Tuesday, July 24, 2001
A Woman's Place
Jerry Hall's got a lovely new car - which Mick gave her - and a new role in The Vagina Monologues. At a small hotel on the windswept Côte d'Azur, she tells Rebecca Tyrrel about women's lib, cellulite and life on a stage
JERRY HALL has driven just a mile or so up the Côte d'Azur in her new racing green Peugeot 206 coupé cabriolet, its leather interior the colour of a Riviera playboy's permatan. 'I lurve it. I am in lurve with it,' she says. 'The leather is just a shade or two darker than my own skin. I look very good in it.'
Beaming: Jerry Hall feels at home in the limelight
The car was a birthday present from Mick Jagger, Jerry's ex-husband. 'Tell me, what kind of an ex-husband does that?' she says, eyebrows raised, her voice intentionally slurred for innuendo. 'The best kind of ex-husband, that's who.' She gives me a conspiratorial nudge. 'I've always dreamt of getting a car for my birthday. I'm a very lucky girl.'
Jerry Hall's voice has remarkable qualities. It comes from the throat and percolates up; not a drawl exactly, more creamy than a drawl, though it's punctuated with hard, curdled Texan moments that make the most innocent sentence - for instance, 'My son James is at school in England at Stowe and he's doing very well. He's captain of the cricket team' - sound almost lewd, like a come-on.
'You're teaching an old dog some new tricks, honey,' she says, lewdly, provocatively, to the photographer as she melts against some white hotel railings and points her chin out towards the crashing Mediterranean. For it's not just her voice; her pose is pretty seductive too, even though she is trying very hard not to look like a model, because we are here today to meet the new Jerry Hall - not Jerry Hall the über-mannequin but Jerry Hall the actress, who next month will be reading from Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues at the New Ambassadors theatre in London.
After that she takes the Monologues, or perhaps the Monologues take her, to Broadway for two months. But before she takes Manhattan, she has to go to Paris to film her part in a new Merchant Ivory production, Merci Docteur Rey, with Jane Birkin, Diane Weiss and Simon Callow. And, somehow, in the midst of all this, she will be appearing in Picasso's Women (more monologues), in Bath, or Guildford, she's not quite sure. 'I lurve the whole magic of the theatre,' she says. 'I think it is an ancient, sacred thing, you know. I really do.'
Actors, though, don't instinctively throw back their heads like this, as if they were selling hairspray. Not that the photographer minds: Jerry looks marvellous, fragile yet statuesque in her yellow bias-cut John Galliano for Dior sundress. Peeking over the top of the dress is a lacy white bra, around her neck is a strand of blood-orange coloured coral, and there are matching studs in her ears. On her long slim size-nine feet are gold gladiator sandals, and on her hands a twisty blue- and yellow-stoned ring which seems to take up several fingers at the same time. Her hair, which almost matches the dress, does wonderful fairytale-fluttery things in the vigorous sea-wind.
Here's to Mrs Robinson: Hall in The Graduate
'I really have quit modelling now,' she says afterwards, retreating, head down against the wind, hair blown back like a palomino's mane, to the shelter of the hotel bar. 'I started when I was 14. But it is an intuitive thing, it's second nature to go into the best modelling pose - a kind of telepathy, a sensory telepathy, every hair, every angle - and if you are sad or depressed it shows in a picture. You have to Overcome. Overcome. You Overcome. A good model knows how to Overcome.'
This is how Jerry Hall talks, intensely, meaningfully, and on a grand scale. She is not particularly loud, but the words seem large and important and, because of this and the fact that we already seem to be attracting some attention, I am slightly nervous of introducing the scary subject of The Vagina Monologues in this small quiet seaside bar, in this small quiet seaside town just up the road from Jerry's beach house.
'Let's talk about The Vagina Monologues,' I say quickly into my drink. 'It rather struck me as a very American, very un-English concept; the idea of women getting together and talking about...' Jerry interrupts me and puts me out of my agony, although, worryingly, her own voice has now risen several decibels.
'Well, let's face it! Worldwide, it is just not done, talking about your vagina!' she hollers, and a few heads turn. 'I mean it's not like girlfriends say to each other anything about their vagina, or even use the word.' Jerry then lowers her voice and sounds suddenly serious as she tells me that she thinks The Vagina Monologues is a wonderful thing. 'Because the money goes to help women who have been abused by their husbands, and also they have this travelling van in Africa that educates people in villages about the danger of female circumcision, and I think it is a wonderful thing. I mean we're not getting paid hardly anything to do it, you know, so it is a charity.'
