Cyndi Lauper’s career has been as unpredictable as her hair color, but her new movie, The Opportunists, might be her most surprising twist yet: silly singer goes serious thespian.
Girls just want to have fun, but for now a cup of coffee will do. Just hours off the red-eye back to New York from a weekend of shows in California, Cyndi Lauper is slumping in the makeup chair of a photo studio located between a housing project and the Fashion Institute of Technology, where the next generation of Dolces and Gabannas are honing their craft. Lauper says the California gigs-including an appearance at San Diego’s gay pride festival-were a blast, but it seems all they’ve left her with are exhaustion and rainbow-colored nails, which, she says, sadly, will have to be changed for the shoot. Pride’s become an annual tradition for married mama Lauper, and she speaks of it in terms of a deep obligation.
“You have to stand up for your friends and family and be proud of them,” she says simply.
Set in Lauper’s old Queens stomping grounds, The Opportunists (First Look Pictures) also stars Christopher Walken, but both he and Lauper have been cast against type-so don’t buy a ticket expecting him to play another psycho while she busts out the Betty Boop shtick for comic relief.
“It’s very simple, very to the point,” she says of the film. “No violence, no cursing, and it holds your attention with no sex.” It doesn’t have a lot of laughs either. From her riotous early videos through her Emmy-winning guest spot on TV’s Mad About You, Lauper has always been a crack-up, but as Walken’s long-suffering barkeep gal pal Sally, she holds her own in a dramatic setting and looks great doing it.
Like all the roles she chooses, the resilient Sally is reminiscent of “people I knew, who I grew up with, who were the foundation of what I thought the world was like. It’s shocking once you leave Queens!” More movie roles are a possibility if the right part comes along, though nothing’s set for now. Plans for a sitcom are on the back burner, too, while she plots her next musical direction.
Currently, Lauper’s writing new material with none other than Junior Vasquez. Their collaboration dates back to 1992’s Hat Full of Stars album, on which they shared writing and producing chores; most recently, they teamed up on a Grammy-nominated remake of Disco Inferno for the A Night at the Roxbury soundtrack.
Though Hat Full of Stars ran a gamut of moods and pop styles, Inferno was the kind of dance floor call-to-feet Vasquez is best known for.
“Junior feels like we should do a whole album of dance,” says Lauper, “but I can’t. I don’t wanna be homogenized.”
Though it’s been awhile since she’s been a presence on the radio, Lauper’s records have sold consistently, and with the recent rise of gutsy, flame-haired singers like Pink and Gwen Stefani-not to mention the return of the World Wrestling Federation-her tutti-frutti worldview has come full circle. It’s not that big a step from Girls Just Want to Have Fun in vintage petticoats to “girl power” in Union Jack platforms, so did Lauper feel any kind of kinship with the Spice Girls? She scoffs, “I like things with a little more edge, like Cibo Matto and Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.”
The makeup’s on, the pride manicure is gone, and the camera’s loaded. Jet lag be damned-suddenly, Lauper comes alive. The camera loves her, and the feeling is mutual. Having given lighting tips to the photographer, using the books of old silent movie stills she brought along as examples, she works those Clara-Bow-meets- Louise-Brooks features for all they’re worth.
Costume No.1, a vaguely monastic black getup, is rejected-“too Sister Mary Scary”-though the contrast of her pale skin is radiant in the Polaroids.
The studio office assistant doubles as a DJ and starts a set by spinning Prince’s Lady Cab Driver, while Lauper, in a marabou-trimmed number, makes like graduation day at the Barbizon modeling school, “I’m wearing feathers, and I’m happy,” she laughs. “You know, I saw Mahogany! I didn’t really-I just saw the coming attraction where the guy says ‘You’re fabulous, you’re fabulous!'”
It’s just as well she was spared the unhappy ending.
Costume No.3’s a purple brocade coat-“A steal!”-over a black skirt with roses. Soon she hikes those roses skyward and, with an imp ish grin, thrusts her bare foot at the camera. The rainbow manicure may have been painted over, but the gay-pride pedicure is taking a defiant turn in front of the lens. Beautiful like a rainbow, Lauper’s true colors are still shining through