"You know you are the crazy girl."
Born November 10, 1977, in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in New Jersey, Brittany Murphy (born Sharon Murphy) started with commercials and appearances on television in series such as Blossom and Drexell's Class. As time went on, it became clear that she was the queen of playing... well, my kind of girls.
Her film debut came with a role in the film Family Prayers in which apparently everyone in the family had some serious issues. She would seem to have become just another run of the mill ditzy blonde when she appeared in the film Clueless, but even there she had begun showing her talent for understanding the darker and more troubled essences of human existence. She tracked straight into the dysfunctional "girl you need to stay away from" pipeline after that, punctuated by her role in the 1999 film, Girl, Interrupted.
While many of her films have not been critical or commercial successes, and many have been panned, her performances tend to stand on their own. She has the kind of screen presence that steals scenes and redefines stories. Then again, you're listening to someone who fell in love with her after seeing her in Don't Say A Word, which explains a lot about me. While the movie itself was not terribly effective, Brittany Murphy's performance as the psychotic Elisabeth Burrows is worth ignoring the plot holes and inexplicable leaps of reasoning. It is widely acknowledged that the depth in the character of Elisabeth Burrows came from Brittany Murphy and was never in the script. That same year she also managed to upstage Drew Barrymore in Riding In Cars With Boys by becoming the very essence of a woman I used to know, the terminally disappointed New England princess whose life is always one step away from falling completely apart.
If you are young, blonde and beautiful in Hollywood, it is pretty certain that you will never be taken seriously. I have often explored the nature of beauty and the problems that accompany it. We tend to think that being either rich or beautiful (preferably both) would solve all our problems. It is a double-edged sword. Beauty is a blessing and a curse. The mental and emotional trauma I have found in women regarded to be physically beautiful, to the point of commanding attention when they enter a room, is often deeper and more explosive than that of those of us who have an easier time making ourselves invisible in a crowd. When you are beautiful, no one ever leaves you alone. The only people who aren't afraid to approach you and court your attention are usually cocky sons of bitches.
While I have not seen every film Brittany Murphy has been in, what I have seen gives me a sense that this is an actress who works to understand and become her characters. She also reminds me that not much has changed since Olivia de Havilland tried to break the stereotypes for young, pretty actresses. In fact, much of her work is reminiscent of Olivia de Havilland's work in The Snake Pit and Lady In A Cage. If I am comparing Brittany Murphy to my favorite actress of all times, you know I must be serious, or at least seriously deranged.
In 2002, Brittany Murphy starred in 8 Mile as the girlfriend of an aspiring rap star. I cannot really comment, as I am incapable of looking at Eminem for more than thirty seconds at a time so I cannot watch the film or even really read about it. I expect she lent a surprising amount of depth to the character. From what I've seen, she's like that.
After a number of dramatic and disturbing roles, it seemed that Brittany Murphy needed to take a break and roll with something in the light, goofy fun genre. This brought her into a starring role opposite Ashton Kutcher in Just Married. The one thing I have noticed about this film, which I have resisted seeing, is that she looks completely different. In addition to her ability to give very interesting depth and realism to her characters, the ability to adjust to roles like a chameleon. Many actors and actresses, especially those who are considered icons and sex symbols, tend to fall back on playing themselves in roles. If you've ever sat and watched a movie and asked yourself, "Isn't he just playing himself here? The same guy he's always been in every other movie?" then you know what I mean. Just watch her in the two movies she made at pretty much the same time in 2001. Her co-stars in these two movies, Michael Douglas and Drew Barrymore, are playing themselves in the films while she is doing something else entirely. You'll need to check the credits to be sure this is the same actress.
The main problem Brittany Murphy seems to have is with signing on for a truly top of the line motion picture. Many of her movies were anticipated to be big hits but faltered because of problems with weakly written scripts, weak acting performances from other actors, or the lack of a real audience. This could be the result of poor choices, but one doesn't often have their pick of projects when they are trying to make a name for themselves in acting.
While one may wonder how Brittany Murphy chooses her projects, the thread might provide answers. She seems to choose roles based on whether the script, the character and the director are going to let her act rather than stand around being a pretty face. If she played a ditz, she would play an effective ditz, exploring the very reasons why she was a ditz while remaining in character. Most young, pretty actresses might coast through cardboard roles while waiting for "the big one" to come along, but Brittany Murphy seems to take acting seriously, regardless of how small the role or how minor the film. With much of the ancient art of acting lost to posing and self-promotion, she is a breath of fresh air.
Brittany Murphy also provides the voice of Luanne, a character on the animated television show King of the Hill. Apparently, her characterization through voice alone has turned Luanne into the most fantasized cartoon character since Jessica Rabbit.
What does the future hold? Will she be destroyed? Will she be crushed under the wheels of apathy? Will she give in to the temptation to put herself on cruise control? Will she fade from the spotlight as soon as she turns thirty?
The more likely scenario is that she will win an Academy Award not long after she turns thirty. I don't think she is fumbling her way into roles. She has chosen roles she can sink her teeth into, perhaps more for the roles themselves than for the films. She is now dabbling in more commercial, throwaway fare with the intent of making herself better known. I tend to believe she's been planning her acting career for some time rather than waiting and hoping.
Having appeared in 25 motion picture projects before she was twenty-six, she hasn't exactly been sitting by the telephone. After moving with her mother from New Jersey to California, all because she insisted she needed to start auditioning for roles, she started her own band while things developed. Singing in a band was all about developing her vocal range. Everything she does is about focus.
"I've always seen myself as one of those 'show people.' My earliest memories are wanting and needing to entertain people, like a gypsy traveler who goes from place to place, city to city, performing for audiences and reaching people."
Today's Brittany Murphy isn't the same girl who first arrived in Hollywood in the early 1990s. She was a slightly heavy little brunette who seemed best fit for the intense "ugly friend" roles. This is not to say she was by any means ugly, but the Hollywood lens has a different definition of ugly than we do in the real world. Even as she evolved into a blonde cover girl, even making the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine, she remained something other than a standard beauty. She is small, slight and does not have the usual features of your movie lovelies. It is the eyes. Look into her eyes. Then she's got you.
"I am not so much a writer as I am a showman. I think of myself as part of a tribe, the kind of people who wandered from town to town putting on plays and performances. Ever since I was a kid I knew it was what I was."
--Myself, in a letter to a friend, 1999
The question now finds Brittany Murphy at a crossroads. Will she submit to the intoxication of fame and fortune? Will she now start making goofy romantic comedies and the like? Will she take the easy road now that they've put the green light on? I don't think so. I think she acts in what is available to her. She has Richard Harris disease. She can't stop acting or she gets restless. Richard Harris made Orca, Brittany Murphy made Just Married.
Oddly enough, I do believe she would be able to play the female lead of any story or novel I have written, and my characters are never quite sane. We'll be in touch.
Brittany Murphy passed forward on December 20, 2009 at the age of 32.