ROBIN TUNNEY: BARGAIN HUNTER
Byline: Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — In the film “Niagara Niagara,” actress Robin Tunney played an increasingly hostile Tourette Syndrome victim on a cross-border pursuit of a rare doll — a black Barbie modeling head.
In Italy a year later, Tunney and her husband, “Niagara” director Bob Gosse, were also on a mad search, but this time for her real passion — a classic black Prada dress.
Tunney, whose breakthrough performance in the film made her the first American to win the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival last year, was in Italy to accept the prize. She had heard about a Prada warehouse nearby where the goods could be gotten at sample prices, and she said the temptation was too hard to resist.
“I’m the kind of person who would buy a shoe a half-size too small if it’s at a half-price sale,” Tunney said.
“There was this Prada warehouse somewhere,” the 25-year-old actress continued. “I was driving my husband crazy. He thought I was looking for Cabbage Patch Kids or something. He didn’t understand why I wanted to go there.”
During an hour-long interview at the SoHo Grand Hotel here, Tunney explained her philosophy on shopping and why she’d rather shop wholesale. Her taste includes the extravagant couture pieces from John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, but what she buys is simple shift dresses and timeless, sensible shoes.
“Last year, everyone had sequins on chiffon. It was too much,” she said. “At Prada, I got a simple, plain cocktail dress that I think is so much better. If you go with the designer’s ‘design’ of the year, it’s going to sit in your closet and maybe come out when your daughter is in high school.”
Tunney, a native of a Chicago suburb who began acting at 13, moved to New York five years ago from Los Angeles, where she found the lifestyle didn’t suit her taste.
“I would see someone and they would ask what you’re doing. I would say, ‘Oh, I got married or I got certified in scuba diving,’ and they would say, ‘No. What work are you doing?”‘ Tunney said.
In New York, she and Gosse, who co-founded indie film production company The Shooting Gallery with Larry Meistrich, prefer long dinners with friends. Tunney has more days off out of the year than she spends working. While she finds the cross-country commutes to auditions draining, she said she prefers to keep her life based here.
Until recently, she mostly shopped in her nearby environs at SoHo boutiques and, until it closed, at the Barneys in Chelsea — “That was so unfair! They took our Barneys and they gave it to housewives on the Upper East Side!”
But with the international attention she is gaining from “Niagara Niagara” and the added benefit of having hired a publicist, Tunney is finding that designers have begun to open their showrooms to her.
While she had already chalked up memorable performances in “Empire Records” and “Riders of the Purple Sage,” Tunney hadn’t yet been exposed to Seventh Avenue’s largess for actresses. “The Craft,” a shoestring-budget film that took off with lightning success among teenagers, had just been released in 1996 when Tunney was working on “Niagara Niagara” in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
“We were living in a housing community because of the budget,” she said. “There were people coming to the door all the time for my autograph. One woman wanted me to autograph a Bible.”
With the publicity generated from that role and “Niagara Niagara,” in which she stars opposite rising star Henry Thomas, Tunney got offers to pose for a Max Mara ad campaign, after which she was able to take home all the samples she could carry. Tunney also shot a Gap ad recently and found her closets richer for the experience.
“Getting free stuff is helpful, but most of it is on loan, so I get nervous about damaging it,” she said. “I don’t want to be the kind of actress who takes something on loan and then keeps it. That’s rude. I’d rather wait until I can afford something that I really love.”
Tunney has become a fixture at New York fashion and movie events, having appeared at an after party for the premiere of “The Newton Boys” sponsored by Emanuel/Emanuel Ungaro and at a launch party for Nine West’s outerwear line. At the Metropolitan Museum gala in honor of Gianni Versace last December, Tunney was seated next to one of her favorites — Alexander McQueen.
“I had no idea who he was when I saw him because he had lost a lot of weight,” Tunney said. “His mother was his date, and because she had forgotten her glasses, I had to read the menu to her. That was my Alexander McQueen moment.”