“Thanks for waiting up for me,” Katie Holmes says in her low purr. This is last week, after midnight, and I'm on the phone with the Toledo native, who's at her townhouse in Wilmington, N.C., where she's lived nine months a year since 1998. A chat earlier in the day fell apart. Now it's a school night, and knee-deep into the witching hour. “I was skimming the news wires,” I say. “The first review of Abandon just came over.”
There's a long silence on the other end. During the past five years Holmes has gone from high school student to the cover of Rolling Stone; she's hosted Saturday Night Live; she made six movies, including some very good ones, and of course, she's one of the four stars of Dawson's Creek, the coming-of-age series that built the WB network (and shoots in Wilmington).
But Abandon, the directorial debut of Traffic scribe Steven Gaghan, which opened Friday, is something else: aside from a couple of quickie teen thrillers, it's her first serious leading role in a big studio feature film.
“Katie?” I ask.
“If it's bad, don't' tell me.”
“It's actually pretty positive.'
“Where's it from?”
“The Associated Press.” I read her the first paragraphs, which include, “the film announces Katie Holmes as bankable leading-lady material.”
“Wow,” she says. “Nice.”
“Do you read your own reviews much?”
“Yeah. But it's no fun when your best friend says so-and-so thinks you're a brat. It's like, `Just keep it to yourself. I don't need to hear that.' My mom's friends clip and send everything. My publicist sends me the good ones.”
And with that we chat.
Q: Does Abandon signal a career change? A permanent shift from TV to film?
A: I don't know. A lot of people are saying it's my first starring role and really it's not. What's defining about the movie is it's the first time I worked on something for almost a year - it signals the first time I was involved in the process of making a movie. I got to be involved in the casting and sit in on the meetings and just start to understand how hard it is to make a movie. In terms of: Will this be the one that shows people I'm the real deal? Those are other people's words.
Q: Dawson's Creek does end after this season, right?
A: We don't know, actually. It's leaning in that direction. It could go on another year - contractually. But we all kind of came to the season thinking this will be the last year. But no one knows for sure. We shoot until April. It's like a school year, taping the show, and it's the sixth year. So the thought of ending is scary, bittersweet.
Q: What's your week like?
A: A typical week is working four out of five days. Starting around 8 in the morning and going to 9 or 10 at night, which includes trying to fit in the gym at some point, before or after work. On average, once a month I fly to L.A. to do a meeting. This particular week, because it's the opening of the movie, I just flew back from L.A. We had the premiere last night. Let's see. I work tomorrow. Then I fly to New York on Thursday to do a day of press. I fly back here on Friday and work and I'm finished for the week. But this week is an exception. Generally, it's pretty stable down here. It's not that difficult at this point.
I get back to Toledo about six times a year. Definitely for the holidays. I come back for summer. My busiest time is right after Christmas through April. That's when everyone is trying to find a movie or something to do during the show's break. So you're constantly flying out to L.A. or New York to audition. This year, if it is the last year, we won't be so nervous about finding a project to do between April and July.
Q: That's a problem? I assume you're flooded with offers.
A: You know, we all get a lot of opportunities to do things that aren't necessarily exciting. There is a lot of stuff out there that isn't very challenging.
Trying to find a movie that will make you a better actor is tough. It can be stressful, especially finding something that fits between production times. You can't say to a director or a producer, `Can you hold off until April? I won't be ready.'
Q: Have you given up many films because of that?
A: Some. I did Wonder Boys and The Gift while filming Dawson's Creek. I just flew late at night, all the time. There have been things I would have liked to have done, but I wouldn't have even had those opportunities if I hadn't gotten this show.
Q: When Dawson's started what films where you offered?
A: Well, that January when the show hit, the teen phenomenon was just starting. Everything was horror films because of Kevin Williamson [who created Dawson's and wrote Scream]. Then after American Pie hit, I had teen movies coming out of my ears. Everyone on the show did.
Q: What are you offered now?
A: I still get a lot of [scripts] that are similar to Dawson's Creek. I think producers think you can stick one of us in a movie and see if it works. Everybody still gets those kind of scripts, but I've also seen a lot more scripts for independent films floating around and lot of these comic book scripts.
