Piper Perabo is a luminous presence, wearing an elegant turquoise dress and made up for the morning’s TV interviews. The beautiful 25-year old made quite an impact in the movie scene back in the summer of 2000, but despite her whirlwind foray into mainstream Hollywood, the intuitive actress turned her back on the studio system, and concentrated instead on the more actor-centred Indie world, such as the provocative Lost and Delirious, and now, in a complete change of pace, Slap Her, She’s French, in which she gives a comically masterful performance as a sly French exchange student who has far more on her mind than meets the eye.
For Piper, she found the challenge of playing the film’s nasty antagonist, clearly irresistible. “Also, the goals for this character are very different from the goals you have in your own life,” such as ruining someone’s life or to deceive all their friends. “It’s something you don’t come up against, whenas when you’re playing the good guy, the goals are very recognisable, goals that you might have had in goals of yourself. It was so much fun to play, that I’ve now had a taste for it and want to play more villains now,” she says laughingly. In Slap Her, She’s French, Perabo plays one Genevieve LePlouff, a French foreign-exchange student, who comes to a small Texas high school, befriends a classmate (Jane McGregor), and practically takes over her life.
While most actors try and ‘dig deep’ when playing a character, there are few similarities between this character and Perabo, so in tackling the role, the actress says that she tried hard “what a teenage American perspective of a French girl would be.” To assist her, she started “to look at many movies that have ‘the French girl’ in it, to see what American teenagers think of that kind of stereotypical character. Perabo also speaks French, “and that was a great help.” Like Serving Sara, Slap Her pokes fun of Texas, which has enjoyed a resurgence of self-mocking popularity.
“I think it’s because they’re just so proud of their culture. As a state, theirs is a very specific culture which I think makes Texas pretty unique in this country, and they brag about it a lot; they’re proud and loud about it. That I think means that it means you’re opening yourself up for a little parody.” Perabo also enjoyed revisiting her adolescence through this film, “because I was really shy in high school and sort of a nerd. So to be the girl, who’s the sorta shy, quiet one but then turns into the manipulative, popular girl, was kind of wonderful.”
A native of Toms River, New Jersey, where she was born in 1977, Perabo first became involved with acting through drama lessons at Manhattan’s LaMama Theatre. Asked whether she used acting as a way to combat her childhood shyness, Perabo says “it wasn’t a conscious effort on my part, but looking back, I’m sure that was part of it. But at school, I wasn’t athletic, and if you’re not athlete in high school, it’s kind of hard to find your place, so play practice seemed perfect, especially if you were as uncoordinated as I was.”
After graduating from Ohio University with a BFA in acting in 1998, she worked on the stage and soon landed her role in Whiteboyz. Perabo never considered doing anything else but act, “because I always really liked it and the more I did it the more I liked it. It was that simple.”
On the heels of that film, Perabo was cast as FBI agent Karen Sympathy opposite Robert De Niro, Rene Russo, and Jason Alexander in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and also bagged the lead in Jerry Bruckheimer’s Coyote Ugly. The critics were unimpressed with either movie, but for the then newcomer, Perabo remained philosophical on these two critical disappointments, especially with Coyote Ugly. Here was a film critics hated, but audiences lapped it up.
“At the time, some actress told me ‘don’t be too hard on yourself’ and whatever people are saying, ignore it and be easy on yourself, because it’s just the beginning and you can’t afford to be pressured by people’s reactions.’ I’m glad they said it because when there was a backlash, I was able to take two steps back from it.” Whatever the response to either film, they were still big enough to have “opened up a lot of interviews” for the actress. “After all, so many people saw them, however they felt about them, thus they gave me the opportunity to work on a lot more things.”
Things such as the epic fantasy adventure George and the Dragon “where I get to be a damsel in distress for a change.” And the Indie drama A Piece of My Heart, starring New Zealand’s Martin Henderson, whom she describes as “a major hunkaholic.” It is clear that this very funny and beautiful actress is having the time of her life.