An Icy Blonde Melts
The last time most of us saw Laurie Holden, she looked like hell. Last week on The X-Files in "One Son," Mulder found her in the basement of a decontamination facility where the cabal had been testing black oil vaccines on her; it was left to poor, doomed Spender to save her. And last week on The Magnificent Seven in "Wagon Train Part I," she told potential romantic interest Chris Larrabee that she was going to marry another man - with the evident hope that he'd ask her not to, but he didn't.
Yet the vivacious actress is so unlike icy diplomat Marita Covarrubias or maternal pioneer Mary Travis that it's hard to associate either of those calamities with Holden herself. While her X-Files character has been a figure of some controversy - "There's a 'Marita Covarrubias Hangman' web page where if you say enough mean things about me, you get to see me swinging," Holden reports with chagrin - The Magnificent Seven's Travis is quite popular as the only female regular on the Western, a single mother holding down a job in an era which frowned upon both roles for women. It's a great time for Holden, playing distinctive characters on two very different shows with passionate fan followings - one a international hit, the other a cult favorite which was brought back for a second season following a massive Internet campaign.
"I have always enjoyed the freedom of playing with dark places in your soul and exposing them to the world," the Los Angeles-based actress said last week between the airing of her big television moments, both in two-parters targeted for February sweeps. "'One Son' was the most fun episode for me, but I know people will be saying, 'I'm so confused: how was this fun for you?' I look like hell! And I have no idea whether I'll be back - not everybody survives this mythology. But I'm hopeful!"
From her introduction in "Herrenvolk" as the successor to Mulder's informant X (who scrawled her office's title in blood as he lay dying), Covarrubias has been a woman of mystery. It's impossible to determine whose side she's on; though she clearly knows more about the planned alien colonization than Mulder and Scully, she's also become a victim. "I think I became the quintessential lab rat - the conspiracy took one too many liberties under the guise of medical science," Holden shuddered. "Throughout the course of this mythology, you've seen this cold, calculated, emotionless, private woman, and in this two-parter, you see her vulnerable, exposed, bare, raw, beaten. It's shocking. I shrieked in glee when I saw the script."
In her final scene in "One Son," Holden "looked disgusting," but found the material liberating to play. "As an actress, I love going to those deep dark places and not worrying about finding my key light - I'm supposed to look like hell, I don't need a touch-up!" In what may be her last reunion with former lover Krycek, Covarrubias did not utter a single word. "Krycek was the ticket out of there, and he's the one that I double-crossed last time - we were intimate and I betrayed him. I have obviously lost any semblance of my sense of self, knowing he could laugh in my face at any moment, and hating to be in that position, with the vulnerability of knowing that Krycek is the one with the power and the control at this stage of the game. It was best if I said nothing."
Holden was not familiar with the series nor had she seen a script prior to her initial audition: "It wasn't until I signed on that I started watching the show. And then I got hooked - now I'm a big X-Files fan." But at the start, she didn't realize what she had gotten herself into. "I had no idea who this character was. I had a meeting with Chris Carter where he told me she was to be the ultimate mystery - he never wanted to see any feeling, he didn't want me to be affected in any way. A lot of the intrigue surrounding this character, as she interacts with the other characters on the show, is the not-knowing. Is she a human being or an alien or a clone or what have you?"
If she knows for sure, the actress isn't telling. Though Holden doesn't know what executive producer Carter has up his sleeve any more than the average viewer, she created her own mystery for Covarrubias - as she does for all of her characters, in order to establish motivations and objectives in terms of her own performances. "I've really approached this role with a secret, and this secret really established the way by which I had to conduct myself. So as I play Marita, I've had a really clear, definitive sense of what I'm going after. I think I've got a really clear perspective of what her overall mission is. It may be completely off in terms of what Chris Carter has in mind, but with any character that you play, you have to use your imagination and come up with something so that you can have conviction behind what you say and what you do."
Holden keeps a little black diary which she calls "my Marita book," covering everything from what her favorite color is to what her environment growing up might have been. "I think Marita and Krycek have a definite history," she said slyly. "But in terms of that passionate embrace in 'Patient X,' that was my only means of getting to the boy, so my embrace with Krycek was more of a strategic maneuver to distract him - it wasn't just a quickie." She reflected that Marita is capable of shaking things up further, and noted that she wouldn't mind seeing Marita smoking. "If you saw Marita strike a match and light a cigarette, the audience would be like, 'Is she related to CSM?' Just one cigarette! But I know that anything Chris Carter comes up with is going to be thought-provoking. Whatever he creates is going to be more brilliant than anything I can think of myself."
