Byline: Peter Braunstein

NEW YORK — You may not know it, but chances are you’ve seen the work of actress Mary McCormack. Maybe you caught her in “The Big Tease,” the definitive gay-Scottish-hairdresser-makes-it-big-in-America-against-all-odds movie, where she played an officious all-too-L.A. events organizer. Or perhaps you saw her alongside Clint Eastwood in the suspense thriller “True Crime,” or with Robert Duvall in the hit disaster film “Deep Impact.” But trailing McCormack from film to film is almost impossible; the chameleon-like actress changes appearances faster than Shannen Dougherty changes moods. Audiences stand a decent chance of catching her this month, however, in two films that open tonight: “K-Pax,” an alien movie where Kevin Spacey gets his shot at being E.T., and “High Heels and Lowlifes,” where McCormack and Minnie Driver play amateur blackmailers who shake down some real criminals.
“A studio exec once said to me, ‘It hurts you that you change your look so much from film to film’,” McCormack admits during a breakfast chat at the Mercer Hotel. “But my reaction was ‘Thank God.’ I mean, isn’t that what acting is supposed to be about? There’s an appeal in fame, I get it, but it depends on what you really want. For me, I’m glad I’ve done like 20 films and no one recognizes me.” She also admires actors who are more interested in acting than in branding themselves for audiences. “Kevin [Spacey] is so great for that reason,” she says. “You don’t see him in In Style magazine touring his own house and saying ‘This is my vase, isn’t it cute,’ and ‘I just bought this end table.”‘
Still, McCormack has to adhere to some of Tinseltown’s conventions, like playing the love interest of name-brand 50-something male stars. That’s the case in “K-Pax,” where the 32-year-old actress plays the wife of 51-year-old Jeff Bridges. “Hey, welcome to Hollywood, baby,” she says about the May-December casting fetish. “I made out with Clint in ‘True Crime’ and believe me, that was no problem. I was like, ‘Bring it on.”‘
She’s up to her neck in big-budget studio productions right now, but McCormack has never lost touch with her inner Parker Posey. Her true indie nature comes to light when she discusses her favorite movies, namely “Spinal Tap” and “Waiting for Guffman.”
“If I could work with Christopher Guest just once, my career would be complete,” she swoons. “I know every ‘Spinal Tap ‘line by heart. Is there a better movie? I think every one needs to watch it once a week.”
McCormack has snagged a role in indie deity Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming film, “How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire.”
“Clearly, the title of that film has to go,” says McCormack.
McCormack is also nursing a unusual dream project of her own: a one-woman show in which she would recite Cindy Crawford’s diary written during the filming of box-office bomb “Fair Game.”
The diary, printed in Premiere magazine in 1995, is a satirist’s dream. “I’m dirty through 70 percent of this movie,” Crawford writes, “and people who come to the set say, ‘This is so unglamorous for Cindy Crawford.’ To me it isn’t that big a deal; I mean, I still think I look good. I’m, like, ‘Wait — are you trying to say I don’t look good? Tell me now. We can reshoot!”‘
After reciting several Crawford entries, which she has memorized, McCormack asks: “Did she clear this with her publicist?” But McCormack has misgivings about rendering the Cindy Diaries as a sardonic soliloquy. “I’ve had this idea for years, but I’m just worried that it might seem mean-spirited.” Perfect fodder, one imagines, for a future Christopher Guest film.