20th Century Women: Lili Taylor

September 14, 2017
To celebrate the release of the comedy drama, 20th Century Women, we salute some of the finest cinematic ladies of the previous century. Today: Lili Taylor.

WHO? Though she rarely nabs leading roles, the highly unconventional Lili Taylor remains one of American cinema’s most consistently fascinating and daring performers. With her raspy voice, short stature and tough but slightly wounded quality, Taylor practically oozes credibility and natural intensity. She began her illustrious career in the theatre, acting predominantly in regional productions with Chicago’s Northlight Theatre and The Actors Theatre Of Louisville. Ever the adventurer, Taylor also spent an “exchange” season in Czechoslovakia before moving to New York in 1988 to perform in Richard Foreman’s experimental play What Did He See?. After a couple of minor TV spots, Taylor’s first film part was a barely noticeable role in John Hughes’ 1988 comedy She’s Having A Baby. Her first major moment, however, came with the warm, low budget 1988 comedy Mystic Pizza, where Taylor starred alongside other then-talents-on-the-rise Julia Roberts and Annabeth Gish. After this fine performance in a little seen film, Taylor then delivered another unforgettable turn as an obsessive romantic with loopy musical leanings in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 cult classic Say Anything. Unusual and eye catching right from the get-go, Taylor would soon make a career out of being out of the ordinary.

Lili Taylor in The Addiction.

LILI TAYLOR’S BEST With a slew of supporting roles (Pret-a-Porter, Short Cuts, Arizona Dream, Ransom, Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle, Pecker, The Notorious Bettie Page) on her resume, it’s Taylor’s bigger, more substantial parts that stand out: her ugly duckling with a soaring spirit in Dogfight; her troubled, religiously preoccupied young woman in Household Saints; her grad student vampire in The Addiction; her aspirational housewife in Julie Johnson; and the demented hyper-feminist Valerie Solanas in I Shot Andy Warhol.

WHAT MAKES HER SO SPECIAL She’s gutsy and divinely talented, and stands happily outside the mainstream…

LIP SERVICE “The characters I play may be at the more destructive edge of the spectrum; they’re more damaged or whatever, but I find a lot of female roles uninteresting. I’d rather play someone fucked up and deep than someone one-dimensional and invisible. I’d rather drive something and be crazy than be forgotten and nothing.”

“After I’m finished playing a part, it’s almost like a ritual kind of thing. I’ve brought them to life, and they’ve had their time. Now it’s time for them to go back in. Then I go on with my life.”

“As a woman, a lot of stories haven’t been told, and we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

THE LAST WORD Lili Taylor was the independent spirit of the 20th century.

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