It's not like I have a lot of stuff that's great just waiting for me to sign on to. There are, however, possibilities, roles, I would have to work hard to get.
Q: What do you look for?
A: Movies that have a great script, a good director, and good actors. The advice given to me is if you get two out of three you should do the movie.
Q: Your first two leading roles were in teen thrillers, Disturbing Behavior and Teaching Ms. Tingle, and those bombed. Did you take that personally?
A: I didn't take it perso-
And with that her phone sputters, bleeps, and dies. A few minutes later, she's back. “My phone lost its juice,” she says in her little voice. On the phone she sounds about 12 years old. “Sorry. I plugged it in. I'm set. What were we talking about?”
Q: Ms. Tingle.
A: Right. Didn't take it personally. At the time I didn't even know what it meant to carry a movie, and suddenly I was being thrown into these roles and I thought because of the success of Dawson's and the success of movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, `Oh, this will be a huge hit. What's hard about this? I'm kind of bored.' It was very immature, in retrospect. I hadn't been exposed to hardships yet. After those movies came and went I was like, `Oh, now I have to actually learn about what I'm doing and maybe be smarter about the material I want to do.'
Q: You since joined a lot of ensemble movies: Wonder Boys, The Gift, Go. Was it a conscious decision to take the focus away from yourself?
A: Oh, definitely. Again, I spend nine months down here working with people my age. You can only go so far on this show. The writers have done a great job of taking these characters different places, but there is only so much you can do in the confines of a teen drama. I thought it was important in the off-season to get better, and the only way I knew how was to work with people who are much more experienced than me.
Q: Wonder Boys was a start.
A: When I did it I was blown away. I remember coming to the set and there's Michael Douglas and Curtis Hanson and Frances McDormand and Robert Downey, Jr., and I think `Wow, this is what's all about. These people are artists and they actually know what they're doing. This is what it means to prepare.' It reminded me of when I did The Ice Storm. You're on the set just saying to yourself, `This is quality.' Not that other stuff wasn't, but there is a difference when you're working with Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire, as opposed to somebody who has the same amount of experience as yourself. Neither one of you can bring that much to the table.
Q: Does it bother you that movies like Wonder Boys and The Gift were critical successes but not box office hits?
A: At the time it is always hard. The Ice Storm and Go were not hits, either. But those experiences gave me something I've used in every job. Had Teaching Ms. Tingle been a huge hit maybe I would have been steered in a direction to do movies such as that. You can be put in a box easily and people want to do that to you. It makes you work harder. It becomes `I'm going to show them.'
Q: You still audition.
A: Oh yeah. If I chose to do things like Dawson's Creek I wouldn't have to. But just about everything I've done I've auditioned for. For Abandon, I auditioned for an entire day.
Q: Tell me something you auditioned for and didn't get.
A: Hmmm. Well, I flew all the way to London to try out for Captain Corelli's Mandolin. That didn't quite work out. It was like one of those situations when you're young and your parents say you're not old enough yet and you say yes I am, and you do it and you realize, `Yeah, I'm not old enough yet.' Plus when I got there I didn't do a good job.
Q: What a bad movie. Maybe it turned out for the better.
A: Yeah, but it would have been a summer in Greece.
Q: So do you feel pressure to have a big movie?
A: Everyone would like a hit, of course. That brings more opportunities. But I can't really worry about it. I would love for Abandon to do well, but we just have to see what happens. You keep working and having different experiences and maybe someday you'll be in a hit, or maybe you won't.
Q: Your dad has said you struggle with being a celebrity.
A: Well, I think it happened so quickly. I went from graduating Notre Dame to, nine months later, everybody knowing who I was and people asking, `What's it like to be a role model?' and I'm like `What do you mean?' It was a strange feeling. We had shot the whole season and then suddenly people liked it, and that meant we got to do it again. But it's little disconcerting too. You think: `I'm still me, but now everybody thinks I'm weird,' and people think I have some knowledge and power or something, and I don't. It just means I go to work like everyone else and I have to fly a lot. That's what it means.