Belfast Telegraph

A new stage for a star of the Nineties

The film actress Claire Forlani tells Nick Clark about her move into theatre

Claire Forlani's star rose in the mid-1990s when she landed major roles in big-budget films alongside Brad Pitt, Sean Connery and Ben Stiller. At the same time, she built a solid track record in movies that would attain cult status, from directors including Kevin Smith and Julian Schnabel.

Yet the pressures of Hollywood, personal tragedy and fierce protectiveness of her privacy saw the British actress step out of the spotlight over the following decade. She has continued to work consistently in film and television but it is the work from close to 20 years ago that still has fans stopping her in the street.

"It's nice now when people come up to me," she says. "When people talk about films from two decades ago there's something very cool about that; it's nice they're still being watched."

And what an eclectic set of fans they are. She can tell immediately, from the person, which film they will talk about. Stoners always want to talk about Mallrats, Kevin Smith's 1995 follow-up to Clerks, while "arty types" want to talk about Basquiat. "With Meet Joe Black it's fathers - that film is all about the father/daughter thing." Yet Forlani prefers to look forward rather than back. This week marks a significant new challenge: the 42-year-old, who divides her time between London and LA, will step on to the stage professionally for the first time in her career.

Her theatre debut comes at The Tricycle in Kilburn, north London, in The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which opens tonight. Despite 45 acting credits, Forlani admits she has had a few sleepless nights before the curtain goes up. "This really is a feat. You're walking into the fire; you just have to come through it," she says. "Hopefully, you don't emerge completely scorched."

The new work by Adam Bock is a tale of socialite siblings in New York, inspired by the Miller and Mitford sisters. "There's the money, and glamour, but what's just beneath the surface is total dysfunction and total darkness," she says.

Born and raised in Twickenham, Forlani briefly attended the Royal Ballet School and Rambert, and trained at the Arts Educational School in London from 11 years old.

Her acting debut came in the much-loved children's TV comedy-drama Press Gang - "I don't remember much about it I'm afraid" - before she moved with her family to America.

Among her early film credits was the seventh instalment of Police Academy, subtitled Mission to Moscow. The experience was an extraordinary one for Forlani, then 22. The cast and crew were in Moscow for four months, which coincided over with the 1993 constitutional crisis as the President Boris Yeltsin faced off against the Russian parliament.

Her breakthrough came with Mallrats in 1995, which starred Shannen Doherty and featured a brief appearance from Ben Affleck. The offers came thick and fast from The Rock - "Nic Cage is the sweetest guy on the planet" - to Mystery Men with Stiller and Meet Joe Black with Pitt. She says highlights from the time included filming the biopic of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sitting with David Bowie, who played Andy Warhol.

Yet being thrust into the spotlight brought drawbacks. "It's really hard when you're young. When she was 27, her mother died. She says: "I just, sort of retreated. I still worked but I wasn't taking risks after that. I took safe options."

She is no longer going for the safe options, certainly not as she prepares for opening night. "The brilliance of this job is that you don't know what's round the corner... Death to me would be doing the same thing over and over."

  • The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tricycle Theatre, London NW3 (020 7328 1000) 25 June to 25 July

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