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Monday, March 22, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Open Secret -- In A Rare Interview, Jaye Davidson Leaves Nothing To The Imagination When Discussing The Oscar-Nominated Film, `The Crying Game'

Read no further. Or at the very least, be warned that this article will reveal a now-legendary plot twist from Neil Jordan's mind-bending thriller "The Crying Game."

Knowing the Big Secret will not ruin the movie for you. In fact, it will make you feel worldly and superior when it comes time for the Big Scene and everyone else in the theater gasps. In any case, you've been warned.

Jaye Davidson plays a transvestite named Dil, who spends his/her days cutting hair and his/her nights in a bar called the Metro. Stephen Rea plays a freedom fighter named Fergus, who abandons his country, his cause and his Irish Republican Army sweetheart, played by Miranda Richardson. Fergus and Dil meet up in London. Fergus doesn't know that his exotic little flower is a man - and neither does the audience - until the truth is staring him in the face.

When "The Crying Game" was released, the film's distributor, Miramax, asked movie reviewers to keep Jaye Davidson's gender a secret, and they did. And did. And did. The movie, which was made for less than $5 million, became the proverbial hot ticket. Jordan, Rea and Richardson all walked off with awards. Davidson, however, was largely passed over because some critics nominated him as an actor, other nominated him as an actress, and still others didn't know what to think.

Then Oscar weighed in. "The Crying Game" has snagged six nominations, including one for Davidson as best supporting actor. The verdict will be known next Monday night, when the Academy Awards ceremony is broadcast live from Los Angeles.

Jaye Davidson came from out of nowhere and would not mind going back. Neil Jordan cast the 25-year-old Londoner after auditioning a slew of unknowns, many of whom were transvestites and did campy, but not terribly feminine, variations on the Bette Midler-Zsa Zsa Gabor theme.

"I knew Jaye could sail through it if he was just to be beautiful and aloof," Jordan says, "but I worried about whether he could allow himself to move you as an audience. Then we did the scene where he gets his hair cut for the first time, and he suddenly began to act with this pain in his voice. It was extraordinary. Acting is a mysterious thing - you don't know where it comes from."

But you do know when it works. Stephen Rea says: "If Jaye hadn't been a completely convincing woman, my character would have looked stupid."

Last December, Jaye Davidson came to America to shoot a Gap ad with Annie Leibovitz. While he was here, he granted two interviews, one as a woman (to The New York Times) and one as a man. The former interview did not make a single reference to Davidson's gender, but was accompanied by a photograph of the actor in a necklace and hoop earrings, his black hair swept up in a bun.

This is the latter interview. Davidson wore a bulky gray sweater, black jeans and Harley boots. He struck one as preternaturally poised, utterly sure of who and what he was.

Q: The idea of being in a movie must have been terrifying.

A: It was. It was repellent. In fact, I nearly backed out of it twice. When I first went out for the part, I didn't think million years I would get it. I just thought: "Yeah, I'll go have a look at this, why not? It's no skin off my nose."

And when I got it, I just laughed my head off. I got a phone call from the casting director, and I didn't know what to say. I just said, "Oh, thank you very much." And then I put the phone down and just had hysterical, nervous laughter.

Q: How were you discovered?

A: Do you know who Derek Jarman is? I was at the wrap party for "Edward II," and I was very drunk. Someone said, "Oh, are you an actor?" I said no. They said, "Would you like to go out for a film?" And I said no and staggered off drunk. I was so drunk that I didn't remember it happening. But the person I was with gave them my number, and then I got a phone call.

Q: Had you done any acting?

A: I'd been Spear Carrier on the Right - yeah. We've all done school plays when we're very young.

Q: What was your first impression of the script?

A: I thought: "This isn't going to work. We're not going to get away with this film." I thought everyone would hate the subject - the IRA, the racism, the relationships. I thought people would be very turned off by it.

Q: In the film you have a relationship with Stephen Rea. Were you comfortable with him?

A: I would imagine that Stephen would have been more uncomfortable with me than I would have been with him.

See, I'm from another world. Stephen is an actor - a Belfast actor, married with children. And he ends up working with someone like me. I felt sorry for Stephen. I just thought, "This poor man has to kiss me."

Q: For "The Crying Game" to work, the audience has to believe that you're a woman. What made the casting director think you could pass for one?

A: I haven't got a clue.

Q: Do you enjoy wearing dresses?

A: Do I enjoy wearing dresses? I never, ever did drag. Never.

Q: How did you know you could pass for a woman?

A: I've been mistaken for a woman in the street, so I thought, "Yes, I could get away with this."

Q: Are you surprised that audiences believe Dil is a woman?

