Holmes' good-girl image is set aside in `Pieces of April'

WB star finds new role as an outcast in new drama

Movies: on screen, DVD/Video

October 30, 2003|By Evan Henerson | Evan Henerson,LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS

It takes a few beats staring at the screen -- or the poster -- before the "I know her" kicks in. That really is Katie Holmes underneath the dyed frosted hair, the pigtails, the SoHo chic wardrobe, the boots and the tattoos.

Right, that Katie Holmes: the baby-faced Dawson's Creek ingenue with the tomboy name (Joey Potter) and the Ivory soap image. It's a very different Holmes who is front and center in the family drama Pieces of April, opening tomorrow, having noisy sex with her boyfriend and clumsily trying to dress an uncooperative turkey. She's the person everybody is talking about when they describe the antics of an independent-minded screw-up.

Do you buy it? The man who created April and gave Holmes the role thinks audiences will.

"Certain actors bring with them an image," says Peter Hedges, Pieces of April's writer and director. "Katie Holmes is the good, nice girl, the daughter of every parent's dreams, so in a way, I was ... I wouldn't say exploiting ... but certainly using the preconception that a lot of people have -- and factoring in the fact that this girl has so much more depth and so much more humor than maybe that TV show would allow her to demonstrate.

"You dress her, you change her look, you alter her, and you still have at the core a good girl who's lost as opposed to a bad girl who's just nasty," he adds. "And to me, it makes you love her more."

Wearing that costume and taking on that look is a little bit like Halloween, says Holmes, who confesses that a self-critical streak made her slow to warm to her on-screen incarnation.

"It was different for me, different for what I'm used to seeing myself do," says Holmes. "When I first saw this movie, I didn't like it at all -- I didn't like me. Then I got used to it.

"I don't usually spend that much time watching myself," she continues. "I'd rather watch really good actors."

The Katie Holmes who conducts an interview in a Beverly Hills hotel suite has been de-Aprilized, at least where her appearance is concerned. The voice is soft, and she wears a tweed skirt and blouse. Holmes, 24, is taller than she looks on TV.

The film's makeup and wardrobe team brought about the transformation, says Holmes, who gave input but added that such matters "aren't my forte."

"I went around in the East Village and sat around different cafes and went into different shops trying to come up with an understanding and see what was cool," says Holmes. "I have friends who live in downtown New York who are really interesting. And I've always thought, `Man, how do you have the courage to wear that? That's awesome.' I wish I was more creative, and I've always kind of admired people who can be kind of outcasts."

Instead, she'll play them in movies. The Toledo, Ohio-born Holmes completed one film -- Ang Lee's The Ice Storm -- before Kevin Williamson snapped her up for Dawson's Creek, a development that kept her in North Carolina for major stretches of the show's six-year run. She played Michael Douglas' adoring housemate in Wonder Boys.There was also a vampy turn in Sam Raimi's The Gift.

And now, April, a character who is good-hearted but lost. The character's mother -- with whom April has never gotten along -- is dying of cancer, and April is attempting a peace-offering Thanksgiving dinner. Her parents (played by Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson) and two younger siblings are driving into the city for the occasion, and trepidation is in the air. How's April going to botch this?

"I love the fact that this script and this movie don't tell you how you're supposed to feel," says Holmes. "It's just sort of a picture of a family going through this. And I really like April. I thought she was this cool, edgy character."

Unlike, say, a certain TV high schooler?

"It gets very monotonous to play the same thing for nine months," says Holmes, who quickly adds, "and yet it's a wonderful job, and it's stable and exciting, and it got you where you are, but you have to stay within certain parameters.

"So, it was like a breath of fresh air to do something completely different, to be challenged to just go for it. I felt so different in that costume. It was exhilarating to shoot in New York and be around so many creative people and just be out of my element."

What Holmes' new element is has yet to be determined. She plays the title role in the film First Daughter with Michael Keaton and appears with her Wonder Boys co-star Robert Downey Jr. in the film remake of The Singing Detective. In Detective, Holmes plays a lip-synching, hand-jiving nurse, an object of sickly Dan Dark's (Downey) musical fantasies.

Downey professes himself to be a fan, and has been since Holmes was the kid on the Wonder Boys set.

"I knew from the first read-through that within the space of 1,000 days, something like April was going to happen. Because she was ready," says Downey.

"Katie Holmes is going to rise up as one of the gifted women of her generation, and that's not the way the math is supposed to work when you're great and fabulous and a big star on TV," he says.

For film events, see Page 43.

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