The Girl Next Door
Interview: Katie Holmes
By Amy Longsdorf
IT IS not easy for us civilians to imagine a child calling for its mother and Katie Holmes popping up with the drink of water or Spongebob plaster. No matter how inclusive our vision of motherhood, it does not usually involve a swishing blow-dry, stitch-perfect tailored trousers and one of the most-papped faces in this celebrity-obsessed planet.
Yet five years after giving birth to Suri, Holmes puts motherhood right at the top of her achievements (which include flirting with Batman, an Arthur Miller play on Broadway and marrying her childhood crush, Tom Cruise). It has, she says, changed her life in ways she never could have imagined. "I think a tremendous amount of strength is revealed when you become a parent that you didn't know you had," says Holmes, who is also step-mother to teenagers Isabella and Connor, Cruise's adopted children with Nicole Kidman.
"You also experience this tremendous burst of love that you didn't know you were capable of feeling and giving. Both of those things were such a surprise (to me] but they're the best (emotions]."
It's a subject she gets to explore fully in "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," Guillermo Del Toro's new psychological horror movie. Holmes plays the dad's new girlfriend, an unwelcome addition to his 11-year-old daughter's life. When the family moves into a tumbledown mansion, Holmes's character Kim's initially ambivalent relationship with Sally is soon tested to its outer limits. Del Toro, the frightmeister behind "Pan's Labyrinth," sends the young girl out to investigate the dark corners of the estate. Instead of friendly beavers and chipmunks, she hears rasping voices calling out from the basement, begging to be set free. While Holmes and Sally's father, played by Guy Pearce, sand floors and strip wallpaper, she gives in to her curiosity and unleashes the evil gremlins. It then falls to her to convince the grown-ups that they're in grave danger before it's too late.
It was the film's examination of a woman slowly warming to motherhood that initially drew Holmes to the project. "What I loved about this character is the journey she goes on," says the 32-year-old actress. "At the beginning of the film, she really rejects being a mother and being close to Sally. It's hinted at that Kim has a tough childhood, and so she doesn't want to be a mom. And I think through listening to Sally, she becomes her friend and it's then that she makes the choice to really pay attention and take care of her. Almost without any effort, and in spite of herself, she becomes a mother."
Although the special effects department have done a splendid job, Holmes liked that the script held back on the prosthetics and tomato sauce in favour of character-development and plenty of old-school chills. "I just fell in love with these characters," admits Holmes, a veteran of the horror shocker "Teaching Mrs Tingle" with Helen Mirren. "Kim is such a strong female character, who makes real, definitive choices in the movie. That was very exciting.
"And I like the genre of classic horror movies, especially ones that have characters and stories that can stand apart from the use of the creatures. I thought this one did that so beautifully."
For her pre-shooting homework, Holmes immersed herself in the genre, watching "The Exorcist" and "Rosemary's Baby." (Hopefully after Suri was tucked up in bed.) She also studied films fueled by intense family dynamics, such as "Kramer vs Kramer."
Horror movies, she notes, are ideal vehicles for catharsis: if you're feeling stressed out, go to see a spine-tingler and scream your head off. "I agree with Guillermo, who believes that audiences like to have a release. Whether it's through laughter or tears or being frightened, they need to get those emotions out.
"There's nothing like a film that really delivers great tension and gives you that thrill of not knowing what's coming next. There's really nothing better than going to the movies and identifying with those people up there. They're you."
With Blackwood Manor, the film's swanky yet sinister setting, the filmmakers attempted to construct an oddly inviting house of horrors. "I didn't find it too creepy," notes Holmes of the property, which was built in sound stages in Melbourne Central City Studios. "I actually thought it was beautiful. It was important that the house looked very nice because (restoring houses] is this couple's job. "You want to believe that they're good at their jobs because that helped explain why the father was so distracted and not available to Sally.
"I actually found the locations in the house quite beautiful. I was excited about it because I could feel that juxtaposition of something beautiful set against something incredibly terrifying. I really loved that aspect. The house had this wonderful fantasy element to it."
While Holmes doesn't have many scenes with the beasties Del Toro has attempted a twist to the well-worn genre by making these ones live in the dark and feast on the teeth of children she admits being impressed by the efforts of the special effects department. "I was blown away," she says. "They were so cool-looking. They were totally creepy and totally disgusting characters. I was impressed."
Holmes was also in awe of 11-year-old Bailee Madison, the young actress playing Sally. "It was wonderful working with her. She is so professional and so talented and really loves acting. She comes in with great ideas. She's not afraid. She has a point of view and she's willing to discuss it with you."
It probably helped that Madison was too young to grow up with "Dawson's Creek" and so thinks of her co-star as top actress lady Mrs Cruise rather than Joey Potter. Holmes was only a few years older than Madison when she first came to prominence as the tomboy-next-door on the long-running TV show. The series lasted five hormonal years, ending in 2003, and gave Holmes the Hollywood calling card needed to establish a big-screen career. Unlike other pretty girls from well-loved TV series, she avoided the overcrowded rom-com route and set out to prove her versatility while she still had the name-recognition that comes from weekly small-screen exposure.
