THE GIRL FROM ‘BARCELONA’
Byline: Glynis Costin
LOS ANGELES — It didn’t take long for British-born, Australia-raised actress Tushka Bergen to incorporate “cool,” “like” and “sucks” into her vocabulary. After moving here seven months ago, Bergen has been taking a crash course in Americana. She’s already seen a Grateful Dead show in San Francisco, camped out in Santa Barbara, consumed beer and tortilla chips in a seedy Palm Springs motel, skied in Mammoth, been hit in the eye by a billiard ball and taken country-western dance lessons.
Instant culture courses are nothing new for the 25-year-old Bergen. As the female lead in director Whit Stillman’s latest slice of preppie angst, “Barcelona” (opening on the art house circuit this weekend), she had to learn a Spanish accent, pronto. But as the daughter of a conductor father and opera singer mother who bounced from New Zealand to West Berlin to Australia to London, fast assimilation became Bergen’s trump card.
Now she’s playing her hand in La La land, but she’s not so sure she likes the game.
“When I went to my first real Hollywood party and saw all the posing and attitudes and smooth talking, I thought, ‘God, if this is what it’s all about, I don’t want to be in this business.’ And the biggest posers were those doing the B projects, not the A list.”
She’s also not fond of the news media and all of its hype.
“Watching O.J. Simpson race down the freeway was like watching paint dry,” she says. And she doesn’t understand American men who whine about fear of commitment on the first date. “Why can’t people just get to know each other first?” she demands.
Bergen’s biggest irritation, however, is the L.A. obsession with breasts and biceps.
“That whole body-consciousness thing really disturbs me,” she says. “I mean, in which other country in the world can you open up a magazine and see an ad for penile extensions? What is THAT about? The thing is, it’s so insidious, it just creeps in. I find myself worrying about things like how my arms look and if I’m working out enough or if I’m wearing the right thing, and it just starts to get to you and I don’t WANT to let it get to me.”
Bergen’s voice is rising a little, but the industry crowd at the Hollywood Canteen, where she’s downing a chicken salad, barely gives her a second glance. Not that she isn’t stunning, it’s just that with only a few American films under her belt, no one recognizes her. Bergen got her theatrical start at age nine, spitting watermelon seeds at an audience for a modern Australia opera. Spotted on a West Berlin playground, she was cast in a German film and after a small part in a Jane Campion student film, landed a few roles in an Australian TV miniseries and co-starred in two films she says went almost straight to video: “The Wrangler” and “Swing Kids.”
In “Barcelona,” Bergen plays Montserrat, a Spanish trade-fair translator who captures the heart of a neurotic young American salesman, runs back to her philandering boyfriend, then ends up with the salesman’s wisecracking cousin.
Directed, produced and written by Stillman, it’s in the same vein as his cult hit “Metropolitan” — a tale of precocious 20-somethings who love to hear themselves talk — although “Barcelona” is set against the backdrop of early Eighties Spain. There’s an underlying love-
hate friendship story, a romance or two, some political intrigue, a lot of pretty girls and a heavy dose of waxing philosophical.
What’s next for Bergen? Aside from a German feature film, a part in the season opener of “Northern Exposure” and a steady stream of casting calls, the actress says she longs “to create a lasting relationship.”
“I know in this town it’s probably a fantasy, but it’s really a goal,” she says.
But before she gets too interested in the pursuit of true love, there’s one more cultural thing Bergen wants to check off her list.
“I’m dying to take a road trip to Las Vegas,” she says. “I really want to see the ultimate tacky American city.”