"This construction worker I've been fucking has really been keeping me up late, " says actress Paz de la Huerta, who, New York tells us ominously, will this year be "impossible not to notice." Oh, goody.
Here's how the subject and the writer, Jay Bulger, met: they were both recovering from surgery in the hospital. Bulger writes:
"You used to be handsome," she said, though we had never met. "Now you're something else." Then she unzipped her hospital gown and showed me her wound. We were a match made in Cronenberg heaven, and for three months we hid at her apartment on Gay Street, watching Melville, Hitchcock, and Almodóvar on a mattress on the floor. We separated soon after we recovered, and she very quickly met an ex-convict tattoo artist.
So much for journalistic objectivity — but to read this profile, it seems he'd have ended up with strong feelings one way or another. I know I did.
I don't know if I resent Paz de la Huerta because she's the kind of free-spirited, sexually open, life-loving woman I wish I could be, or because she's an infantile, manic-pixie narcissist with exhibitionist tendencies. Both? I wasn't sure, so after showing it to as many of my female friends as I could find and IMing a series of shocked emoticons, I asked my boyfriend to read the profile. "She's ridiculous, contrived, and desperate to shock," he said, "and...sexy." (He also said she reminded him of a certain legendary high-school girlfriend who still looms large in his memory, thanks to er uninhibited love of life, her devastating effect on men, and her romantic volatility.)
"She probably thinks other women are 'jealous' of her too, and that's why she doesn't have female friends," I replied spitefully, and baselessly. (For all I know she's surrounded by sisterhood.) By now it should become clear that the reaction that I — and all my friends — had to this profile wasn't just about its subject.
But I digress. Who, you ask, is Paz de la Huerta, exactly? Well, she's what the New York Times called a "model and muse," (who's chimed in on the Terry Richardson fracas) and an actress whom you may have seen in Indie films and will possibly watch in the upcoming HBO series Boardwalk Empire, for which she is growing a "period bush." Or, as the piece's author/ex Jay Bulger describes her, "a master of social manipulation and a very fine actor, by which I mean she excels at creating, and causing, drama." She's been a scenester in New York for a while. She's 25. She's also dated Jack Nicholson and Scott Weiland and that guy from the Virgins. Her father is a Spanish Duke. Her mother "works as an authority on women's issues in Third World countries." She grew up bohemian and wild, her childhood alternating between the Hamptons and penury. Then films, photoshoots and general It girl status followed, although she's apparently often short of cash and in the course of the piece we see her cadging food, cosmetics and free sauna treatments.
When we meet her, she's "flirting and flaunting her way through the saunas and hammams" of a bathhouse, nude. "As the steam clears, Paz begins to rub her breasts with raw honey and salt while twenty dumbfounded overweight men stare down at her from the bleacher seats, their guts hanging over their trousers." (She "gets naked whenever possible.") A little later, she's clothed, "holding court over a group of aspiring actors, a black druid robe covering her face." At the yoga studio,
Her druid robe hangs dangerously close to a burning candle near the entrance. When class is over, she struts out of the studio in leopard-print spandex. "I had an orgasm! My hands are still shaking," she says, just loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. "It was like the time I went to Graceland. Elvis's ghost gave me an orgasm in his recording studio."
She's also the kind of person who inspires others to describe her a lot.
Her mother: "Paz is Genghis Khan meets Marie Antoinette...She is tempestuous and provocative."
Designer Zac Posen: "She is a one-of-a-kind goddess. Her breasts fell out of her dress at my first-ever fashion show, and she just kept walking down the runway."
Director Nemo Librizzi: "When Paz says something, you can taste it in your mouth...When I'm hungry, I just ask her to say strawberry shortcake."
Photographer Ellen von Unwerth: "Paz exudes sex...She needs people to feel as though they're stepping out on that edge with her where she is most comfortable."
As to the writer, he's clearly still under her spell:
Paz is a creature of fearful symmetry-it's obvious why, earlier this year, Milk Gallery dedicated an entire exhibit to James Macari's nude photographs of her, or why Jim Jarmusch had her naked in every scene she shot in The Limits of Control. "Paz is completely aware of that contradiction of vulnerability and strength," Jarmusch says. "Nudity is her favorite wardrobe, her way of confronting her own fears head-on. And that's what makes her a great actor."
She elicited similarly strong opinions from readers, who alternately denounced her, applauded her as "an original," derided her appearance, and asked why we should care. I had to wonder why my own reaction was so visceral. Sure, there's the immediate "why are we reading about this person" reaction that accompanies any "It" girl, since they're by definition dwelling in a hazy cultural Versailles. But this went beyond that general resentment. Why is there something offensive — or, worse, threatening — about a young woman like this? I think, in this case, it's because she has made herself the apotheosis of a certain type: the muse who, despite an aggressive pretense of sexual liberation, often seems all too tailored to certain male fantasies.
But at the same time, aren't I just projecting my own insecurities onto her just as surely? How unfair that is, and how deeply unsisterly — can't a woman exist on charm, on charisma, on beauty and, yes, maybe even playing with the well-worn terms of sexual manipulation, without it detracting one iota from genuine empowerment or accomplishment? Maybe I'd feel differently had the piece been written by a woman (or at least, not a former lover). But then, would the story have been remotely the same? A myth-making endeavor such of this demands a clueless gaze.
Are You Ready For Paz? [New York]