This article originally appeared in the December 1990 issue of playboy magazine.
Gray-sky-eyed, porcelain-skinned, svelte Sherilyn Fenn is a true beauty. She has the mark of beauty right there on her face, like a point of exclamation under her boomerang brow. Her voice has a kind of Zen drawl to it. You know right off she’s from the southern part of wherever it is she comes from. Petite, sweet, stunning Sherilyn (rhymes with Marilyn) Fenn is, among other things, Audrey Horne, the coy, kookie, existential teen coquette of David Lynch’s wacky meta-soap opera Twin Peaks. Together, they form the best reason to stay home on Saturday night.
Daddle-shod, bobby-soxed, white bloused, cardigan-sweatered, pleated skirted, with a face that could launch a thousand limos, Audrey Horne is the definitive high school femme fatale. She’s a sort of combination of Dobie Gillis’ Thalia Menninger and Ava Gardner in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, maybe a little Moriticia Addams, too.
Deluxe, deliberate, delovely Audrey Horne moves like cool jazz. When she appears on the screen, there’s that Audrey theme again, lounge bop with a swivel in its hips. She’s a daddy’s girl, but only when she wants something, and anyway, all her daddy really has is power. So sinuous, sweet and sour, Audrey Horne is an interesting role model for today’s upwardly mobile power teens. She wafts through Twin Peaks saying things like, “In real life, there is no algebra.”
Power could have something to do with her character’s motivating desire for FBI special agent Cooper, who has recently arrived in Twin Peaks to investigate the interstate demise of her high school classmate Laura Palmer. To please the handsome agent, she has forsaken her life of sassy leisure for the dangerous and complex task of aiding him in his investigations.
When we left Audrey Horne cliff-hanging last season, she had infiltrated a lavish bordello to acquire evidence. When her interview for a tart position turned sour, Audrey popped a maraschino-cherry stem into her mouth; and after looking, perhaps, like a cat discreetly swallowing a canary, she placed the stem tied in a knot on a napkin. Blackie, the madam, had to hire her on the spot. And as the last episode of the season reached its very brink, as fate would have it, Audrey was about to accidentally receive Daddy as her first John. The “Will they or won’t they?” is the postmodern “Who shot J.R.?”
There is plenty of Audrey in Sherilyn Fenn. She identifies with her character extensively. In fact, being Audrey has brought out the best in Sherilyn. Audrey uses her charms to manipulate men, to get what she wants. And she has taught Sherilyn that it’s a power that women have and that they don’t have to be ashamed of it.
Mysterious, evocative, evanescent Sherilyn Fenn wears Chanel No. 5. Archetypal, hip and universal Sherilyn Fenn thinks Audrey wears Chanel No. 5, too.
Demure, reserved, tantalizing Sherilyn Fenn says she is a shy person. Too shy to try for cheerleader in high school. Funny, considering the fact that her mom, Arlene Quatro, was keyboard player in the Suzi Quatro band back in the days of glitter rock. Sherilyn wasn’t exactly born in a trunk. Maybe a Marshall amp case.
Her mother’s sisters, one of whom was Suzi Quatro, had an all-girl band. At one point, they lost their keyboard player and Sherilyn’s mom joined up. Sherilyn’s father managed the band. Mom served a two-year hitch until Suzi moved to England.
Sherilyn never considered following in her mother’s platformed footsteps: “My mother was a product of the time she grew up in. You were supposed to get married, have children and that was it. She married right out of high school. She was a virgin and so was my father. They had three kids by the time they were twenty-three and twenty-five. They had no idea who they were; consequently, they spent the rest of their lives trying to find themselves.”
Along that road, Mom and company moved to Beverly Hills when Sherilyn was 17. She said she wanted to be an actress, so instead of attending Beverly Hills High School, she enrolled at Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio, then promptly dropped out. She has since worked with other respected coaches, but back then, she says, “I didn’t have any discipline. I didn’t want to have to hold a coffee cup that wasn’t there for half an hour. I wanted to go out to clubs. I wanted to be seventeen in Beverly Hills.
“I met an agent and he was a jerk. Then I met another agent, Cynthia Campos-Greenberg, who is still my agent, and she really inspired me. She taught me things. She lit a fire in me that I didn’t know existed. I started to want to act for reasons other than wanting to be a movie star. I realized that being emotional is great; it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. I realized that you could grow from acting.”
Lucid, sculptural, unpresumptuous Sherilyn Fenn made her movie debut at 17. In Yugoslavia. Playing a shy rich girl, a sort of Yugoslavian coed Lord of the Flies. “I remember blowing my first scene. I said, ‘Cut!’ I didn’t know the director was supposed to say that.”
The film was not a hit. Nor were the 13 or so other films she was in over the next seven years. Some weren’t released. Some went straight to video. But she got a lot of on-the-set experience in teen-exploitation movies playing “the pretty one who likes the guy” or “the cute and spunky one,” but her repertoire grew up fast with Two Moon Junction, a sort of combination Gone with the Wind and Emmanuelle directed by Zalman King, the screenwriter and producer of 9½ Weeks.
