It’s a tale as old as show business itself: A budding young ingénue, backed by an ambitious mother, achieves early success. As her star rises, she’s forced to deal with gossip about her alleged substance abuse, fluctuations in body weight, and her tempestuous love life. Eventually she reaches a breaking point and has to withdraw from the spotlight to regain her bearings.
Leading ladies have been through this routine at least as far back as vaudeville. Elizabeth Taylor practically made a second career of it. And it’s the career crossroads at which Lindsay Lohan currently finds herself. The teen queen of such Disney remakes as "The Parent Trap" and "Herbie Fully Loaded" looked to be making a smooth transition into adult roles with her well-regarded appearance in "A Prairie Home Companion", the final film from legendary Hollywood director Robert Altman.
But for years, Lohan has been dogged by reports about everything from her underage partying to her father’s periodic stints behind bars to a dramatic weight loss during her friendship with infamous stylist Rachel Zoe, a severely skinny blonde whose success stemmed from turning her clients into peroxided and malnourished clones of herself.
A double-whammy of personal calamities — Lohan’s May 26 DUI incident, wherein she ran her car off the road, followed by tabloid photos of the actress passed out in the front seat of her friend’s car — appeared to be the final straw. While Lohan had taken a stab at rehab at the Wonderland facility, known for its rather flexible outpatient policy, she checked herself into Promises Malibu on May 28. Her recent decision to extend her stay suggests both an acknowledgement that she has problems and a real commitment to solving them.
But then what? Lohan, who turns 21 July 2, has some tough decisions about what to do next. She remains a box-office draw, despite the disappointing returns on her latest project, "Georgia Rule". But it was on that film’s shoot that producer James Robinson shot off an infamous heard-’round-the-Net memo chastising Lohan for her disruptive behavior.
Can Lohan put her diva-druggie reputation behind her and be once again taken seriously as an actress? Recent Hollywood history suggests she can.
After charming the planet at age seven with her appearance in the smash "E.T. The Extraterrestrial", Drew Barrymore became a pint-sized hellion, drinking at Studio 54 at age 10 and snorting cocaine at age 12. Alcoholics Anonymous — and the guidance of her sponsor David Crosby — helped turn her life around, as did her mea culpa memoir, "Little Girl Lost", published in 1990 (when Barrymore was all of 15).
Lindsay Lohan’s mother Dina has cited Barrymore’s as an example of the kind of career she thinks Lindsay will have. But here’s the rub, Dina: One of Barrymore’s best moves was separating herself from her own pushy stage mom, Jaid Barrymore, once she came of age. Starting her own production company, Flower Films, allowed Barrymore to nurture great roles for herself in movies like "Never Been Kissed" and "Charlie’s Angels", so Lindsay might consider that route as a way of taking control of her career.
Like Lindsay Lohan, Jodie Foster established herself as a young talent in Disney movies, including "Freaky Friday" (in whose remake Lohan would later star) and "Candleshoe". Lohan and Foster also worked with prominent filmmakers early on, with Foster appearing in Martin Scorsese’s "Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore" and, more significantly, "Taxi Driver", before her 15th birthday. Foster has gone on to become the poster child of Child Star Made Good, having gone on to enjoy an illustrious adult career as both Oscar-winning actress and acclaimed filmmaker.
How’d she do it? Foster dropped out of show business to go east to Yale to get an education. She also had a mother who never pushed her to remain an actress, always suggesting “real” career alternatives throughout her childhood. (It can be done: "The Wonder Years"’ Danica McKellar and "Blossom"’s Mayim Bialik eventually followed the siren songs of mathematics and neuroscience, respectively.) And finally, for various reasons, Foster has always been fiercely protective of her private life, a rarity in contemporary show business. Lohan could take a page or two from this brilliant career.
Even actresses who didn’t suffer the travails of child stardom can hit a rough patch. But with hard work and the right choice of parts, an actress can transform herself from tabloid punchline to well-regarded thespian. Take Julia Roberts: Back in the early ’90s, Roberts was a box-office draw with two Academy Award nominations, but she still managed to get more ink about her private life than about her work. There was the last-minute cancellation of her wedding to Kiefer Sutherland, followed by the all-too-brief marriage to Lyle Lovett. The fact that she was simultaneously making movies like "Hook" and "I Love Trouble" wasn’t helping, either.
But given Roberts’ current stardom and her do-gooder reputation for her work with UNICEF, it takes a moment to even recall that this dark period in her career ever happened. So if Lohan can connect with talented filmmakers and actively repair her off-screen image, the public at large could easily forget her privates-flashing, nightclub-attending past. What else can she learn from Roberts? Play to your strengths. After flopping in the bleak period drama "Mary Reilly", Roberts grew out her hair and starred in the crowd-pleasing comedy "My Best Friend’s Wedding". Also, Roberts has become a master at using the press when she needs to (e.g., appearing on Oprah for a softball interview when she has a movie to hype) and keeping them at arms’ length when she wants to (remember how long it took to see photos of her twins?).
“Who?” you may be asking, but that’s OK with Malone. After early, attention-getting appearances in "Stepmom" and the TV movie "Bastard Out of Carolina", she made it clear that she was more focused on doing interesting work than in being a star. And “interesting” is an understatement when discussing Malone’s acting choices, which have included indie faves like "Saved!" and "Donnie Darko", the Oscar-nominated period piece "Pride & Prejudice", and Broadway’s "Doubt".
If the history of Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that it's easier to reach obscurity than stardom, so if Lohan wants to turn her back on fame in favor of embracing the craft of acting, that would be an effortless option for her. But again — sorry, Dina; Malone legally emancipated herself from her mother after allegations of mismanagement of funds.
Lohan has it in her to be one of the most talented actresses of her generation. If the rehab can stick, if her mother can stop elbowing her way into the spotlight, and if past mentors like Tina Fey (Lohan’s co-star and writer on "Mean Girls") and Meryl Streep can continue to guide her in the future, there’s no reason why we won’t be taking her seriously. And like Drew Barrymore, she can look back at this bad-girl period of her life and shudder a bit. And then laugh.
Duralde is the author of "101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men" (Alyson Books). Find him at www.alonsoduralde.com