Elisabeth Shue for “Hollow Man”

Following her Oscar nomination in Leaving Las Vegas, Elisabeth Shue found it tough to follow that experience with a film that challenges her. Now back as an action heroine in then new invisible man thriller Hollow Man, Shue has since completed her university degree after 20 years, and finds to time raise a new baby. Not to mention act of course in movies that are fun – for most of the time. And what would Ms Shue do if SHE were invisible? Paul Fischer tried to uncover this and other probing questions when he spoke to her in Los Angeles.

Elisabeth Shue walks into the room with a breezy youthfulness that masks her 37 years. Still beautiful and glowing, Shue has a cheeky irreverence and unpretentiousness that is rare in Hollywood stars. In her latest movie, the invisible man thriller Hollow Man, Shue is a scientist trying to stop demented ex-boyfriend-turned-invisible man Kevin Bacon from wreaking havoc and mayhem in his newfound state. Shue laughs when asked what SHE would do if she were invisible. “I’ve thought of everything from sitting on the grass seeing the Superbowl, to just watching anything and everything.” By that she MEANS anything and everything. “I don’t think it’s only men who are capable of being peeping Toms.” Yes, even this happily married woman laughingly concedes that if she were invisible, she would go “right down beneath the field into those locker rooms. I would check out all the men ON the field, then go down and check them OFF the field.”

Hollow Man is, of course, a cry from her critically lauded Oscar nomination as the tragic hooker who falls for drunk Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. “It’s certainly been very difficult to find roles that challenge me after that experience and I’ve just had to learn to give up on the fact that those roles are frequent, and I see them as rare as they are.” Shue does admit, however, that she was painfully aware that Leaving Las Vegas may well be a one-off, “a magical experience”, as she puts it. “I KNEW that was a character that I wouldn’t be able to find in the next few years even.” It has been six years since that film changed audiences’ perceptions of Elisabeth, she recalls. “I’m still finding roles that interest and challenge me, but NOTHING comes close to that character’s depth of range and experience.” Prior to Leaving Las Vegas, Shue appeared in films that were moderate in tone and somewhat light and bland, roles in the likes of Cocktail and Soapdish, to name but two. It took Shue almost two decades to be recognised as a serious actress with the Figgis film. “I just think certain things come into your life at the time when they’re meant to do so and possibly you’re not ready for those challenges until they come.” Or sometimes, Shue adds, “you NEED to find a role like that before you actually find it, and I NEEDED to find that role. Maybe the timing was just right.”

Maybe that timing has struck twice with the $100m budgeted Hollow Man, a big movie with Dutch director Paul Verhoeven at the helm. Shue agreed to do the film following her meeting with the director and having seen much of his work, including his often-reviled Showgirls. “I like to keep an open mind”, she says laughingly when asked if she had seen the cult favourite. “I also read the Hollow Man script, which was very different, so I could see how this film would come out in his hands.” Working with the controversial director was challenging at best. After all, Verhoeven is a director who thrives on pushing the envelope “and I respect that; he likes to be controversial. I respect him for his obsession and his passionate vision. He is only intense because he cares. He’s respectful of the people he works with; he LOVES to make movies.”

While it can be argued that making action movies can be fun, for this new action heroine, shooting Hollow Man was far from that. Six weeks into the shoot, Shue was involved in a serious riding accident, which had the potential to shut down the film, and at the very least, force the producers to recast. In the midst of being in agony, it was a low point during a generally tough shoot. “Recasting was financially their best option at the time”, Shue recalls. “So I was respectful AND appreciative that they decided to stick with me.” At the time it happened, she was not so much worried about being out of the film “but just so devastated and so in pain, that I would have understood anything that would have happened, because it was a HUGE film, and all these people’s lives were on hold, the movie’s future was in doubt and whatever was best for the movie, I would have understood.”

While the filmmakers were slowly postponing production, Shue was in constant rehab “learning to walk again. You’d be surprised at how quickly your leg deteriorates when you’re not on it; my calf muscle disappeared and it took forever to build that up again and slowly put weight on it.” After about three months, Shue returned to work on the physically demanding Hollow Man, which was far from easy. “They helped with the schedule so that most of my running scenes were held towards the end of the movie, so it all worked out great.”

What is unique about this Hollywood thriller is that the lead female gets to play hero and save the guy from the evil madman, instead of the other way around. For Shue, this role reversal was fun to do. “I grew up with five brothers, so I spent a lot of time in my life trying to show off my physical prowess. Finally I got to do it on film. I just wanted to do more, to prove to my brothers once and for all, that I could kick their butt if forced to,” she adds with a sly grin.

Beyond this world of movies, there are other sides of Elisabeth, such as the perpetual university student. Now a bona fide Harvard graduate (in Government), Shue spent close to 20 years going back and forth finishing her studies. “I’m now very happy to have my degree, because you never know what will happen in your life and so it’s always good to have that.” Apart from having the degree, Shue also enjoyed her recent “five months being in the world of learning,” she explains. “I was completely isolated from the rest of the world. That experience, outweighed the sense of closure I had at the end.” Although ‘isolated’ Shue still managed to have her family with her for much of the time: Husband, (a documentary film director) and especially young son, “who was my extra curricular activity.”

Shue began her studies in government, in the initial hope of following her father’s footsteps in the law. “I wanted to be a public defender,” she recalls. But that ambition was stymied when the acting bug hit. “My career is something that had always evolved; it was never a decision to BECOME an actor when I was young. I was doing commercials, so I thought, as a way of paying for college, and in college, I was very interested in my work. Therefore I was constantly torn between these two worlds. Finally I got a job which stimulated me intellectually [The TV series Cult of Glory] and made me feel that a career in acting could be worthwhile on every level.” It still is, Shue says.

Looking now at this smart, beautiful and confident young woman, it remains hard to believe that this is the same person remembered for her participation in the likes of Adventures in Babysitting and of course Cocktail. She has no time to grimace when reminded of where she came from. “I look back with a longing at times for the innocence that I know I experienced at those times. But all the people that I worked with when I was younger were very influential to me and you just have to go through your life as you go through it. So every experience that you have you could never take away or wish had been different, because it makes you who you are now, and you’re stuck with that.”

Hollow Man opened in the US on August 4, and Australia, August 24.