The 1991 heist romp The Linguini Incident may not have won any Oscars, but at least it afforded actress Eszter Balint the chance to meet and work with the great David Bowie, a rock innovator who also brought his subversive yet sexily adorable presence to film projects through the years.
Balint came to attention in Jim Jarmusch's deadpan 1984 comedy Stranger Than Paradise and ended up in Linguini, playing the wisecracking best friend of waitress Rosanna Arquette, both characters enamored of bartender Bowie. Balint is also a singer/musician/songwriter and has a new CD out called Airless Midnight. (She’s playing the New York boite Pangea on March 17). I called her to remember Bowie and his “golden years."
Hello, Eszter. So I guess The Linguini Incident is not really a great film, is it?
I like the people who worked on it and it had some clever and wonderful scenes, so I don’t want to trash it, but overall, the premise was not strong enough. And I’m not happy with what I did in that movie.
Over on IMDB, they’re saying they enjoyed your performance.
That’s wonderful. Thank you, IMDB. But it’s definitely not the highlight of my acting career. I think they overdubbed all my lines for some reason.
Did you have a lot of scenes with David Bowie?
Yes. My character and Rosanne Arquette’s both have a little bit of a thing for Bowie’s character, but he ends up hooking up with Rosanna. It’s a little bit of a triangle thing. We have a funny rapport, all three of us, very comedic. It’s silly, but there’s a romantic element to it.
Did you hit it off with him right away?
I really did. I remember being supremely star struck because there’s not that many people that could floor me when I meet them, and he’s one of the few. He was very easy. I was so surprised. He was such a good hang and a super smart guy. I’m impressed by a good brain, and he was really smart and articulate, and a fun hang. I was surprised by how much I liked him in person.
I wonder why he did this film. Someone on IMDB said he seemed to phone in his performance.
Perhaps. I don’t think he was connecting that much to the material--perhaps that was the reason for that. There’s one scene where I thought he was really funny. This was during a time for him where maybe he wasn’t so on top [movie-wise]. But you’re right. Why would he do that? Maybe because it had a Dadaesque set and some fun ideas, and maybe he liked that. I wondered that, actually. In the early ‘90s, maybe he needed something. It could have turned into a hit romcom, indie style. It could have hit the mark, but it missed a little bit.
In concert as Marianne Faithfull, performer Tammy Faye Starlite said you and Bowie had a torrid affair on the set. Was she joking?
Yes! This was when he was just falling for Iman.
She pops up as an extra in the film.
He had a smitten vibe. But I do remember him being a big flirt.
Ooh. Who did he flirt with?
I don’t know. He flirted with everybody.
Was he just having fun with that?
Yes, just a flirtatious guy.
I would have loved for him to flirt with me.
He had Peter Frampton on the set a couple of times. They were really close friends.
Did you get a bisexual vibe from Bowie?
Not really. I got a little of that vibe, but during this time, he was really getting into Iman.
What did you two talk about on the set?
He told me about being an art collector and I think he was living in Switzerland at the time and had a baroque art collection. And we exchanged jokes. He told me these British jokes that he said were classics ones, but I’ve yet to meet a British person who’s ever heard them.
Were they raunchy?
Not so much. I’d told him a raunchy joke--more of a weird visual joke slash trick that I could never simulate on the phone. But the jokes he told me were not raunchy, they were incredibly dry and grim. Surprise, surprise. They’re British.
One, I remember, was like a setup. “Ed is just a head. He was born, unfortunately, with no arms, legs, or torso, just the head. It’s a sad day for Ed that he has to get a root canal.” That’s it.
I love it! So minimal.
There was another one where it’s Ed the Head’s birthday. He lives with his mom. She says, “I’m going to get you a present” and puts him on the window sill. She says, “Don’t be sad. You can look out the window and watch me. I’ll be back with a present for you.” Ed looks out and sighs to himself, “Mom, no more hats, please.”
Bowie definitely used his head. Did he ever break into singing on the set?
No. I remember him and Rosanna talking about music. We went to see him with Tin Machine when we were making that movie. It was great. He was going into a hard rock thing, I think.
You should have kept a diary.
I should have. It was all so surreal I could hardly believe it was happening to me. I also remember him being slight. His persona is so huge that the first time I met him, I was surprised by how not huge he was in real life. He was not especially tall. Of course we all knew he was thin, but in person, his slightness…it was not how you envisioned it.
How was that concert?
I felt a little chillier vibe from him when we went to see him than on the set. I’m very sensitive that way. I felt a slight difference. Like, “Oh right. He’s David Bowie, the rock star now. We’re not best buddies or anything.”
After the movie…?
I never saw him again. It would not have been my style to track him down, but every once in a while I had that thought—it would be so interesting to meet again. His death really hit me hard—I thought that would never happen. I realize I was very fond of him from that time we got to work together, and I feel very lucky.