Though she greatly enjoyed her first scene with Mulder at the U.N., handing Mulder photos of Samantha as his mother lay dying - "So much of what was said in the scene lay in the unspoken, there was so much going on, I thought it was really powerful" - the actress was somewhat taken aback at the vehement anti-Marita sentiment which sprung up among fans...partly because her loyalties were suspect, partly because Mulder's interest in her appeared to go beyond the professional. Not until she saved the boy in 'The Red and the Black' (which led to her victimization by the conspirators) did Covarrubias gain real support.
"I was really thrilled when someone came out with 'The Blonde Goddess Defense League' web page and the little Marita fan clubs, because that means that there are people who don't think that she's evil and terrible!" laughed Holden. "I'm glad Diana Fowley is taking the ball with that one, because I've got to tell you, I think any woman who even remotely threatens the relationship of Mulder and Scully, or potentially is going to divert them away from their pursuit of the truth, is going to be hated."
Ironically, Holden sounds like a Mulder/Scully 'shipper herself. Though she appreciates the innovative writing and cinematography on the series, when asked what draws her to The X-Files she replied, "The indefinable chemistry between Mulder and Scully is just riveting. Here's two heroic characters who've sacrificed everything in their lives for the pursuit of the truth; I think that's pretty powerful. Part of the fascination of watching those characters interact is wanting them to get together, because they have that electricity. But whether or not they will get together, only Chris Carter knows!"
Holden attended the Fight the Future premiere and "felt like the goofiest, dorkiest fan - I was on the edge of my seat yelling, 'Kiss her, Mulder, kiss her!' I'm on the show, and I know David and Gillian, but I was caught up in everything." She declared that she has no interest in seeing Covarrubias romantically involved with Mulder - "I'd be the most hated woman on this planet! No thanks!" - but laughed at the suggestion that Marita could distract Scully while Krycek pursues his evident interest in Mulder. "You're talking about Nicholas Lea kissing David Duchovny [in "The Red and the Black], right? But I don't know if that was in the script or if Nick just did that; Nick always brings things to the playing field that are so creative. I follow the script - this is not a show where you change dialogue! The story is everything."
Despite suspicions by some viewers that Carter is making it up as he goes along, the actress has faith in the mytharc. "I do think he has a master plan. If you follow the mythology, it is so complex and so specific and so detailed, there's such a streamline; just when you think you've gotten close to the truth, it turns." Some of the twists have been particularly challenging for Holden: "Learning how to speak another language, Russian. Showing that ferociously sexual side of me with Krycek. And in the second part of these new episodes it's another thing in itself - I had to go to a very dark place. I have had so much fun doing this show and it's been so exciting to be part of the overall mythology, part of the wonderful world Chris Carter has created. I'm enjoying the ride, I don't want to get off."
The actress said she would be delighted to attend a convention, and expressed pleasure that her work on The X-Files has drawn people to research her past roles. "It's only now people are familiar with my work that they even know I was on Highlander," she noted. "I looked totally different. You would never really know that it was me." Though she's not a fan of any particular genre, Holden has gravitated toward period pieces when choosing roles. "I'm an actress who really loves to lose herself in whatever role I play...people from different countries, different time periods. I love losing myself in another person's skin and doing all the research." Born Los Angeles, raised in Canada, the UCLA graduate traveled all over the world with her stepfather - a director - and desperately wanted to star in Annie on Broadway, "but I can't really sing!"
Though she "would adore, love, kill to do something on Broadway or Off-Broadway, work in some amazing theater or maybe do something in London," Holden is currently keeping busy on The Magnificent Seven, which filmed eight episodes for CBS last season and thirteen this year. During the periods when shooting on The X-Files and the Western overlapped, the actress was "beyond tired - X-Files was shooting till four in the morning, and I had to be on set at The Magnificent Seven at four in the morning, so I was not sleeping - tired is not even the word to describe my state of mind while I was doing that."
