Jena Malone and her Orgy of Talents
Words: Robert Brink / Missbehave, January 2008
Much of what you've heard about Jena Malone is super five minutes ago. Yes, she was raised in and out of trailer parks by her mother and her mother's girlfriend. Yep, she then emancipated herself from moms and barely started high school before never going back. Sure, she was in the infamous Donnie Darko. Absolutely, she killed her role in Saved. And, she made out with Hayden Christensen onscreen in Life as a House and you didn't. Talking about all this old stuff is played.
Be up on the new shit, would ya? These days, Jena lives in Tahoe creating art, making music with her band, Jena Malone and Her bloodstains, and working with superDILFy Sean Penn. She's also recently discovered that being pretty doesn't mean people think you're boring, what being a woman actually means, and why being typecast as the weird cutter chick who lives in the bell jar is maybe the happiest thing in the world.
I've just researched and read every word you've said to the press for the last ten years. Does it feel weird to know that?
That's scary, actually. There's this whole persona of who I am on the internet. It's so disconnected. My IMDB profile says I love kickboxing and the Renaissance, and that was from an interview I did when I was 13. You say one thing and it's attached to you and your web persona for the rest of your life.
So you've experienced change since you were 13, remarkable...
Right! Well, I was the tomboy that hated everything that had to do with girls and girly shit. This year I've actually become a woman. I had this tainted vision of femininity my whole life and then realized I get to disassemble and reassemble it and be a woman in my own right. I've been buying dresses and all these things that before I totally shunned.
What clicked that suddenly you're into being a chick?
I'd never brush my hair or wear makeup, I'd wear baggy clothes and smelled. I didn't care. I never had boyfriends when I was younger and had my first real relationship when I was 18. It's horrible to say that love or men was the motivation, but it was interesting, because I was finally seeing myself through someone else's eyes. I wanted to wear nice things.
Feeling good because you look good isn't the worst, huh?
Totally. I didn't used to want people to think I was pretty. I wanted them to hear what I was saying, so I played down my appearance to get my point across. Now I'm much more confident in who I am—in my body and in my mind—that I don't need to play anything down. It's way more empowering and way more exciting.
Do you ever look at actresses your age who are all over the tabloids and think "I can't believe I'm in the same industry as these people!"
[Sighs] Of course. If I lived in LA and I had to deal with it all I think I would probably kill myself. Everyone's trying to one-up each other. It's everything I never understood about high school, and totally understood about high school. I only went for a year but you feel the strange rules and cliques.
Why did you move to Lake Tahoe?
I'd lived here in Tahoe for second and third grade then moved away. I moved back five years ago. I have a strong affinity for place. It's beautiful. I can be alone here for months and not even realize I haven't seen another person. Whereas in LA I get so lonely, it's such a public culture. If you don't call someone for a week they think you've died.
That's why it's rad that a Johnny Depp type can live anywhere on the planet and keep working.
There's a lot of fear involved in this business. If you're not "hot enough" you're gonna lose everything and people are gonna turn against you. It's like Hollywood's this weird club that you have to fulfill all these parts before you can achieve success. But really, you don't have to do anything. You just don't.
Do you ever fear getting typecast as the "indie film girl"?
I don't think there's any actor who hasn't been typecast. The first time you see an actor onscreen and they move you, you're gonna remember them in that role forever. It's a natural reaction of humans watching each other.
You just have to hope for the best, and keep true to your shit. I've definitely been typecast into that indie—whatever it is—"fucked up girl with problems" role. But I would rather be in that tide pool than be typecast as "dumb girlfriend."
What's your favorite movie that you've done?
Into the Wild was such an immense experience that I'd have to say it's my favorite. It was such a beautiful collaboration creatively that it blew my mind that it could actually happen in film.
Working with Sean, I mean, he's like a poet. You can talk to him about anything and I just respect and admire him so much.
What's the craziest rumor you've ever heard about yourself?
There was a forum on IMDB that said that I was dating Michael Clarke Duncan.
The huge dude from The Green Mile?
Yeah! The rumor was like four years ago, when I was nineteen and he was like forty or something. I was like, "Wow, that's amazing, I've never even met him." I actually prefer that rumor than like, me and some Hollywood heartthrob.
Ever end up dating a fan?
I dated this one guy but didn't know until later that Donnie Darko was his favorite movie. He had a shrine in his house. I saw it. I was a little freaked and I didn't call him anymore [Laughs].
Damn, he blew it. I would have played it smart and hid that shit.
I know, right?
Why did you name your band, Jena Malone and Her Bloodstains?
It's the most intimate and personal thing I've ever created, so I wanted it to be my name. Taking my name back in a sense.
Is it easier or harder to be taken seriously in music because you're in Hollywood?
I wouldn't have been able to get my foot in the door if I hadn't had some sort of name. But I love to share it with people. Friends come over and I force them to listen to all these songs and new things I'm working on. I love it so much; I'll never stop making music. It's just hijacked my whole body and I can't control it.
Do you envision yourself being an actor 20, 30, 40 years from now?
Definitely. I'm in the business of storytelling, whether it's acting or writing or singing or taking photos and it's endless. As long as I can do it and be financially okay, I'll do this for the rest of my life. I get to constantly create new things and that's fucking beautiful.
What's the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were younger?
I would've wanted someone to tell me that it's nice to break your own rules sometimes—or to constantly recheck them to see if they still work for your life. I would have loved someone to say that to me instead of "Try and be lawyer and follow your heart." What does that even mean? You'll follow your heart until you run off a cliff and then where's that gonna take you?