She had already made "The Ice Storm," Ang Lee's angsty tale of suburban sex and debauchery, before landing the part of Joey Potter. It has become central to the Holmes legend: aged 17, with her mother in tow, the ambitious Catholic schoolgirl arrived in LA from Toledo on Sunday. On Monday, she went to her first audition. Lee already the veteran director of "Eat Drink Man Woman" and "Sense and Sensibility" gave her the part. It was an education. Her only previous experience of movies was watching them. She didn't know what a mark was, or that she was expected to shoot scenes over and over again, from different camera angles.
In between series of "Dawson's Creek," she continued to build up her CV, making twisty thrillers "Go" and "Abandon." From the start, Holmes played a high game. In 2000, she was cast beside Michael Douglas, her chum from "[Ice Storm," "Tobey Maguire" and "Francis McDormand" in the adaptation of Pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon's novel "Wonder Boys." Not too shabby before you turn 20.
Post-Joey, Holmes looked set to join the big league when she was cast as Christian Bale's love interest in "Batman Begins." But then something even bigger than a monster-budget action blockbuster intervened. She began dating Tom Cruise.
Growing up in the sticks, playing with her Barbies, Holmes had a soft spot for the handbag-sized actor, 16 years her senior. When "Top Gun" came out, her two sisters as well as every other teenager in America got all hot and bothered over Cruise in a flying jacket and aviator shades. She recalls, "I very confidently said, 'I'm going to marry him one day'. It wasn't like, 'How do I get to Tom Cruise?' It was just, 'I think I'm going to marry him. Why not? He'll like me. I'm fun.'"
They eventually met at a business function in 2005. It all went wild and crazy straight away: Holmes insists she knew immediately that this was the thing. Cruise announced his love to the world while using Oprah Winfrey's sofa as a trampoline. He proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
With her new fiancé came considerable baggage. While her career was doing pretty well, he was, as she still says with girlish enthusiasm, Tom Cruise. He is also the world's highest-profile Scientologist and step-father to Isabella, now 18, and Conor, 16. Holmes is the third Mrs Cruise. Their fast-forward romance prompted much speculation that it was all some kind of Scientologist set-up, especially when they announced that Holmes was pregnant.
Suri Cruise was born in April 2006, and the couple married in Italy later that year. The baby who, unusally for a celebrity sprog, was not introduced to the world via a lavish photo spread before her mother had even stopped doing the post-partum shuffle had the conspiracy theorists in overdrive. Magazines speculated whether or not she actually existed. When Annie Liebovitz's pictures of the happy family finally appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair that October, it was their second-biggest-selling issue ever.
After having Suri, Holmes initially scaled back on her workload. She had other priorities, one being turning her daughter into the world's most fashionable toddler. Many of the little girl's enviable outfits were made up by seamstresses to her mother's own designs. Holmes's long-time stylist, Jeanne Yang, who also has young children, was doing something similar for her own daughters. As happens when you are a bankable movie star, this evolved into a small-scale fashion collection for grown-ups. Holmes and Yang is a clutch of precision-tailored, Lauren Bacall-like separates, sold in the likes of Barneys in New York.
Further up Manhattan, Holmes fulfilled another long-time ambition, to perform on Broadway. She was cast in Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" and defied the snipers who suspected a bums-on-seats casting decision by not missing a show and attracting admiring reviews. Suri, who accompanies her parents to work wherever possible, along with by her home-school tutor, was at many of the week-night performances.
Since then, Holmes has picked up the pace, making "The Extra Man" with Kevin Kline and playing Jackie Kennedy in a TV mini-series about the famous family. The Kline movie failed to catch fire and "The Kennedys" triggered mass sniggering with its clanky plotting and characterisation.
This has not deterred Holmes, and last year she got busy in a big way, shooting three movies back-to-back-to-back. In addition to "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," she'll pop up in two films set for autumn release. "Jack and Jill" is a comedy, starring Adam Sandler and Al Pacino, directed by Sandler's long-term collaborator Dennis Dougan. As Dougan's CV includes "Don't Mess with the Zohan" and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," it's fair to speculate that this is not a retread of Miller's dramatic tropes. She has also made the thriller "The Son of No One," again sharing the screen with Pacino, as well as Channing Tatum and Juliette Binoche.
It all adds up to a lot of motherhood and career to pack in; not even Tom Cruise can make more than 24 hours in every day. Holmes shrugs it off, saying, "It's always a question of balance and just making it work and figuring it out.
"What I love about the movie business is that everybody brings their children. I've gotten to know Guillermo's family, and our families are good friends. The kids kind of grow up together, and it's great for them to be around artists. I feel very proud of that. My daughter gets to meet and hang-out with some very interesting people."
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is released on 7 October
This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 28 August, 2011