When Suzy Amis decided to go into acting, she had only one rule: no “dolly roles.”
This was a bit of a problem, since she’d been modeling in Paris, Milan and New York (after leaving her native Oklahoma); is 5 feet 9 and slender, and had amazing, waist-length perfect red hair. She also had no acting training.
“I knew I didn’t want to get into this business by taking my clothes off,” she says one day over tea at the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. “So I auditioned for this part in ‘Blame It on Rio’ and got it! Then they said I’d have to wear a little tight dress, so I turned it down. Demi Moore wound up doing it.
Amis managed to have her second audition be for Steven Spielberg for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” After she read, he said to her, “You don’t have a clue what you’re doing, do you?” Taking pity on her, he sent her over to new director Kevin Reynolds, who was casting “Fandango” with Kevin Costner, and he gave the fledging Amis a small role with only one line — in which she was able to keep her dignity.
Dignity — and the long red hair — have become her trademarks, in films from “Rich in Love” to last year’s “Watch It,” and this weekend, her first big-budget film, “Blown Away.” As Jeff Bridges’s wife, Kate, she’s no dolly, but she’s still the only girl in a guy’s action movie (Tommy Lee Jones, Forest Whitaker, Lloyd Bridges) in which a bomb goes off at least every 10 minutes.
“What reeled me in initially,” she says, “is that Kate has a real strong point of view, in an action film. I’ve read zillions of them, usually with these dolly roles. And I never enjoy the way violence is dealt with in these films. In ‘Blown Away,’ nobody dies just for the sake of dying. When they do die, there’s a real sense of loss about their character, and they get a funeral scene. “The other thing,” she goes on, “is that my character gets to show unconditional love for her husband. When he tells her, in the middle of the movie, that he’s not the guy she thought he was at all — that he’s maybe more the bad guy than the good guy — she doesn’t berate him. She doesn’t flip out. It’s because she’s her own person.” Her most critically acclaimed role to date was as far from a dolly as one can get. She played a woman who went underground as a man in the Old West in “The Ballad of Little Jo,” and while she gained praise and credibility, she did have to lose the hair. More than a foot of it.
“I was looking for an excuse to cut it anyway,” says the now-bobbed redhead. I always thought I’d cut it to play Amelia Earhart — not a man! The whole thing was quite an identity crisis.
“We decided to shoot the character cutting her own hair to go out West and ride with the guys. So there I am at 3 a.m. on screen whacking off my hair. I stayed in character until the end of the film, but when I went home to Colorado, I looked in the mirror and screamed, ‘Who AM I?’
“People certainly looked at me in a different way when I had that hair,” she says, smiling.
She says she doesn’t miss her hair. And she doesn’t miss the way people reacted to it.