By Karen Butler
Lara Flynn Boyle is getting in touch with her inner vixen. After playing prosecutor Helen Gamble on the TV drama “The Practice” for six seasons, the 32-year-old Iowa native swapped her business suit for a leather bustier to play the villain Serleena in this summer’s big-screen intergalactic comedy, “Men in Black II,” which opens this week across the country.
“[Playing the villain] came very naturally to me,” the Irish-American actress told reporters in New York recently. Asked if bad girls get more attention than good ones in real life, she coyly replied: “I don’t know. It depends on what kind of girl you like.”
For Boyle, landing the role of sinister seductress in the sequel to the 1997 blockbuster was an enormous thrill, especially since she admits she is a huge fan of the original “Men in Black.”
“I saw the first movie thinking it was a guy’s movie,” she said. “I was shockingly surprised at how funny it was and how it wasn’t just for guys. And Tommy Lee Jones — no one can deliver a line like Tommy Lee Jones.
“Men in Black II” reunites Jones and Will Smith as government agents charged with protecting the earth from evil aliens. Boyle plays Serleena, a Kylothian creature who disguises herself as a lingerie model. Helping her carry out her diabolical plot is her two-headed, but half-witted, accomplice, Scrad, played by Johnny Knoxville, creator and star of the MTV reality series “Jackass.”
Having worked together on the first film, most of the cast and crew were already close friends by the time Boyle signed on to play Serleena in the second installment. The actress says she didn’t mind feeling like the new kid on the block, however, explaining how that actually helped her get into character.
“It was better for me, coming in at the last minute, because then I didn’t have time to set myself up to be nervous,” she insisted. “For me, it was better, in terms of the energy on the set and coming into that environment that was so established.
“I was fortunate because most of my work in the beginning was with Johnny Knoxville. He was new to it also. . . . It did bother me a little the first day I had to work
with Tommy Lee Jones [because] I had to lick his face and I didn’t know him. I was a little nervous about that.”
But seamlessly interacting with her flesh-and-blood co-stars was by no means the only challenge facing Boyle. Indeed, most of the characters and events she had to react to were computer-generated and not added until the film was nearly finished.
“There’s nothing there,” Boyle said. “I think it takes something of a childlike imagination . . . because you’ve got nothing going on other than a little piece of tape next to the camera box, that is supposed to be an alien talking back to you, and you just have to try to be very calm and relaxed and very centered and just imagine this stuff going on that was not there.
“And I spent days in my little spaceship. And you’d say, ‘OK, now you see a big alien coming with teeth,’ and I said, ‘I need to play this really subtle’ because it already makes me feel like such an idiot. . . . So, I just try to really spit it out and be very simple with it. I was very scared overdoing it. So, we just went for very simple.”
To prepare for the role, Boyle studied sketches of what the computer-generated images would eventually look like, but she says she ultimately decided to rely on her own imagination because the pictures weren’t helping.
“They showed me the colors they were using; they showed me a lot of the materials for when I wrap up all the ‘men in black’ agents — it didn’t help whatsoever,” she said. “It didn’t make any
sense to me. I would do all this stuff with my hands and I felt completely like a nerd. And [director Barry Sonnenfeld] said, ‘I promise you, it’s going to look great,’ but most of my job was maintaining some sort of confidence and blind faith that in the end product, it would be there.”
In the end, Boyle said, Sonnenfeld was right: it was there. She said she was relieved when she saw the final cut with family and friends a few weeks ago.
“It was the first time I was able to really take myself out of a production and just watch the movie,” she said, then, joking, added, “I had no idea that the dog was going to steal the movie. I resent the thing very much.”
Boyle needn’t fret. There are plenty of moviegoers who would much rather watch her
vamp it up in sexy lingerie than see an ugly dog crack wise. As for Boyle, the pretty brunette who credits Irish dancing lessons with helping her overcome her shyness, confesses that she relished playing an alien villain who masquerades as a Victoria’s Secret model.
“It was pretty delicious,” she said.
Even better than looking good in skimpy clothing was the fact that Boyle found herself laughing for the first time at one of her own movies.
“I’m usually very hard on myself when it comes to watching something, especially if it’s a comedy,” Boyle said. “I think, ‘Oh, I screwed that up.’ And this was the first time I actually did laugh.”
Although her appearance on the big screen was a blast to film, Boyle admits she felt a bit disoriented shooting her scenes as Sereena for “MIBII” at the same time she wrapped a season as Helen on “The Practice.”
“I would come into work on ‘The Practice’ in the morning and the cast might say, ‘How are you doing?’ and I say, ‘Oh, well, you know, I had to eat this person, then I had to do that, then I had this stuff coming out of my hands.’ Then, I would sit down and do like an eight-page closing argument [for ‘The Practice’], very raw and real and drama. I just thought to myself: ‘This is the greatest problem you can have in Hollywood. To be overworked
like this.’ To go from opposite ends of the spectrum. To go from pages of dialogue and the reality of the show into: ‘Well, here’s your wardrobe today and here’s three lines for you,’ you know, it’s great.”
Boyle acknowledges that she sees herself as both an actor and a movie star, but that, for now, the movie star tag suits her best.
“I am an actor, that’s just in me,” she said. “But I also like to have fun. Who the hell wouldn’t want to be a movie star? I don’t need to prove myself anymore. I enjoy my career and I think the title ‘movie star’ lends itself more to that.”
Even if the tabloids want to discuss who you’re dating (she has been linked to Jack Nicholson) and how much you weigh?
“You work all your life to finally get here, and then complain that you can’t go to the grocery store? I never liked going to the grocery store anyway,” she said. “The days that I get overwhelmed by it, I think to myself: ‘Well, you know, there might come a day when no one cares where I am or what I’m wearing or who I’m dating. And I don’t think I’d like that. I think I like things the way they are.”