Lindsay Lohan is sneaking a cigarette at a banquette by the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel, flicking her ashes under the table. It’s the worst thing anyone is going to catch the 21-year-old actress doing these days, aside from the previous night’s 4AM binge – on cake, that is, a Duncan Hines Angel Food special she baked and frosted herself.
“I was in the kitchen like a little animal,” she admits, curling her lip in mild disgust. “It’s so good, I should throw it out.”
As we all know, Lohan is a girl who likes her vices, but after a year scarred with yet another car accident (her fourth since 2005), three stays in rehab, and 84 minutes in jail, she seems genuinely ready to mellow out, clean up, and, most importantly, get back to work. Far spookier than plowing her Mercedes into a bush on Sunset Blvd., apparently, is being absent from a movie set since she starred in the universally panned horror flick I Know Who Killed Me, released last summer.
“Right now I just wanna find a great script, a great role,” says Lohan with a palpable urgency in her voice. “I was so used to working and working and working, and for a good few months there was nothing for me to do. Now I know what it’s like to be an out of work actor, and how much it scares me.”
Fear and safety are recurring themes in conversation with the native New Yorker, who recently traded her Beverly Hills apartment for a furnished house in West Hollywood (a move she says signifies “settling down”). We are meeting in the confines of this plush pink hotel where Lohan lived while she was house hunting, because it makes her feel “very safe, which is nice.” When she leaves the grounds, however, she knows the paparazzi will be right on her tail. She concedes that it comes with the celebrity territory, but says, “Some days I just want to have my day and not have to deal. This morning I got in the car and I was like, not today. It’s a job in itself…And I’m the last person who feels that I need to get photographed.” She turns to her assistant Jenni Munro. “I’m gonna go home after this and just lock myself in my house and lay down for a minute.”
In the evening, Lohan will be attending the premiere of the monster movie Cloverfield, her first Hollywood red carpet appearance in months. As we talk, a friend of hers is running around town, pulling clothes for her to choose from (she’ll end up wearing a black Herve Leger cocktail dress). She’s also borrowed a diamond necklace and a platinum mesh bracelet studded with diamonds for the occasion.
“I put this necklace on for tonight,” says Lohan of the string of bling around her neck, “so I won’t take it off because I’m too scared. Usually I’m a bit more understated,” she adds with a chuckle. The avowed fashionista is dressed in her current “uniform” of black leggings (which, incidentally, are their own whole subtopic on fashion and pop culture blogs), worn with a black-and-white tunic, a tissue-thin leather jacket from Jenni Kayne, Chanel sunglasses, and buckled Chloe booties. The diamonds, while obviously worth a pretty penny, don’t seem particularly out of place, so the admission is kind of cute: even Lindsay Lohan worries about losing borrowed jewels! But then she confesses that earlier in the day she’d come upon a different diamond necklace, a random birthday gift she’d tucked into a Chanel bag more than a year ago and completely forgotten about.
Munro, who used to work for Christina Aguilera, smiles: “Like finding a twenty in your pants.”
In the spotlight since the age of three, Lohan seemed to make an effortless transition from freckle faced Disney tween to glamorous teen starlet who was still down to earth enough to pull off the role of the nice, smart one in Mean Girls. Back then, she said she took that part because she was worried her “fan base” would think she was “mean” if she played the Queen Bee. But while her co-star Rachel McAdams followed up Mean Girls with the even bigger hit The Notebook, Lohan made an unfortunate return to Disney with Herbie Fully Loaded. Joining the cast of Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion could have been a great career move if her offscreen antics hadn’t suddenly eclipsed her onscreen work. By the time the producer of Georgia Rule publicly denounced her unprofessional behavior in late 2006, Lohan had some nasty habits that a couple weeks at Promises in Malibu weren’t going to cure. It basically took most of the past year to sort through what she calls the “wreckage”; ultimately she had to leave Los Angeles, seeking treatment for two months at the Cirque Lodge in Park City, Utah.
