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DICKENS, KIM : Mercury Rising

RISING DICKENS IN DICKENS
Once a successful model, Kim Dickens is a star-on-the-rise. Currently appearing in Great Expectations, Dickens is the female lead opposite Bruce Willis in the Hollywood blockbuster Mercury Rising, and will be seen later this year in the off-the-wall thriller, Zero Effect, co-starring Bill Pullman. PAUL FISCHER met her in Los Angeles.

Nobody is more surprised than Kim Dickens by her sudden rise to stardom. Sitting in a Los Angeles hotel suite, the beautiful ex-model is bemused by all the attention. "It all seems so surreal to me." Since making her film debut in the offbeat independent film Palookaville in 1996, Dickens has been busy "doing the whole Hollywood thing", and it's paid off. This year alone, Dickens is featured in three high profile film roles, the first of which is Maggie, the mysterious sister who disappears in Great Expectations. "She was an interesting challenge, a tough and rough-cut woman with a big heart for the young Finn."

"I remember just walking the streets of New York as a waitress thinking: why am I doing this?"

Described recently as a modern equivalent of the young Jean Seberg, the waifish, ["I'm skinny and pale. I got that screwed-up, skinny-girl look."] Dickens has made a reputation playing sexually powerful, even daunting characters. But before those characters would come her way, the Alabama-born former New York-based model was another struggling actress, who at times was ready to give it all away. But something stopped her. "I guess there was something inside of me that said: keep doing it. Even against my better judgement, because I remember just walking the streets of New York as a waitress thinking: why am I doing this? It's so unfeasible, ridiculous and too hard. But I just kept trying. I didn't want an office job."

It was the classic 50s film Baby Doll that first inspired a young Dickens to step into those footsteps, so from the small Alabama town in which she was raised, the then 21-year old moved to New York. "That was a horrifying step for me. I didn't know a soul in New York, and spent the first week crying on the payphone in Washington Square Park to my mum. It was scary." Dickens then studied acting intensely before sending out her headshots. Before that, she dabbled in modelling, and walked the runway as part of Calvin Klein's 1994 spring collection. Then appearing in regional theatre, commercials and music videos, Dickens finally made her film debut as Vincent Gallo's tomboyish girlfriend in Palookaville (1996). "Once I had that film and got an agent, I was going on so many auditions a day. It was a REALLY hard period of my life."

"He keeps to himself a lot, because people are always trying to get at him with his fame" on Bruce Willis

Her TV-movie debut came in Voice from the Grave: From the Files of 'Unsolved Mysteries' (1996), and her second film, Kiefer Sutherland's feature directorial debut Truth or Consequences, N.M. (1997), once again placed her alongside Gallo. Mercury Rising, one of the first Hollywood biggies of the year, offers her as the female lead amidst heavyweights Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin. In this man-on-the-run action flick, Dickens has already received strong reviews for her portrayal of a young woman who befriends the renegade FBI agent, and an autistic child whom he is trying to help. "She's a good-hearted girl from the Midwest whose dreams of coming to the big city aren't really working out for her," explains Dickens. "Art blows into her life and she has to make a split second decision whether to trust him." She describes Mercury Rising as her first "really big Hollywood movie, the biggest kind of big. It was exciting to do, if not a bit intimidating." Working with two such heavyweights was an enjoyable experience, Dickens recalls. "Bruce is very good at that type of movie; that's his thing. He's also very serious, and keeps to himself a lot, because people are always trying to get at him with his fame."

"It was such a complex part." on Zero Effect

Following that film's release, is her favourite of the current pack, due for release in September, playing a tremulous, revenge-seeking daughter in Jake Kasdan's directorial debut, Zero Effect, an off-the-wall private eye comedy/thriller in which she stars opposite Bill Pullman. As with Mercury Rising, it was the female lead. "It was incredibly exciting getting that, especially after the countless auditions I had to go through." It remains, she says, her biggest challenge thus far. "That was such a daunting character to play, because there are so many things going on there; it was such a complex part." In Zero Effect, she plays Gloria, a mysterious young woman with a tough past, out to wreak revenge on sinister millionaire Ryan O'Neal, in the classically structured private eye yarn. "I did instinctively respond to her depth of emotion, but found her own experiences hard to relate to."

With three films out to showcase her talents, Dickens says she'll continue to search for the good roles, not work for the sake of working. "At this point, I'm going to try not to do something that I'm not really inspired by. I've not been in a position to turn down jobs so far, but I guess I've been lucky with the parts I've played and I'd like to maintain that."

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