Gretchen Mol is stunning for her uninhibited spot-on portrayal of the famous 1950’s S&M pin-up queen in director Mary Harron’s new partial biopic The Notorious Bettie Page. Although limited by a script that reveals more skin than depth of character, Mol inhabits Page with a purity of intent that carries the film. She doesn’t just elevate the source material; she imbues it with a virtuosic savior faire that transcends Page’s enigmatic spirit. I recently spoke with the 33-year-old actress from Deep River, Connecticut at Manhattan’s Regency Hotel:
MAUI TIME WEEKLY: Do you think that Bettie Page considered what she did a feminist act?
GRETCHEN MOL: I knew because I’d read interviews and heard her speak about this, that she didn’t take that on herself. She didn’t try to do anything but her job and just happened to have this non-judgmental spirit. Again, people were always able to look at Bettie Page and see what they wanted her to be. She gave them that permission to do so. In that way she’s a feminist. I don’t think she was ever trying to be consciously.
Was she ahead of her time or was she simply naive?
I don’t think she was naive. I think it was the attitude of the 1950’s to pick and choose what you looked at deeply. Nobody was going to force that on her. She didn’t really come in contact with the people that were looking and using her photographs; for her it was a job. I think she was doing her job the best she could. And she was non-judgmental about the people that were interested in bondage fetish.
Was it hard to figure out what she was thinking?
It was because there were a lot of contradictions. Like you said about being naive, there’s something that seemed naive, but there was another part of her that seemed, not calculated at all, but very much aware. But not necessarily wanting to look at it. Her psychology was very interesting, and the film, because it’s so subtle about that, doesn’t say A happened, so B is this way. It wasn’t a typical biopic.
What differences do you perceive between women then and now?
I really don’t think the differences are that great. She was always a small town girl without a real sense of home. Now, she would be probably be the same way, but there was a limit to what she was going to do. She could have done stag films, but she didn’t. She could have slept with a producer to advance her movie career but she didn’t. It would be interesting to see what she would do today.
Why do you think Bettie Page has lasted this long?
It’s all the dichotomies, the juxtapositions, kind of bumping up against each other. That’s what Bettie represents. She’s kind of whatever people needed her to be. She had a quality that other models didn’t have that’s still kind of a mystery to me. That’s what I love about the film, too. It retains the enigmatic quality of Bettie Page. It lets her still be what they need her to be. MTW