Making Men Cry Bullets
Near the end of the new film Men Cry Bullets, an attractive ingenue encounters an ex-lover attired for a James Brown impersonation at a nightclub. But in one of the many twists of this very twisted movie, the pretty girl is really a boy, and the moustached singer is really a woman. Billy and Gloria are involved in a love triangle with Gloria's beautiful cousin Lydia, though they both tried to murder Lydia earlier in the week. Imagine The Crying Game conceived by David Lynch and directed by John Waters, and you've got some idea what Tamara Hernandez's Men Cry Bullets is like.
The new movie - which has won raves on the film festival circuit, and opens September 10 - is drawing attention from genre fans primarily because of the breakout performance of Jeri Ryan. A flighty Southern belle who's the polar opposite of cool, clipped Seven of Nine, Lydia shows the surprising range of the Star Trek Voyager star. Yet among national critics, it's Honey Lauren as Gloria whose fearless performance is winning raves.
"Gloria is by far the best character I've ever gotten to play, in terms of doing something I felt really changed by - it made me grow a lot as a person," noted Lauren last month as she mulled some of the offers which have been coming in since Men Cry Bullets brought her a high level of acclaim. "I knew the script was really special and the part was really special. There's a line in the movie, 'She's one of the dirty people who always comes off looking clean.' That's exactly what happens in the movie."
Lauren has an extraordinary scene sobbing over a ham at the dinner table, the result of Lydia having killed Gloria's pet pig for the meal. She and Ryan also have a drunken screaming match. Even more harrowing than watching her commit murder, however, is the incident where she forces virginal Billy to have sex with her in the barn, hissing lines familiar from rape scenes in other films, but always spoken by a man.
"This was a clear gender-bender role - she acts like a man," the actress stated. "Gloria's a woman all the way, she's not dykey, so it's a great twist. I was trying to think of a female character I've seen like her, but I couldn't find one. That's why I'm excited about Men Cry Bullets, it's certainly an unusual film - you don't get to see women play men too often."
Lauren watched the 1965 trash classic Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, "because the Viola character had this bravado about her. She watched Bad Lieutenant twice, "for that torture thing the Harvey Keitel character had." She watched Raging Bull "for the rage in the De Niro character. It was a good way for me to prepare for this part, aside from really digging deep in my soul to figure out why this person was as troubled as she was."
The male protagonist of Men Cry Bullets, Billy, watched his father kill his mother - an event depicted in black and white flashbacks throughout the film. Rejecting the man and identifying with the woman, Billy becomes a drag queen, yet follows his mother's victimization pattern and falls in love with the violent Gloria. But when she enlists his help in killing Lydia - a would-be debutante, though like her cousin she's more than a decade older than Billy - he finds himself drawn to her kindness, which proves to be his undoing.
"She's insane - I'm troubled, but she's insane," laughed Lauren of Ryan's character. "She plays a woman who calls herself a debutante. Aren't debutantes supposed to be 17? There's something Glass Menagerie going on there!" Describing Lydia as "just this prettier-than-thou perky little happy southern belle," Lauren thinks Ryan's performance "is so much better in this film than it is for Seven of Nine. I don't fault her for Star Trek, but there's only so much you can do when you're playing a Borg robot."
"Jeri Ryan is completely different in this film than in anything she's ever done," Lauren added, noting that "too much of Hollywood is about breasts, or the big blonde thing. Lynn - her name is Jeri Lynn, I always called her Lynn - is really a great actress. I was blown away by her work. We had a real mutual respect for each other, and we got along really well. She's so funny in this film, I had nothing but a good time talking to her and I think we helped each other."
Lauren "was never a big Star Trek fan, although Captain Picard is the sexiest man alive - I like them old and bald!" she laughed. A science fiction fan who called herself "a little behind the times - I've been incredibly busy so I haven't even seen The Phantom Menace yet" - Lauren prefers martial arts films, which she grew up watching with her parents. "I'm into kung fu films. Just in the past six years I've done martial arts, but I was always a fan of Jackie Chan films before they were in English - we had to read the subtitles. That's my favorite genre of film."
An emancipated minor since she graduated from high school at 16 and a professional performer at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater shortly afterwards, Lauren added that she feels less strongly about the genre or medium in which she performs than she does about the character work. "There's some way you walk out of there better for having done the part - that's what I look for, that's what I pray for, and it's really hard to find, especially if you're female," she noted.