NIGHT OF 1000 GOSSIP ITEMS
Way raunchier than The Linguini Incident, The Brothers Grimsby has a scene involving an elephant’s vagina—but gays might enjoy it anyway. After a special screening last week, Sacha Baron Cohen took the stage to answer audience questions, this time not hiding behind a character the way he often does in interviews. “Are you afraid Donald Trump will sue you over the plot device where the Presidential wannabe gets AIDS?” someone asked. “One can only hope,” cracked Cohen. “Some people say, ‘You don’t want to associate the disease of AIDS with Donald Trump because it’s very bad for the reputation of AIDS’.” To enhance his own rep, Cohen said he wants to do a musical movie called The Lesbian, about the real-life man whose daughter was going to marry a woman, which resulted in the man offering 65 million dollars to any male who’d wed her. Sounds like something Donald Trump would do. Cohen said he also wants to star in The African American, about a white man who’s kidnapped, brought to Africa, then comes back to America—“so he’s African American.” Bring on the Academy Awards.
Speaking of racially themed projects, I once asked author Tracy Letts if his play Superior Donuts (about a white doughnut store owner and a frisky young black guy) sounded like a very special Chico and The Man. He didn’t agree with that at all—the sitcom reference wasn’t appreciated—and the next time I saw him, he wouldn’t speak to me. Well, now he’s sold it for a sitcom. Whatever.
White Jewess Judy Gold was hilarious at Feinstein’s/54 Below the other night, cracking the crowd up with some wonderfully tasteless jokes about Hillary’s best friend Nancy Reagan. For one thing, Gold swore she knew exactly how Nancy died. The former First Lady got sick and was rushed to the hospital, where the doctor asked, “Do you want to be resuscitated?” “What did he say?” Nancy asked daughter Patti. “Just say no,” replied Patti, craftily.
Gold also remarked that Nancy went to heaven, where she immediately tracked down hubby Ronnie and told him she’d worked hard to use stem cell research to fight Alzheimer’s. The ex President responded by turning to Humphrey Bogart and saying, “Who the fuck is she?”
As for Judy Gold’s own medical problems, the comic said she had knee surgery three years ago, and since she’s so tall, she had to get a man’s knee. “So fuck Laverne Cox!” she yelped. “Fuck Caitlyn Jenner! Fuck Chaz Bono! I’m the original tra-knee.”
Drag and trans goddesses galore populated the Imperial Court of New York’s annual Night of 1000 Gowns gala at the Marriott Marquis, which started with Kelly King singing the National Anthem like no one else; the woman hits notes even Whitney couldn’t fathom—and she sings it live. Other entertainers that night included pop stars Robin S. and Ultra Nate in top voice, plus reliable divos like Ari Gold and Brian Charles Rooney, and a hilarious high kicking duet from Fire Island faves Logan Hardcore and Ariel Sinclair. At the event, I learned that the New York bar weekly Next magazine let editor John Russell go (He’s now with Queerty and NewNowNext) and then writer Brandon Voss was going to replace him, but decided not to. Next will still have New York staff, but they’ve closed their office here and will be Florida-based. But back to the changing of the guard at the Gowns event: new Emperor Tree and Empress Sugar B. Real looked positively edible! Here’s to a very hot reign.
DON’T PACK UP ALL YOUR CARES AND WOE
Joe Mantello has directed one of the season’s best new plays—The Humans—and now he’s delivered a top-notch revival with David Harrower’s Olivier Award-winning drama Blackbird. The searing, intermissionless play is set in a sterile looking office building, where a worker, Ray (Jeff Daniels), takes Una, the woman who’s come to confront him (Michelle Williams), into an empty communal room for their inevitable showdown. There, poetically enough, the trash can overflows and there’s refuse strewn all over the place. It turns out these two have been crawling through sewage ever since their sexually abusive, illegal three-month relationship (conducted when he was 40 and she was 12) ages ago. Immediately, Ray’s eyes become irritated (“Are you allergic to me?” Una asks), his vision obviously getting as cloudy as the room’s windows, through which you’ll occasionally see another worker’s shadow pass by in vagueness as the two engage in stunningly graphic personal talk. The deeply damaged Una is sarcastic and angry (“I was a girl…a virgin…an untouched body”), while he—who’s changed his name, in hopes of distancing himself from his past--is skittish, unnerved, and unwelcoming, yet somehow forthcoming about various harsh truths. Maybe. The turns the characters take from there are so head spinning, it’s best to not give them away, except to say that when a fuse blows and there’s darkness onstage, only the vending machine—full of brightly colored snacks that aren’t good for you—stays lit. Williams effectively comes off haunted and shattered, going to dark places in a sensational performance, especially in her climactic monologue, and Daniels is expectedly good as the offender who never expected this situation to come back in his face, let alone with this agenda. Throughout, I didn’t hear one cell phone ring—or even a cough—a testament to Blackbird’s power.
TRICK OR TOURETTES
Let’s end with something gleefully silly, just as a palate cleanser before we return to real life. It’s a moment in Disaster!, the Broadway musical that spoofs those 1970s everything-going-wrong flicks, the ones where an earthquake is followed by a tidal wave, then sharks, rats, and (worst of all) cheesy theme song reprises. In this show—which just opened to mixed reviews—the inspired Faith Prince plays a floating casino patron whose terminal disease results in horrible symptoms, like Tourette-style outbursts in public. When she runs into a deadpan nun with a gambling problem, played by the priceless Jennifer Simard, Faith has her scarf in her mouth as a sop to all the rantings she spews. This makes her screed to the nun hilariously undecipherable, though the word “bitch” seems rather prominent as she rails on and on. “Don’t lecture me,” replies the nun, without expression.
Faith’s character also happens to be a championship tap dancer, so…no, to reveal that would be a true disaster.