Sheryl Farber / Time Out New York Magazine / October 16 - 23, 1997
Out of the blue, cult film icon (and soup maven) Linda Manz returns to the big screen in Gummo.
If you follow the dead man's curves through the Angeles National Forest, you'll eventually come to Lake Hughes, California (pop. 500), home to the Lucky Days bar and the general store across the street. That's where, on some days, you can find Linda Manz - the once streetwise New York kid with the beautiful old eyes who is best known for her roles as a young migrant worker in Terrence Malick's 1978 film Days of Heaven and as CeBe, the teenager whose life is saved (almost) by rock & roll in Dennis Hopper's 1980 feature Out of the Blue. This Friday, Manz follows up her recent cameo in The Game with a role in Harmony Korine's directorial debut, Gummo.
Manz's best friend in Lake Hughes, Joanne, is the storekeeper, and today the two women talk across the counter while some local kids grab after-school snacks. Joanne, flushed from a phone argument with an uncooperative beer distributor, tries to make some sense of her friend's odd place in film history. "So, they're, like, cult films?" she asks.
According to Korine, Linda Manz is more than a cult figure: "To me, she's like a real persona, a real force. She's in the top five screen presences of all time - right up there with Lillian Gish and Gena Rowlands." Korine, who calls CeBe "the best teen-girl role ever," instantly envisioned Manz as the twisted, suffocating mother of a glue-sniffing adolescent in Gummo and had his producers track her down; he "felt there was something in her history that was important for me to attach myself to." (He also snagged CeBe's leather Elvis jacket from Manz, and it now hangs in his bathroom.)
Gummo is Manz's first appearance in an American feature film since Out of the Blue. (In 1982, she made two films with German director Gustav Ehmck, but even she has yet to see them.) So why the long absence?
"There was a whole bunch of new young actors out there, and I was kind of getting lost in the shuffle," she says. "So I laid back and had three kids. Now I enjoy just staying home and cooking soup."
Earlier in the day, the ham-hock-and-bean soup simmered on the stove in her country kitchen as she described recording her voice-over for Days of Heaven, her first part, which she won over Tatum O'Neal. Director Malick was so taken by Manz's no-nonsense approach that he had her improvise the whole narration. "I just kept rambling on. Wasn't hard. I just did it."
You're not going to get any fancy descriptions of acting method from Manz (it seems fitting that she beat up Lee Strasberg in the 1979 film Boardwalk). According to her, "I just act like me, basically, in all of them." She seems, in fact, a bit baffled by her appeal. When a fan sent her a picture of his CeBe tattoo, she called up his parents to ask if he was a psycho.
The woman has a family to think of, after all. The wife of a retired cameraman and devoted mother of three boys (ages 12, nine and six), Manz has lived on a peach orchard since she left Hollywood and is a self-proclaimed gourmet (she can make anything but refuses to cook with peaches). She is also a very big Barry Manilow fan and has his signed glossy hanging on her bathroom wall next to shots of her other favorite celebs, James Dean and Lucille Ball. The woman who quoted the Sex Pistols in Out of the Blue makes a sour face at the mention of punk rock: "I used to be into disco - that was my deal."
What's next for Manz? She is eager to get back to work. If Korine has his way, he will pair her with Paul Reubens as a married couple in one of his future films. Manz is open to anything. "I just want to be on the sets," she says, taking a drag from one of her generic 100s, "working again."