Though Men Cry Bullets is an independent film made on a limited budget, "we got to rehearse for maybe two weeks, which is very unusual. I think I cried a thousand tears for this part. It's hard in the preparation because you have to go to a certain place, even though I know it's not real, I have to really live these feelings. But after we'd shoot or do a scene, I'd feel really happy afterwards, and come home really happy."
Live On Stage
The Los Angeles native never considered another profession. "I sometimes wish I could, or had, but I've never done anything else other than producing, and it's still in the same business," she said. "I guess some people always know what they want to do, and some people never know - I was one of those people who always knew. I have no idea where it came from or why. My parents were were like, 'Whatever,' they were really cool laid-back hippie folks who never really gave me any grief. They've always been supportive. I got lucky."
A veteran of more than 28 films including Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, Lauren appeared as a recurring character on Days of Our Lives. She has appeared in many theatrical productions as well, "but you have to be in New York for anyone to see you. The last time I did a show in Los Angeles was a Sam Shepard piece and I got a nice award for it, but it was such a horrific experience, I was like, 'OK, I don't think I need to do this ever again!'"
Lauren had wonderful experiences in San Francisco with the Angels of Light, a group of dancers, actors and artists in drag in which Lauren was for a time the only female member. "It was an offshoot of the Coquettes, an all-male drag group out of New York. We did a lot of shows that were very acclaimed, they won Drama Critics' Circle awards and played 500-seaters. Unfortunately in the era of AIDS, a lot of people passed on. There's still some Angels out there running around doing things, but there aren't too many of us."
She is still offered dance jobs, but does not call herself a professional dancer. "Having a dance background, though, always seems to come into play in almost everything I do. In Men Cry Bullets I do a couple of little movements. Often I get sent out on parts that require dance of some sort and I'm able to use it, I think that's why I'm cast, but I don't go out on dance shows - you have to do it for 8-10 hours a day in order to call yourself a professional dancer, I think. I didn't have the love for it that I did for the other things I was doing."
When she's not working, Lauren often can be found visiting her grandmother, whose care she oversees. "She's 90 years old and I've been taking care of her for six years, I have somebody there 24 hours a day," the actress explained. "She's not going to be around forever. Every free moment that I have, I'm talking to her. When you get to be that old, there's not a whole lot left that she can do, she can't see that well or hear that well, her socializing is cut down completely. It's hard, it's a little bit distressing and I'm sure it weighs heavily on me, but I get so much out of it. It's changed my life. I think I get as much from it as she does."
A fan of South Park and N.Y.P.D. Blue who had no qualms about declaring, "I love to watch really stupid sitcoms," Lauren has an eclectic wish list. "I so much want to work with Abel Ferrara, because I think this man is a genius. I just love his work. Camp is one thing, but Ferrara, there's something so dark about his work, I just love it. Every time I see one of his films, I feel like I've been transported onto some other planet. John Waters as well, I just think he'd be fun. Of course, Martin Scorsese is someone I would feel amazed to be able to work with. These are my favorite directors."
Lauren has no directing ambitions herself, and said that the only reason she would consider writing would be to create a part she wanted to perform. She has produced, but "the producing thing came just because I'd done it before, I know how to do it, and sometimes in order to get a project done, you have to take the initiative. I'm good at it, so that's why that's happening, but if I had my way I would not do anything but the acting. It just doesn't always work that way in Hollywood - you may not get all the auditions you need in order to get the jobs."
Asked whether she has a strategy for the future in her choice of roles, Lauren said no. "Some people have very good strategy behind what they take - they think, 'I did something like this, and now I want to do something way different.' Or some people like to do the same thing again, because it's safe and they don't want to stretch. I think sometimes actors choose a script they think that they can be safe in. And there's the opposite, there are actors who take something because they're afraid of it, they think, 'I have to take the challenge.' That's why I took Men Cry Bullets."
Still, while playing Gloria during an extremely difficult week, "Me and the lead actor were almost done shooting one day, and we looked at each other and voiced it, 'If I never do a movie again, it'll be OK!' That's how hard this was, it was that wearing on us. I couldn't believe I thought those thoughts, and neither could he. This was definitely my favorite part, and the most challenging, but probably the least fun."
Still, all of the performers in Men Cry Bullets have been enjoying the film's press. "It did so well at the festivals that we have people from all over the country who wrote letters saying they wanted to play the movie at their theaters. Which made it easy for the distribution guy!" Lauren laughed. Ryan's may be the name people recognize, but Lauren's is the one they are going to remember after the film.