Illeana Douglas: Goodbye, Mainstream

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How can anyone not love actress Illeana Douglas? For the last decade, her acting chops have been a proven, solid celluloid draw. A wry sidekick with soulful eyes, her characters specialize in lobbing bitter-funny bon mots with no mercy. And Douglas has found success, sure, but she hasn’t lost sight of the process and the industry’s overlooked underclass. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since there’s something so honest about her, on screen or off, that it’s hard to imagine her as another studio-owned, publicity-chasing Hollywood coke monkey. In her upcoming film Easy to Assemble, Douglas ditches her Hollywood gig to work at IKEA, but finds her sticky past hard to shake. Gossips, agents, celebs run amok. Last night, we chatted about Hollywood’s killing floor, the Screen Actors Guild, and the slow soul suck of studio politics. Tinseltown upstarts, beware.

I was watching television, House to be specific, when she blasted the TV biz. What? Did I hear that right? She corrected herself. “I love television,” she tells BlackBook. “It’s a wonderful medium. But what’s happening now with the strike, with SAG not wanting to pay actors more than $100 a day, actors being let go at agencies … We’re killing the artist in our society. I’m trying to create content to keep art alive on the Internet. It’s a longer discussion. Call SAG. You’ll see!”

In love yet? Even after a tour of duty at Variety, Hollywood has never been explained to me as clearly as this. “The people at the top will make the money,” she says. “The producers won’t share, so they get rid of the middle — the ones with the high salary deals. Then they go to the youngsters they can pay cheaply and exploit. It’s about the mighty dollar, but no one is thinking, ‘This person is an artist. I should protect them.’ So what’s happening is you just leave mainstream entertainment.”

Just add this to the overall national psychic crumble. “It’s a crisis that no one feels is important because the banks are failing. But in the 1930s we had the WPA. No one wants to pay for art, and people don’t even want to use the term ‘art’. But a society without art, without a love for the arts … we become the Romans instead of the Greeks.” And … scene!