theresa Randle, a small thing in some big movies and the best thing in some bad movies, be an old-fashioned star? On Friday, Spike Lee's "Girl 6," starring her and only her, opens all over America. She is in every scene, her heart and emotions drive the movie, her charisma fills it. If she doesn't work, the movie doesn't work.

In a film culture suddenly rich in female African-American talent with Angela Bassett and Halle Berry up front, Alfre Woodard and Anna Deveare Smith closing fast, and Loretta Devine, Lola Rochon and Jada Pinkett just behind them will Randle move up to the head of the parade?

Randle, 28 and a mere slip of a woman with doe eyes, hopes so and is honest about her ambition.

"I pray that will happen," she says. "Basically, I'm just sitting back hoping Hollywood will take notice."

She's certainly paid her dues. She was in Abel Ferrara's "The King of New York" and in "Sugar Hill," opposite Wesley Snipes. More recently she was in "Bad Boys," playing Martin Lawrence's wife; her credits go back to "The Five Heartbeats" and "Jungle Fever" and "Beverly Hills Cop III" and "Malcolm X." Her next film stars her opposite Michael Jordan; it's a part-animated feature called "Space Jams."

But for now, she is at the absolute center of the first Spike Lee film that isn't about race at all but phone sex, and which is certain to be controversial.

How does a nice person like Theresa Randle and Theresa lTC Randle is extremely nice end up in a movie like this?

She's not even sure herself.

"When I got the script," she recalls, "I had to put it down and take a big breath. The dialogue frightened me. A red light went on. 'No way I'm going to do this,' I thought. I've been a good girl," she says with a laugh, and it's true.

Somewhat like the pre-"Leaving Las Vegas" Elizabeth Shue, Randle has always played girls-next-door, paragons of virtue, patience and innocence. She's never vamped or camped, slutted or strutted, shook her bootie for the man.

"I didn't want to do it just to do it," she recounts, smiling shyly. "I had big reservations. But I have to say the original script was a lot more explicit."

The movie, which makes provocative points about the nature of exploitation in both show biz and the seamier porn or near-porn industry, watches as a young actress, humiliated and rebuffed by the industry, signs on as a phone sex provider for a posh service. Ultimately, she discovers she likes it: It's liberating, she bonds with some of her customers, she comes to learn more about herself than her acting could have ever permitted and she leaves the world a stronger, better person.

"It became the story of Girl 6's journey, her redemption," she says. "And I thought to myself, 'You have got to live this lady.' The challenge was to go from my initial fear to losing myself."

She set out to investigate phone sex and had no luck with the companies, but eventually met two former phone sex providers.

"I learned that the girls who do it just for the money burn out and disappear. It's the ones who make connections with their clients who last. It's not always about sex. Sometimes it's just helpful for people to have a place to call where they can talk without being judged or condemned."

But she didn't stop there. "I had to go underground, into that world. I had to look at peep shows, strip joints, the whole thing, and see what goes on."

Astonishing words

You have to understand how astonishing these words are, coming from Theresa Randle, who, in a trim black suit, looks as if she just stepped down from singing "Ave Maria" before the pope after giving alms to the poor, curing cancer, saving a pup from drowning and winning the Nobel Prize for Genuine Decency.

You also have to understand that she's a young woman who still lives next door to her mother in a house in Los Angeles, where she was born, and that she's not from the fast lane of that fast town. In fact, everything about her seems not big town but small town, a young woman committed to the idea of being good rather than getting ahead. She's about as down to earth and sincere as anyone in the business.

But then the actress in her delivers up a look that says, Honey, you would not believe what goes on.

"I was in shock. There is something for everyone," she says more in wonderment than surprise.

But the movie also has a gag subtext.

For one thing, it features a continual parade of celebs as phone sex users or sellers, including Richard Belzer and Peter Berg as addicts to the stuff, Madonna as one of the sleazier operators of a service, Halle Berry as herself, John Turturro as an agent, Quentin Tarantino as a nasty version of himself, Ron Silver as a director, Naomi Campbell as another phone sex provider.

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