For various reasons, I’ve never cared for the use of “asshole” as an epithet. However, calling Carrie Fisher a “jerk” or “irreverent” plainly misses the point. She can be an asshole, and that’s why I love her.
My favorite evidence of this fact comes from her DVD commentary for Postcards from the Edge, the film adapted from her memoir-cum-novel of the same name. I’ve written elsewhere about the brilliance of this film, how Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep use Fisher’s story (and her personal narrative as daughter of Debbie Reynolds) to dramatize the shift from the old Hollywood star system, in which audiences liked to think that they really knew the star (and to see them play similar roles again and again), to a contemporary kind of stardom, where stars are celebrated for being convincing in a range of different kinds of roles. That’s what I appreciate about the film. But there is much to love about the film that is all Fisher, like the tragically plausible names of Suzanne’s past, vacuous movies (for example, “The Night of a Thousand Shoes”).
Early on in Postcards, Suzanne’s mother Doris throws her a very unwelcome welcome home party. Suzanne is complaining about the fact that she doesn’t even know anyone at the party to her friend Aretha (played with a voice like dark corn syrup by the wonderful Robin Bartlett), when the two are interrupted by a member of Doris’s staff, a maid, who informs Suzanne: "Your mother wants you inside to cut the cake."
Fisher cast her personal cook, Gloria Crayton, as the maid, and the level of apathy with which Crayton delivers her line is astonishing. It is presumably the culmination of the evening’s festivities, and she could not care less. Crayton’s delivery is devoid of all feeling, seemingly evidence that the actress struggled simply to disgorge the line.
But this is where Fisher’s Wildean assholery comes into play.
We had a whole campaign about Gloria. We ran it in Variety nominating her for Best Supporting Actress. We got quotes from [Richard] Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss’s quote was “It’s the finest one line walk-on since Richard Dreyfuss in The Graduate…[There were] quotes from Meryl, Gene Hackman…”
On one hand, Fisher and crew are thumbing their noses at the Academy Awards, and the whole system of campaigning for Oscars. On the other, this gag makes us wonder about what makes a performance compelling or convincing. Why would a servant care about the party? Who wouldn’t be dead tired after working for Doris and her persnickety guests? While it might ultimately be impossible to tell whether Crayton is playing nonchalant or is talentless, it might just be the case that she has given us one of the most convincing and accurate portrayals in the history of cinema. It’s this sort of clever foolishness that makes Fisher the kind of asshole I can get behind.