Then she raises her voice once more to tell the story of how she had dinner with a woman from BBC radio who wanted to do an interview. 'But this woman said they couldn't say the word "vagina" on the BBC, so then I had dinner the next night, funnily enough, with Alan Yentob, and I said to him, "Alan? Alan? This is shocking! I mean you know when Lorena Bobbitt chopped off her husband's penis [Jerry's almost shouting now, and laughing loudly], everyone said 'Penis! Penis! Penis! Penis! Penis!' in every newsreel everywhere." And I said, "Well, this is shocking that the BBC won't mention the word 'vagina'!" And he said, "I'm going to send out a memo tomorrow!"'
Some English hotel guests in the bar are now very amused indeed, but the waiter whose arrival with Jerry's cup of coffee has coincided with the fourth ejaculation of 'Penis!' doesn't bat an eyelid; either he has been trained to show no emotion whatsoever, or there is a language problem.
Prime time: Hall at the height of her modelling career
Jerry has performed The Vagina Monologues before, last month in Austin, Texas, just 200 miles away from Mesquite, near Dallas, where she was born in July 1956 to John and Marjorie Hall. Her mother was a medical librarian, her father, now dead, is always described as a hard-drinking truck driver. Did her mother come to see her perform the Monologues?
'Yeah. My mother came, my old aunts, my cousins, my high-school girlfriends. My mother was really mortified. She was like, "I cannot believe you are going to do this, in Texas, with all the family!" And then she said that after she heard 'The Flood' [a passage in which an old woman talks about a dream in which her bodily fluids flood the restaurant where Burt Reynolds has taken on her date] she laughed so much, and she thought it was really wonderful to be able to laugh and hear someone talking about their vagina...'
I, personally, am in awe of Jerry's mother and of all the people who have come away from The Vagina Monologues with tears of laughter in their eyes, claiming to have been liberated. I found them embarrassing, although I have only read them in paperback. It's not the subject matter that bothered me so much - Jerry Hall is right; you get over any wincing at the title pretty quickly if you say it often enough - it was the female triumphalism which made it hard for me to carry on to the end. Some women go for this, others don't.
Many women who are famous and wealthy, like Jerry, feel obliged to give something back in charity work, and many manage to do so without standing on a stage in front of 2,500 people chanting the word 'c-', as the actress Glenn Close did, or singing something called 'The C- Piece', as Alanis Morissette and Audra McDonald did. And somehow my perception of Jerry Hall, the supermodel, the rock-star wife, the millionairess in the drop-dead slit-up-the-thigh Anthony Price dresses, just does not lend itself to this brand of feminist fundraising.
'When I first read it,' she admits, 'I felt, "Oh God! This is too women's libby for me, too martyr-ish. Get off the cross! We need the wood!" But, believe me, it is all in the interpretation. It is inspiring.'
Is she a feminist, though?
'No, I don't think so. I have never had the need because I have always been so liberated. I mean, in modelling the women make more money than the men. I have always been independent. I have never felt like I was shackled or treated differently because I was a woman. Mick would sometimes try stuff on me, he'd try to sort of tell me what I could do or should do, but he didn't really have much of a chance because I always had my own money.'
Past times: Hall with Mick Jagger
Since her divorce, two years ago, she now has a reputed £7 million of Mick's money too, as well as their house in Richmond. This seems a pretty paltry amount, though, given the 57-year-old Rolling Stone's vast accumulated wealth, estimated at more than £150 million, and the fact that he and Jerry were together for 20 years and had four children - Elizabeth, 17, James, 15, Georgia, nine, and Gabriel, three.
Mick Jagger did not come out of the whole business well. He had been unfaithful to Jerry many, many times before, and then he finally blew it when he fathered a child with a Brazilian Calvin Klein model and tried to wheedle out of a divorce settlement by saying that his marriage to Jerry wasn't legal - they had married in 1990 in a six-hour wedding ceremony on Bali.
Jerry, on the other hand, who impressively has nothing but nice things to say about Mick (she did once call him a lying, cheating, no-good slimeball but has since recanted), has come out of it well, and there is a general feeling of hats off to Jerry Hall as far as the media is concerned.
'You can take anything in life, bad or good, and you can turn it round,' she says, sipping her espresso. 'And that, I think, is what inspires people about me. I have been through a difficult time, a lot of public humiliation, but one of the greatest achievements of my entire life was to have a positive divorce. I mean we are really friendly. It is incredibly tempting when you are hurt and upset to be nasty, to be greedy, to be vindictive, and I thought to myself, "OK, that is a thought and I am not going to go for it. Get rid of it, move on, new chapter, turn the page." I think that is the thing that people are inspired about.'
