Piper Perabo

Courtesy: Chicago Sun-Times

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
September 2002

Piper Perabo doesn’t look like the type of woman who could take on The Rock. But the big-time wrestler had nothing on the diminutive actress when he accidentally spilled a glass of champagne on her mother.

“I looked at him and said, ‘You’re huge. You shouldn’t be going around bumping into people and spilling things on them,'” says Perabo, laughing.

“Actually, he was so sorry about it and embarrassed that it wasn’t a huge deal. We laughed about it because my mother is very proper and she said to him, ‘This is silk.’ I told my mother I was going to start telling people that she took a chair and smashed him over the head with it. That makes the story more interesting.”

A little embellishment sounds like something Genevieve LePlouff-the devious French schoolgirl Perabo portrays in “Slap Her…She’s French,” opening Friday at local theaters-would do. Settling in as a shy, mousy exchange student with a quintessential Texas family, Genevieve ingratiates herself with the town sweetheart until she becomes popular by default. Playing a quasi villain and speaking French were no problem for Perabo.

Grinding her hips for the cheerleading segments, however, was another story-especially for a former math geek who wasn’t big on pep clubs in high school.

“I enjoy dancing and will dance at clubs, though I don’t go often,” says Perabo, 25. “But cheerleading is a whole different thing. We had a really good coach show us what to do, but it was still embarrassing at times.” Perabo, who is slight in frame, looks little older than a high school junior walking around recently in Chicago. Though her garb is sophisticated (a long black, gauze Foley & Corinna dress with leather piping), her face looks dewy and freshly scrubbed, with a hint of color on her lips and cheeks. Perabo later reveals she actually still has quite a bit of leftover TV makeup on, but you get the idea: She radiates health and beauty.

Before settling in for a light lunch of crabmeat artichoke salad-hold the crabmeat, she’s vegetarian-at Le Colonial, Perabo does a quick round of window shopping at Barneys and Urban Outfitters. Onlookers stare at her the way they would at any pretty woman. But they’re not quite sure why she looks so familiar.

Though Perabo has been in some high-profile films (Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Coyote Ugly,” “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” with Robert DeNiro), they didn’t live up to the hype. Her performances, however, were almost always singled out by the critics. Like Morgan Freeman, whose chilling turn in “Street Smart” was a standout, Perabo came out smelling like roses in her breakthrough film, the banal “Coyote Ugly.”

“Jerry Bruckheimer said to me once that critics don’t always go for his  films, but people go and see them,” says Perabo. “That’s pretty much what happened with ‘Coyote Ugly.’ But I liked the whole premise of the movie, which was about a girl who moves to New York to pursue her artistic dreams. I had done a similar thing not long before I started filming. And I really liked the idea that she wasn’t doing her heart’s desire as a hobby or an
afterthought. Her songwriting was her day job and she worked at a bar to pay her bills.

“A lot of times, teenagers are discouraged when they want to follow some artistic field. People tell them they should get a degree in accounting and dance or write on the weekends. But that won’t actually fulfill you. You need to put what you believe is right for you at the forefront. People were always asking me, ‘Are you sure you want to study theater in college?’ ‘Do you have a backup plan?’ My backup plan was the same as my dream-to act, and that became my goal.”

Perabo’s parents encouraged her to think outside the box from an early age. So when she wanted to travel to Europe at 13 with some friends but without them, they said yes. At 16, she worked as an au pair in Italy for the summer. A self proclaimed “math club kid,” Perabo-who was raised in New Jersey-studied French and Latin at Ohio University, where she graduated cum laude. She loved knowing not just how to speak another language, but learning about how other cultures express themselves.

“In Latin, there is only the passive verb for the expression, ‘to lie,'” she says. “Their theory was that you may be lied to, but you would never lie, so you don’t need to know how to say that you lie. Their morals are represented in their language, which I find really interesting.”
Genevieve obviously knows nothing about Latin. An experienced liar, she expertly weaves implausible scenarios in such a way that even though the filmgoer knows what she’s doing-and that it’s wrong-but can’t seem to rally against her.

“I loved playing her,” says Perabo. “I don’t condone her actions, but I understand them. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person quite as devious as she is. She’s going to grow up to be some kind of mastermind criminal.”

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