A: Yeah. Constantly. I don't have a brilliant body at all. I've got very broad shoulders. I've got very big feet. I've also got a very muscular neck. But again, I know people take me for a woman. It happens all the time.

Q: Having seen your performance as Dil, I find it hard to believe that you've never done drag.

A: Before I did the film, I did have one night out in drag. I wore a white, silk-crepe, baby-doll dress. I had my hair up, and I had lilies in my hair. It was a fierce look and all, but it was too much hard work.

Q: Where were you born?

A: I was born in California. I'm an American citizen, but I grew up in England.

Q: What do your folks do?

A: My mother's a businesswoman. My father's dead.

Q: Were both your parents black?

A: No, my mother's white.

Q: Where did you go after high school?

A: I started working for Walt Disney in their office in London. You know how you have people who are inside the costumes? I was like that.

Q: What costume were you inside of?

A: Pluto. It was hysterical.

Q: What did you want out of life then?

A: I wanted to work in the arts. My dream come true would be to be an architectural historian and work with the royal palaces and all the fabulous art collections. But I'm not committed enough. I'm too trashy. I like to go out and get drunk.

Q: What were you doing before you got the "Crying Game" role?

A: I was a fashion assistant. I bought the fabric. I made sure that everything was smooth in the workroom. And I scrambled all over London on the tube looking for buttons. It was great.

Q: So why do a movie? Don't you have to want to be a movie star to do a movie?

A: No, you have to want the money. I earned almost half my yearly salary in seven weeks.

Q: Are you any better off financially than when you started the movie?

A: No, I'm in hideous amounts of debt. I'm overextended everywhere: banks, credit cards, everything. I have to have the best of everything, and yet I am incredibly poor.

Q: You said that acting isn't your passion. But you don't want to spend an entire lifetime as a fashion assistant, do you?

A: Yes. I can see myself doing that job for a lifetime. I enjoy doing it.

I'm creative in my own life. I'm creative when I step out the door. I'm creative when I pick up a glass. Do you know what I mean? I'm one of those dreadful people who probably should have been born at the end of the 19th century and been in cafe society. That would have suited me fine.

Q: Your agent's phone must be ringing now.

A: Well, I don't have an agent, because I don't want anyone to offer me another part. I don't want to be tempted (into bad films) just for the money. And of course I'm tempted by money.

Q: Would you like "The Crying Game" even if you weren't in it?

A: Yeah, I would, actually. I would like the subject matter, which hasn't been explored.

The movie is about how you just never know. You never know what you will be attracted to - or who you will love - till it happens to you. I've only been in love once in my whole life, and I never thought I'd fall in love at all.

Q: Why not?

A: I thought I was a bit hard-boiled. I couldn't really see it happening to me. I thought, "Who would be stupid enough to get involved with tricky Jaye?"

I'm not really a shy person, but no one wants to be rejected, do they? Also, my looks are not attractive to the gay community. To be homosexual is to like the ideal of the sex. Homosexual men love very masculine men. And I'm not a very masculine person. I'm reasonably thin. I have long hair, which isn't very popular with gay men. My behavior is often appalling. And I have a terrible reputation in London for being one of the unapproachables.

Q: In the movie, Stephen Rea has no idea that your character is a man until he's confronted with irrefutable evidence. Is it possible to have a relationship with someone and not know?

A: Apparently so. Two of the people who were up for the part were in those relationships. I would never let anything go that far. Not in a million years. When I met my last lover, I said, "You know I'm a man, don't you?" And he said, "Yeah, I do." And I said, "Well, all right then."

Q: In the last few years, there's been some controversy about the way gays are portrayed in movies. Was that a concern of yours?

A: All this hoo-ha about bad role models and positive images! Of course gay people are murderers, bigamists, drug addicts and nasty people - just as much as heterosexual people are all of these things.

What it all boils down to is, we are all people, and we all have the same human desires.

Q: Won't it be hard to go back to being a fashion assistant?

A: No, all that was normal. This is bizarre. This is another world. I shall look back on all this. And everything will go into the box that I keep under my bed and I shall treasure them forever.

Q: What's most important in your life?

A: My life.

Q: That's not an answer.

A: It is the ultimate answer. The most important thing in my life is to live my life and to enjoy it - to do what I think is right and what I think is good.

Q: What else is important?

A: Self. Self-worth. Self-evaluation. Self-respect.

Q: What about leaving something behind?

A: Well, I've left this film behind, haven't I? I don't want to make an impression on the world. I don't want to make an impression on society. That's not important to me at all. The people I know and love can say, "Oh, do you remember Jaye, blah-blah-blah?" And someone else can say, "Oh, yeah, great, blah-blah-blah."

And that's more than enough for me.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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