Still, the second show has been very rewarding for the actress, who is the only female regular on The Magnificent Seven. "I work with seven awesome guys - these guys are funny and sweet and they tease me, but they're overprotective and sensitive." The group gets together on Friday nights whenever possible to watch the new episodes and eat pizza together. "And I gotta be honest, I'm the only girl so I get a lot of attention!" Holden laughed. "They make me feel very special." It's unclear, however, whether the fan outpouring which got the show renewed last season will be enough to keep it going next season. "I really don't know what the protocol is in terms of the network deciding when they're going to tell us if they're going to make more shows, or what factors contribute to making the decision; from what I've heard we're doing pretty well in the ratings, and we have a lot of fan and internet support, so we're hoping we get picked up for a full season."
When the series began, Mary Travis was in mourning, and spent much of the first season recovering from her husband's death while trying to run the newspaper business by herself. The role required that Holden research the Old West. "I'm really happy with how second season is developing, because season one we barely scratched the surface in terms of exploring the different aspects of that character," the actress admitted. "I was in a bit of a rut, estranged from my son because the town was in a state of such chaos, and until things became more settled I couldn't be reunited with him. There wasn't a lot of opportunity to open up my heart and show joy. But this season I've been reunited with my son, so Mary's a lot more spunky and vivacious. She's acclimated more to her environment, riding horses and shooting guns - the tomboy in her is beginning to emerge. She's got more sass, which I love."
Internet interest in Mary centers on her relationship with Chris Larrabee (Michael Biehn), which is at a crisis point right at the moment following a marriage proposal to Mary from an outsider. Holden reassured that Mary is not about to go off with Gerard: "In the second part of the episode, I hem and I haw and then I go to Chris and he says, 'Do you love him?' and it's like, no, I love you! Bozo, wake up!" Holden thinks that after a year of mourning her husband, "Gerard is the first man who has really taken a liking to me, or really awoken something in me in a long time - but if I marry him it means that I have to say goodbye to the life that I started in terms of being a successful, independent newpaper editor." It also means saying goodbye to the chemistry and longing between Mary and Chris. "I know from an audience point of view and I know from a character point of view that all she wants for him to say is, 'Don't marry this guy.' But he won't give her that."
Still, Holden is somewhat surprised at how passionate the fans are about the relationship. "It's amazing that they've picked up on it, because it is a subtlety - we've had a few scenes together where there's been a lingering glance or a look, but we've never kissed!" Yet she recently received a scrapbook as a gift from a Mary-&-Chris web page, "with all these messages from fans wishing me well and saying, 'You and Chris are destined for each other.'" Holden agrees that Mary is falling in love with Chris, "but Chris is more troubled than Mary; he's like the quintessential bad boy. I think he really loves her." This season she has had a lot of interaction with the writers "and really stood up and expressed what I wanted to come through with Mary, and they've listened - it's very collaborative on The Magnificent Seven," so fans can take heart: Holden knows how important Chris and Mary's relationship is to viewers, and hasn't let it drop.
A veteran of several romances and action movies like Expect No Mercy and William Shatner's TekLab, Holden looks forward to hiatus so she can seek out new challenges - like roles which allow her to be funny. "I studied really hard at UCLA and I've just been immersing myself in all of these dramatic roles, which has been fabulous and great, but after everything that I've done, I am really looking forward to doing something comedic, something where I can be absolutely off the wall! That's my next big thing!" Asked whether she has a role model, the actress named Jessica Lange - "She loses herself in every role. If you look at something like Blue Sky, you lose yourself in the story and the character."
Further down the road, Holden is interested in pursuing a career in writing. Because she is the kind of performer who writes out elaborate backstories for every role she plays, she is already familiar with the process of creating characters. "I've written a play, and I found you lose yourself in the characters and the story. I love the whole creative process." She is also interested in working with abused women and children, and eventually in having her own children: "I don't want my tombstone just to say, actress. I want it to say, human being."
In terms of making human connections, Holden has begun to realize the power of the Internet, of which she marveled, "What a small world! I love the opportunity to really interact with fans. We're all people - this is just what I do for a living - people identify, and it's really cool to get a response, oh my god, I've affected someone. It makes you feel so good about what you do. It's not like working in a vacuum, which we do, without any clue as to how it's being received."