A cursory scan of paz de la huerta’s recent press, including a piece in The New York Times Magazine, suggests yet another wild child pin-up disaster story—a talented, but legally troubled, young woman whose wardrobe malfunctions on the red carpet threaten to overshadow her performances onscreen. [Ed. note: In other words, she has a lot of fun.]
But the de la Huerta encountered on a muggy September afternoon in Toronto is no tabloid tragedy. In fact, the soft-spoken 27-year-old could almost be called demure, though she has no trouble attracting attention in her monkey-fur bolero and sky-high heels. We barely sit down to a coffee before an older—let’s call him a “gentleman”—interrupts our conversation to hit on the sultry bombshell.
“Perfect timing to talk about Nurse 3-D,” she laughs, swatting the suitor away.
She’s referring to the role that’s brought her to this fair Canadian film hub. De la Huerta plays a dedicated nurse who spends her nights exacting revenge on abusive, philandering men. “She’s been scarred by many traumatic events in her past and never healed from them,” de la Huerta explains, “and so, things make her act out, and she reacts in a gruesome way towards men who are scumbags.”
And how does one land the role of a murderous nurse? You sit down and tell them you’ve got the hunger. “I met with the head of Lionsgate,” recalls de la Huerta, in her husky accent. “They said they couldn’t find the right girl for this part. What can I say—I’ve always been intrigued by serial killers.”
If it begins with intrigue, it ends with a thirst for blood. The role of the homicidal bedside aide is a perfect challenge for de la Huerta, who can exude both an aggressive sexuality and an extreme vulnerability, compelling the audience to feel an unusual compassion for one who not only terminates pervs and lowlifes, but also heals the sick. “I’ve been working very closely on the script,” says de la Huerta quietly, “and with the director to make it as realistic as possible. I want the audience to have an empathy and sympathy for her. She’s not a bad person; she definitely doesn’t think what she does is bad.”
The same complexities surface when we later address the media and its witch-hunts and spectacles. “It’s just ignorance,” de la Huerta bemoans. “I feel sorry for people these days. The media really feeds off of sensationalism. I work incredibly hard. I’ve studied acting since I was 15. I consider myself one of the rare artists that are left—especially of the young actors. It’s unbelievable what some people consider great now.”
The frustration is palpable, and the actress—who broke big with Gaspar Noé’s tripped-out Enter the Void (2009) after toiling since she was 14 in bit parts—becomes agitated speaking about the state of her profession. “I don’t really give a fuck,” she spits. “Actors all look the fucking same these days. It’s so boring.”
After Nurse 3-D, de la Huerta will show off the directorial skills she’s been honing since she was 17. She will soon debut three short films that take three distinct views at damaged women—women scrambling to be understood—called The Memento Mori Project. “Whatever I do,” de la Huerta intones about her shift to the camera’s stern, “I want to evoke empathy in the audience. I’m very extreme, and I choose to focus on the darker side of life. It’s essential to me, because there are a lot of people out there that are suffering, and what I hope is to have somebody feel not alone through my work. I try to take away the black-and-white of life. There’s a lot of gray. So many people these days are closed off. I just want to open their hearts.”
She pauses to consider what that means in terms of her creative trajectory. “You know,” she says, finally, “I don’t even consider myself an actress. I consider myself a channel. I kind of live through every character I play.”
In Flaunt’s particular case, Paz de la Huerta is channeling something altogether uncaged and sexy. And it’s quickly quite clear: whether she’s channeling the feisty Lucy Danziger on the second season of the Martin Scorsese-directed Boardwalk Empire, or a violently revenging health practitioner, the performer will continue to aggressively reveal who she truly is—whether it’s to the humdrum media’s liking or not.