And, excited though she is about her new acting career, it seems that motherhood is what really inspires Jerry Hall. She is, she says, particularly looking forward to Broadway because, she explains, 'I will be able to spend a lot of time with my daughter Elizabeth, who is living in New York. She is such a nice girl, really very sweet. She has some angelic qualities about her, and she is a completely spiritual person. She never wants anything, she never asks for anything, she never knows what she wants for Christmas or her birthday, and she never asks for money, or for her allowance - nothing.'
Not that 17-year-old Elizabeth Jagger needs to ask for money; against her father's wishes, her own career as a successful model began three years ago. Now she is about to enter drama school. 'It's great,' says Jerry, 'Elizabeth just did a movie with Susan Sarandon. It's Paramount's big-hit teen movie, Igby Goes Down, and she loved it. She said "Oh, Mum, I had the most rewarding work of my career."'
The Jaggers had hoped that all their children would go to university. 'The English education system is so much better than in the States,' says Jerry, 'so much more academic. James will definitely go to university though. While I have any power over the rest of my children I am determined that they will go to university. Actually James really wants to. He is a clever boy. He won a science scholarship - he's like me, he has a science thing.'
So Jerry takes motherhood very seriously. She has said that she was born to be a mother, and her favourite piece in The Vagina Monologues is one that deals with childbirth. 'I was there in the room' is the author Eve Ensler's account of her own grandchild's birth, graphic, explicit and much criticised because it has very little to do with the baby, concentrating instead on descriptions of distorted, traumatised female genitalia. 'I don't see it like that,' says Jerry. 'It's all in the reading. The two actresses I read with in Austin, Texas - girls who had done a lot of previous shows - said that my reading of "I was there in the room" was the best they had ever heard.' Jerry then tells me - thankfully, in her hushed serious voice - about her own experiences of childbirth; all of them, she says, were 'really spiritual'.
'I had them at this wonderful place, St John and Elizabeth's Hospital in London, with the natural childbirth doctor, Yehudi Gordon. I had aromatherapy oils and massage, and you get into the bath tub, and you get out, and your bed is there, and when the baby came out he said, "You get it, you take the baby, you touch the baby first." It was amazing. Very spiritual. Of course there is great pain but the endorphins kick in and you get really high. It's like some really great drug. Also I watched my goddaughter being born and that was really spiritual. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.' She points to the erect blonde hairs on her tanned arm. 'So I have actually seen it and been through the whole thing, and that comes across when I am reading. I read it like a poem.' (Or 'poim', as Jerry pronounces it.)
Jerry uses the word spiritual a lot. She says her love of poetry - ('poitry') - is spiritual; she loves Seamus Heaney and Edgar Allan Poe, and she occasionally writes her own. Her need to work is, she says, also a spiritual and creative thing (if she doesn't work she starts colour-coding the children's knicker drawers). And - perhaps hardest to believe - her ability to forgive the British press for saying some dreadful things about her and her ex is a spiritual thing too.
'It is a spiritual thing,' she says, reaching into her raffia beach bag for her cigarettes and masking her lighter from the wind blowing off the sea. 'But it also comes from having a seriously good sense of humour.' She throws her head back, exhales smoke and laughs like Sybil Fawlty.
But did she laugh when the tabloids recently printed pictures of her on the beach, just a mile or so down the road from where we are now sitting, with headlines proclaiming photographic evidence that, Shock! Horror! Jerry had cellulite!?
'Oh, I didn't see them, but I heard about them. A girlfriend - thank you very much! - phoned me up and said, "They are so mean because they said you were too skinny in The Graduate, and now they've got pictures of you saying that you've got cellulite," and I'm like, "Thanks a lot!'''
But surely she must have been angry, especially with the Daily Mail. It was nothing less than bullying; it was awful. Women throughout Britain were outraged, appalled.
Jerry remains calm. 'Well, you know... I don't think I do actually have cellulite. Maybe it was the light.' She throws her head back, roars with laughter yet again. 'Actually,' she says, serious once more, 'I've put on about 10lb since The Graduate, but I thought that was a good thing. I just had desserts and slept a lot and had a really good time, and so I put on a little bit of weight.' Then she looks down for a moment. 'I admit there was one day afterwards when I was worried and I didn't go on the beach.
'But you know what?' says Jerry, patting my knee. 'This whole cellulite thing is actually quite good for my next play because there's one line where I have to say, "I hated my thighs!" The audience is going to really love that now!'