From a singing and dancing penguin to a prostitute destined for a grim end, Brittany Murphy is showing all kinds of range on the big screen this season. Her roles in the animated blockbuster “Happy Feet” and the harrowing drama “The Dead Girl” are proof that she’s come a long way from the girl who famously sang about “rollin’ with the homies” in “Clueless.” Murphy recently chatted with MTV News about some of the notable performances in a career very much in full swing.
“Murphy Brown” (1991)
Murphy found her first work in Hollywood in the early ’90s with a string of guest appearances on notable TV shows, including “Murphy Brown,” “Blossom” and “Party of Five.”
” ‘Murphy Brown’ was a really big deal for me. That was my second day in L.A. I didn’t have an agent yet. I went on the audition, and I actually got the job! My scene was with Rosemary Clooney playing my mom. I didn’t connect that I was working with this woman who I’d been listening to the music of and seeing the motion pictures of my whole life. We were talking, and I asked her very innocently how long she had been in the business. And she so kindly answered me. She didn’t correct me. She explained how she got started on the radio. She was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.”
For her film debut, Murphy played Tai, the proverbial new girl in town, in Amy Heckerling’s instant teen classic.
“I’d never been in a film before, so it was really exciting. I was only 15, and I was really intimidated. I felt as though I was the freshman watching the seniors. The one person who bridged the gap was Alicia [Silverstone]. She always was very kind to me. She was the person I spent the most time with — her and her dog.”
“Girl, Interrupted” (1999)
Starring alongside the likes of Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, Murphy played the emotionally disturbed Daisy in James Mangold’s film version of the best-selling book.
“I remember I didn’t go over the lines before the audition. My mom drove me there and said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to read it out loud?’ I said, ‘No, that’s OK.’ [She laughs.] I found out I got it a couple weeks later. We shot Daisy’s death to her first day of life onscreen backwards, which was really cool. Jim Mangold is a wonderful director. I just understand his dialogue very well.”
“Don’t Say a Word” (2001)
While she didn’t have much screen time in this Michael Douglas thriller, Murphy’s few utterances became some of the most oft-repeated movie lines of the year.
“I had no idea that it would become ‘You’re the girl from the “I’ll never tell” film!’ That was strange. There was a lot of ad-libbing and rewrites. There wasn’t a lot on the page to that character at all. Her job wasn’t to talk. It was the last thing she wanted to do.”
“8 Mile” (2002)
Eminem’s acclaimed film debut gave Murphy the chance to work more closely than ever with the music world, something that’s been close to her heart since childhood.
“When I remember ‘8 Mile,’ I recall very specifically music being everywhere. Marshall [Mathers] was recording Encore and everything for ‘8 Mile’ at the time. I remember when the whole cast was brought in to hear ‘Lose Yourself’ and watching Mekhi [Phifer] hear it for the first time. That was really fun. There was music being created everywhere, and it was such a large part of the film as well.”
“Sin City” (2005)
Though she spent only a few days filming her role in Robert Rodriguez’s film noir, Murphy made an impact as Shellie, the barmaid caught between Jackie Boy and Dwight.
“Robert and I had been trying to work together for years. I adore him. He’s the one director who will say to me, ‘Go farther.’ He called me and asked me to look at the part of Shellie, and then I met with [graphic novelist] Frank [Miller] and got the grandmaster’s approval. It blows my mind the way Frank Miller can write. In my opinion, this is some of the greatest dialogue that’s ever been written. To read something that’s relevant today yet rhythmically seems to be coming out of a Howard Hawks film is pretty rare and exciting. She’s the only character that [Miller] included in all of his graphic novels for ‘Sin City.’ ”
“The Dead Girl” (2006)
Murphy has earned some of her best reviews playing Krista, the titular character, a prostitute who meets a premature end.
“It’s a film about how many lives can be affected by one act of violence. It was based on a true story and a real person. [Director] Karen [Moncrieff] was a juror on the case that the story of Krista was based on. I saw so much hope in Krista’s life. She was very optimistic and very loyal. She was bipolar and self-medicating, so the [ways] she tried to better herself went askew, to say the least. She was very exhausting for my little body. But that’s OK. It felt really good to get that stuff out. I think my vocal cords would have popped had [the shoot] gone on longer.”
“Happy Feet” (2006)
Murphy is no stranger to voice-over work (she’s been part of “King of the Hill” since 1997), and in George Miller’s hit film she gets to show off more of her impressive pipes, singing in character.
“Oddly enough, of all the characters I’ve played, Gloria is the most like me. And she’s a penguin! George always wanted one person to do both [the speaking and the singing]. I said, ‘I can sing,’ and I asked him to give me a shot. I don’t think he took me very seriously because most actors say they can do most things. I played him some CDs of some jazz things I had done, and he saw that I could sing. I was able to do an homage to [Queen’s] ‘Somebody to Love.’ I grew up in a Baptist church, and I mentioned to [composer] John [Powell], ‘What about doing a gospel version?’ The next time I was there he had a full men’s gospel choir laid down in the background, so I sang as Gloria over them. It’s the most universal film that I’ve ever been a part of. If you’re 2 or 202, this film is for you.”
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