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September 13, 2011

Anna Faris: Blonde, Ambitious & In on the Joke

She has made a lucrative career playing ditzy bombshells for laughs. This month, she stars in the raunchy What's Your Number? Is she crazy for thinking these roles might actually be opening doors for women in Hollywood?

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Photo Credit: Nicole Nodland

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Anna Faris isn't naturally funny. That's not just my observation after sitting opposite her for two hours while nursing sweaty pints of Guinness in a bar roughly the size of my first Manhattan apartment. Sure, it's a sweltering summer day, the AC's busted, and Anna (pronounced, Thurston Howell — style, as Ahhhnna) has just come off a six-hour photo shoot. She's visibly tired and, as much as she's trying to muster the mojo to answer even softball questions ("Do you Netflix?"), delivers bleached-out answers ("I read a lot") that make for dental-office fare. Her mood picks up after she drains the first beer, but 90 minutes in, I'm still waiting to get zapped with a tight little wisecrack that will confirm why Faris has joined the lean ranks of Hollywood's leading comic actresses, nipping at the pricey heels of Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Kate Hudson.

"I'm not great with stingers at all," Faris, 34, finally concedes. She mentions a particularly painful Tonight Show segment. "I'm not a stand-up, so that kind of banter is really hard for me. I think that for me, my process" — she stops abruptly, and rolls her eyes. Words like process, technique, and artist betray a pretentiousness that undermines Faris' reputation in the business as a good-time gal, the consummate blonde who's game for anything, no matter how tasteless, like incessant pussy jokes (Scary Movie), gratuitous T & A shots (The House Bunny), and even a drug-fueled date-rape scene (Observe and Report). Actresses like this do not refer to their work as a craft.

Story continued below.

But have a beer with Faris (or any drink, really — she is an unabashed tippler), talk to her, and it doesn't take long before the practiced ditz routine dissolves and you're left with a sober, startlingly candid bleach-blonde pixie both starkly aware of and unapologetic about the compromises she's made for stardom. "I was willing to do anything," she says of what won her (after several other actresses declined) the role of Cindy Campbell, the resident bimbo of the popular Scary Movie horror spoof series, which has grossed $429 million to date — more than the Back to the Future, Friday the 13th, and Ocean's 11 franchises each earned domestically. "I was just so malleable. I was like, I gotta be brave and tough, even if it means getting sprayed to the ceiling by my high school boyfriend," she says.

Here's what she artfully omits from that statement: The spray in question is semen, and she's hosed off her feet with it. Faris' lowbrow film credits won't win her an invitation to Inside the Actors Studio anytime soon, but they've nonetheless won her something far more valuable: bankability. In Hollywood, this means everything. Thanks to the overall success of her films — they are cheap to produce and generally turn a profit even if they don't come close to topping the box office — she's considered that rare breed of actress who can actually open a film without the help of a well-known male costar. Case in point: The House Bunny, in which Faris played an exiled Playboy Bunny turned sorority den mother, which cost $25 million to make and generated $70 million at the box office in 2008, besting smart-girl Tina Fey's highly anticipated Baby Mama.

Faris has never had to endure the clichéd dues-paying typical of Hollywood hopefuls. She's never waited tables, has never done summer stock. Raised outside Seattle, she was still living with her parents when Keenen Ivory Wayans cast her in Scary Movie when she was 22 (impressed, he has said, with her sexual naïveté). In short order, she became a go-to girl for casting agents in search of winsome dingbats who are likable, fuckable, and generally unthreatening. Occasionally, she stretches beyond type, as in Lost in Translation and Brokeback Mountain, both of which had her playing parodies of herself: charmingly clueless patsies, the butt of the director's jokes. Faris owned these roles, too, small though they were. "You have to be willing to accept the idea that people may think you're stupid," she says, pulling the brim of her Yankees baseball cap down low.

In 2004, she wed actor Ben Indra. But while her career took off, his stalled. "That kind of destroyed my marriage," she confesses. "The divide became too great." She filed for divorce in 2007. (As part of their divorce settlement, she paid $900,000 to Indra.) Enjoying her first solo apartment in L.A. and the riches of burgeoning celebrity, she splurged on a boob job and partied hard. "I was like, 'Fuck it, I've got nothing to lose, nobody to support.' I wore the same Garfield shirt and jeans for three weeks. I had a running joke with my friend: 'I hope somebody roofies me tonight!' I didn't care what people thought."


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