Sherilyn got the starring role shortly after dyeing her beautiful long brown hair platinum blonde. “I was searching for things and I wasn’t looking within myself; I was looking on the outside, as we maybe do at twenty years old. Two days later, somebody called ma dumb blonde when I made a turn without signaling. It really stunned me. Then it sank in. Oh, yeah, I’m a blonde.”
That’s not why she went back to brown. But maybe she wanted to get away from that Two Moon Junction look, since reviews tended to concentrate on the sexual aspects of her performance.
“The nudity in Two Moon Junction was really scary, but that’s one of the reasons I did it. I didn’t want to make choices that would always put me in a place that was comfortable and secure. I had never done nudity. I’m not the kind of person who runs down the beach in a G string, so I thought, God, how would I respond in these situations? I thought interesting would happen and I would grow. Interesting things did happen. I cried at the end of all my love scenes.”
When David Lynch and his collaborating writer-producer Mark Frost called, Sherilyn went to see them, even though she didn’t have much interest in TV and wasn’t crazy about the script for the Twin Peaks TV-movie pilot. She had seen Blue Velvet and was intrigued. Lynch doesn’t have actors read, he just meets with them; and during the course of Sherilyn’s meeting with him, she let it out that she didn’t like the script very much. “Everybody’s sleeping with everybody. Why don’t they solve the murder? Why drag this murder out over seven episodes? I don’t think they liked me very much at first, but somehow, I was in the running. I did a reading for the network and before I knew it, we were doing the show.”
But once candid, able and collected Sherilyn Fenn saw the premiere episode, she realized that she was part of something important, that she was doing the first work that she really liked in her whole life. And it wasn’t hard. Sherilyn says, “Sometimes after an episode, David will call and say, ‘Sixty million.’”
Alert, unblinking, pacific Sherilyn, for her part, now loves Twin Peaks and its pretty citizen Audrey Horne. “She’s been great for me. She has brought out a side of me that’s more mischievous and fun that I had suppressed, trying to be an adult. She had made it OK to use the power one has as a woman to be manipulative at times, to be precocious. She goes after what she wants vehemently and she takes it. I think that’s really admirable. I love that about her.”
Do you think she’ll end up with agent Cooper?
“Hell, yeah. She’d better. I’m counting on it.”
Maybe she will, if she gets her diploma. Does she find her director a strange bird, a “Jimmy Stewart from Mars,” as Mel Brooks has described him? Not at all. He’s a hard-working, caring director. A pal.
“David asked me if I had seen Eraserhead. I told him I hadn’t. He said, ‘Sherilyn Fenn, do you want children?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Then you have to see Eraserhead. You have to watch it at eleven o’clock at night in a darkened room on a TYV set with good volume.’ But if he intended to discourage me from wanting to have children, it didn’t work.”
Tranquil, fluid, wavy Sherilyn is an Aquarius. She has psychic abilities; she can tell when people are lying. She doesn’t like parties, she doesn’t like clubs, she likes restaurants, especially ones with great Italian food and good chianti. She is part Italian (Quatro is short for Quatrocchio), part Irish (Fenn), part Hungarian (rebel) and part French (Chanel). She hasn’t had a tan in years and, on reflection, never really liked having one. She likes cold, rainy weather.
One of young, crystalline, modulated Sherilyn’s ambitions is to be cast in the title role in The Clara Bow Story a project that’s ongoing in Hollywood. She was turned on to the silent-screen star by her friend Prince.
The Clara Bow Story as told by Sherilyn Fenn: “She grew up in New Jersey. She wanted to be a movie star when she was sixteen and she had ideas about living a wild, exciting, crazy life and meeting all these people and having people putting on her make-up and touching her up all the time. So she moved to Hollywood and did it, but by the time she was twenty-six, she had completely outgrown Hollywood. She retired, she got married and lived out on a ranch. People said she had quit because she couldn’t make it in talkies, so she went back to Hollywood for a year and made it successfully in talkies. Then she went back to the ranch. She had outgrown the lifestyle.
“I can relate to that. I’m twenty-five now. I don’t think I’ll want to retire in a year, but there are a lot of things I want to do in my life besides act. I want to see the world. I want a family. I want children. I’d like to write. This is insatiable town.”
Concise, reasonable, earnest, blooming Sherilyn Fenn does not appear insatiable. Her appetites seem quite reasonable, her desires on the moderate side. Some good challenging roles. A good man. Some kids. Maybe an early retirement. A ranch. Maybe a brief comeback. Nothing outlandish. Just the stuff of which normal legends are made.
Make-up by Paul Starr for Profile
Hair by Daniel Howell for Celestine, L.A.
Styling by Denise Steiner for L.A. Rep