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HOFFMAN, GABY : The Candid Bird

Star-on-the-rise Gaby Hoffman, one of the new generation of actresses, is telling it like it is, shunning the Hollywood spotlight for the less glamorous and more eclectic world of independent cinema. The former child star whose mother starred in the many of Andy Warhol's underground films, is not your typical, publicity-seeking actress. She refused to embark on a publicity tour to sell her latest movie, the critically acclaimed teen feminist comedy, The Hairy Bird. But she did agree to talk to PAUL FISCHER.

She's been prancing in front of the cameras since the age of five, the now 16-year old New Yorker, Gaby Hoffman. "When I was about four, my mother got a Beta Max camera, and I have these little video tapes of myself where I'd be just singing, talking or just making up stories. Anything really." She unashamedly loved to watch herself, even then. "I made my friends watch it too; I was really, really cute when I was young." She now ruefully admits that "the cuteness has definitely gone."

"I wasn't dreaming as a child to be a big, famous actress at all"

She imitated the likes of Michael Jackson's Bad, "and Elvis Presley's 'Blue Suede Shoes' because we were born on the same day." It was acting, though, not rock stardom, that enticed the youngster. "At the time, my mother, sister and I were on welfare, and since I'd already been fooling in front of the camera, a friend of my mother, who was in advertising, suggested that I do some commercials." That was the beginning of Hoffman's career, which included, of all things, an anti-drugs commercial. "I did it with Drew Barrymore, who at the time, was 13-years old and snorting coke, while I was just five." When Barrymore's coke habit came out 2 years later, Gaby was seven "and found the whole thing terribly funny."

As for Hoffman, she'd gone from working with a coke fiend, to starring opposite the more clean-cut Kevin Costner in the smash hit weepie, Field of Dreams. Gaby Hoffman had arrived, and she was just six years old. Not that she had burning ambitions of stardom at that age. "I wasn't dreaming as a child to be a big, famous actress at all; I never really knew what it was." Even despite the fact that her mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's "superstars" in many of his underground films during the sixties. Though Hoffman was six at the time of Warhol's death, she still remembers the artist. "All I remember about Andy was that he gave me this blow-up, plastic Dalmatian dog, which I just adored. Eventually, it popped. But I do have many pictures taken of me with my microphone tape recorder singing with the dog."

"she's not... a stage mum"

Hoffman has never seen any of the films her mother made with Warhol, but happily admits "that I'm not in the dark about her past, though." And so one wonders whether she was at all influenced by her mother's acting. "I don't know if you can call what my mother did with Andy Warhol 'acting', but my mother is definitely somewhat of an actress", Hoffman adds with a hint of adolescent cynicism. "It's hard to talk about her with people who don't know her, because she's so crazy, so amazing and so neurotic. She has stories she can tell for hours." But what she's not, the younger Hoffman hastens to add "is a stage mum. She has never said to me: This is what you do; she's never pushed me in that sense. I can go to her tomorrow and tell her that I don't want to do this ever again, and she'd probably smile. This was something I really fell into for money, and when you're six years old, it's really fun to do that."

The same year of Field of Dreams, Hoffman was also the six-year-old niece of John Candy in "Uncle Buck" (both 1989), and the daughter of Julie Kavner in Nora Ephron's "This Is My Life" (1992), where the young actress held her own amid a talented cast. Hoffmann worked with writer-director Ephron again in the romantic comedy "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993) as the friend of Tom Hanks' son. In 1994 Hoffmann starred in the TV sitcom "Someone Like Me", following the exploits of an eleven year old and her friends. Hoffmann returned to features as the younger version of Demi Moore in the distaff coming-of-age story "Now and Then" (1995), and received glowing reviews for her work in the recent Woody Allen hit, Everyone Says I Love You, and turned up in the regrettable Volcano.

"I don't view acting as my life"

The impressive thing about Hoffman, remains her lack of ambition, and thus, her refusal to play the part of movie star. "Basically I've always felt the same way about acting, that it's something that I enjoy at the moment. There have been times in my life when I've said that I didn't like it, and I just stopped. When I was eight, I announced my retirement. I don't view acting as my life, like a lot of people do." In fact, next year she's college bound to study literature. "I won't be having anything to do with film or acting while I'm at school. But right now I'm enjoying the acting, and whatever happens, happens. I may want to direct, so who knows?"

This singularly independent 16-year old seems to have much in common with her latest screen character, Odette, in the charming coming-of-age buddy female comedy, The Hairy Bird. The film is set in an American East Coast boarding school in the early sixties. Odine, aka Odie (and, inevitably, Odious), gets shipped to Miss Godard's School for Girls after she's caught trysting with her randy boyfriend. Once there, she reluctantly falls in with her roommates: troublemaking Verena (Kirsten Dunst), brainy Momo (Merritt Wever), boy-mad Tinka (Monica Keena), and food-obsessed Tweety (Heather Matarazzo). There's also the brown-nosing hall monitor, Abby (Rachael Leigh Cook); the school's bluestocking headmistress, Miss McVane (Lynn Redgrave); and a lecherous male teacher (Robert Bockstael). Despite herself, Odie starts enjoying this largely mono-sexual environment, with its emphasis on academic achievement, but eventually, the financially strapped school is threatened by annexation by a more powerful boys' academy. The mixed reaction this gets from the girls becomes the crux of the movie.

"it raised some interesting feminist issues during an interesting time"

Asked about the parallels between Hoffman's own growth and independence, and those of this character, the actress is hesitant. "I don't know if this is the type of movie where the character needs to be understood." She laughingly dismisses Hairy Bird "as a kids' movie". Her reticence in discussing the film has to do with what she describes as "the difficult relationship" the actress had with the film's first-time director. "There was a lot we didn't agree on, and the movie didn't come out the way I thought it would." The actress wouldn't elaborate on what she perceived as the differences between the original script and the final film. She did concede, however, that what she did like about the script, was "that it raised some interesting feminist issues during an interesting time, and some of that ended up in the movie. But, look, it's still a cute movie, and I'm sure young girls will love it", Hoffman hastens to add. Which explains her reticence to go on the road to publicise it. "I was only prepared to talk about it as long as I didn't have to leave my house," she exclaims.

The actress is more excited about her next film, the eagerly awaited 200 Cigarettes, "which is the kind of independent film I love to do." The film tells of a collection of twenty-somethings try to cope with relationships, loneliness, desire and their individual neuroses, and stars close friend Christina Ricci, along with Ben Affleck, Courtney Love and Jay Mohr.

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