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School Daze

Actress Dominique Swain talks about sex, drugs, LOLITA and playing a party girl in the new campus whodunit NEW BEST FRIEND

By Paul Zimmerman     April 27, 2002

Dominique Swain at the MTV Music Awards
© 2002 Tristar

At the tender age of 14 Dominique Swain played the lead in director Adrian Lyne's 1997 version of LOLITA, and in her new college whodunit NEW BEST FRIEND she pops pills, snorts coke and has a lurid affair with co-star Mia Kirshner. If that sounds dramatic, you should hear her talk about her personal life beginning when she was brought into the world by her father in the back of a car.

"It's a fact," the fresh-faced actress laughs. "My dad delivered me. The article said, 'Dad David Delivers Daughter Dominique in Datsun.' I was contemplating whether they named me Dominique just for the alliteration. But I decided my mom had probably given it some thought."

In NEW BEST FRIEND, Swain forms one third of a trio of privileged, popular girls in a fictitious Carolina university. They party, they switch sex partners, but after they befriend a poor girl with little in the way of social skills they unwittingly unleash a dynamo who steals their boyfriends, manipulates their parents and generally wreaks havoc on campus.

The one sheet for NEW BEST FRIEND

A dark, cautionary tale staring Meredith Monroe (DAWSON'S CREEK) and Mia Kirshner (CROW: CITY OF ANGELS), NEW BEST FRIEND eventually leads to what may be an attempted murder, not to mention a crushed clique. One of the biggest victims is Sydney, who is all sexual bravado and swagger. But AMERICAN PIE 3 this ain't. Indeed, nothing is played for laughs in the film, and the most memorable bits are ones with copious drug taking and an extended sex scene with Swain and Kirshner that might make David Lynch blush.

"I think it was necessary to show our behaviors," Swain comments. "Most of the time you don't really need to show things in the raunchy and dirty and dangerous way that they are, but this movie it was necessary to see our decline and to see how it got to us in the end. And I think the message is, 'Don't try this at home. It's not safe. It's bad.' And I think that doing drugs you can't even assume that you know the person anymore. I think that people who do drugs lie and steal. And they're people you thought you knew."

Having weathered Jeremy Iron's amorous advances in LOLITA and John Woo's gun battles in FACE/OFF, Swain had no problem getting down and dirty collegiate-style.

"I had just turned 18 and I challenge any 18-year-old not to go hog wild and try everything in sight," she says of the film, which has been in the can over two years. "And my parents have always been very supportive, and they're just like, 'Do whatever you want to do and we support you.'

Dominique Swain on at the premiere of NEW BEST FRIEND

Raised in the wilds of Malibu, California, Swain found time between making films to play many sports and become her school's valedictorian.

"Yeah, I was," she says modestly. "And my sister before me was valedictorian, too. We were just prodded in that general direction. Even though all the other students were like, 'Oh, you get 50 bucks per A?'"

Those "other students" Swain speaks of also proved a valuable resource for the actor when it came time to play rich and snotty. Unlike the more famous, wealthy West Coast denizens at her school, Swain's family came from relative humble surroundings.

"I went to Malibu High School," Swain begins. "It actually gave me some insight into the character I was playing and funnily enough, [director] Zoë Clarke Williams grew up around the same cliques of people, so we were kind of drawing from the same well of bitchy, overprivileged girls. I remember being in grade school and having people go, 'Why don't you get braces on your teeth? Your teeth are so crooked, it's so gross.' And I was like, 'I don't know. I can't afford it. F--- off!"

The girls of NEW BEST FRIEND

Swain's relatively normal life first changed when she was 14 and she was chose out of thousands of submissions to star as the controversial sex kitten in LOLITA. The film was a smash in Europe and a scandal in the U.S. -- it didn't get released Stateside until she was 16 and well on her way. Meanwhile she was excelling at school and trying different team sports.

"I scorned the cheerleaders even though I played one in a movie," she says. "I actually got to experience a lot of sports teams because my education in high school was so piecemeal. So I'd make it for like one sports season and then actually go on to do something else."

Recently she's nosed ahead of many of her same-age contemporaries with several films on the horizon, including two with E.T.'s Henry Thomas -- DEAD IN THE WATER and BRIAR PATCH. Plus PUMPKINS with Christina Ricci, another snarky look at college.

Getting as philosophical as a 19-year-old can be Swain sighs and says, "There's a bunch of different roles I want to play and I think that I will get to experience a lot of different walks of life in this profession, so it's pretty dope."

Recently clean and sober, Swain is, somewhat ironically, still a fixture on the Hollywood party scene.

Dominique Swain at the MTV Music Awards

"I think when you are in this business that going out and meeting people that you're hoping to work with is really necessary," she says.

But not that long ago her name was synonymous with party girl.

"I got hammered at my boyfriend's birthday party that I'd planned with a like a hundred of our closest friends," she says. "Fell down some stairs and then I started drinking when I was depressed. At social functions, but it was to the point where it was really inappropriate and I was embarrassing myself."

Swain closes an interview by saying about her brief wild period, "Allow me to be an example if will help anyone," and that "the truly successful are the ones who deserve it and are working hard."


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