Of the drive behind her seemingly unlimited capacity for partying, Lohan says, “I had a lot going on in my life and that was a way of hiding from it. I hadn’t seen my dad [her father Michael spent two years in jail on DUI charges]; I had a lot of work stress, ’cause I was constantly working and never took time to stop. Everything was go-go-go, and the easiest thing was to run away from it, going out and drinking at night. You know, you don’t have to think when you let go sometimes.” She takes a sip of iced tea. “But I didn’t realize it was getting in the way of my work – what I’ve worked for my whole life.”
Such a level-headed analysis sounds less like rehab speak than the hard-won realizations of someone who’s done a lot of thinking. The actress, who has the word “breathe” tattooed on her wrist in white ink, rolls her eyes. “There’s not really much else to do when you’re sitting in a treatment center. It’s like, why am I here? Let’s think.”
Since then Lohan has reconciled with her father (“which is good for my whole family; it’s healthy,” says the oldest of four), and she asserts that her wild days were simply a phase. “I wasn’t even 21 years old. It was like my college years. And it was just…all photographed.”
Indeed, imagine the typical college frat boy pulling similar stunts, and who’s shocked anymore? For that matter, who hasn’t passed out in the front seat of a car while their friend drove them home? This isn’t to say that Lohan’s behavior deserves defending, but the vilification of her by the media is equally out-of-control. Even a “reputable” publication like Entertainment Weekly ran a tabloid-worthy story on the death of her career; Radar, meanwhile, predicted that Lohan herself would be dead by 2010. When she traveled to Capri in December, the whole world knew that she’d taken a swig of champagne on New Year’s Eve (a slip that was unfortunately captured on video), but virtually no one realized that one day earlier, this glamorous city’s film festival had honored the actress for her contributions to cinema, an award she shares with Vanessa Redgrave and Faye Dunaway.
Lohan claims that she is sober now, and asked whether she wants to be or if she feels she has to be, she responds, “I never feel like I have to do anything. I wouldn’t be if I didn’t want to be. It suits me.” To borrow a term she uses to describe Ann-Margret, one of her idols, Lohan is a “tough cookie.” Toward would-be directors or producers who might have reservations about hiring her, she’s unapologetic. “I am what I am. They either want to take a chance or they don’t, is how I see it.”
Watching her work it for Jeremy Scott’s camera a few days later during a shoot inspired by Ayn Rand’s architecture-meets-ego novel The Fountainhead, it’s clear that any traces of the squeaky clean teen from Freaky Friday are long gone. Wearing a gown by Scott that is slit to the thigh, Lohan claws at the cage of a construction elevator dangling over the city, smoldering in the bright L.A. sun, every inch the movie star.
“To me Lindsay is like the most post-modern actress there is,” says her friend Scott, “because she’s got all these little bits and pieces of great actresses that have come before her…You could liken her to Elizabeth Taylor in that sense: someone who started very young, and it’s all still unfolding. There’s so much that’s going to come from her that we haven’t seen.”
In Alfonso Cuaron’s Dare to Love Me she’ll be flaunting some newly acquired tango skills, and she’s also planning to tour behind her third album, which she just started recording in Los Angeles. “I wanna dance, I wanna do the whole thing,” says Lohan, whose husky rendition of “Frankie and Johnny” was a surprise highlight of A Prairie Home Companion.
Most important, though, is finding “wonderful characters that really say something and make a difference on all levels.” Lohan knows that the choices she makes this year are crucial, for they’ll define her direction for the future, but she’s also enjoying the freedom afforded by a clean slate. “It’s refreshing to start new,” she notes.
Although she dropped out of John Maybury’s Dylan Thomas biopic, losing the opportunity to get it on with Keira Knightley (the part went to Sienna Miller), Lohan has been talking with the director about a possible Clara Bow project. Comparisons to the original “It girl” – herself a troubled tabloid fixture – are obvious, and Lohan says it would be “an honor” to play the Brooklyn-born silent film star. In fact, she’s already portrayed Bow once before, in a fashion editorial shot by Karl Lagerfeld. “I definitely relate to a lot of the things that she went through. Not with her family [Bow’s mother didn’t want her to be an actress, comparing the profession to prostitution], but the trials and tribulations of Hollywood, to an extent.”
Also on her wish list is a remake of 1964’s Kitten with a Whip, the Ann-Margret cult classic that’s one of Lohan’s personal favorites. Apparently there’s a script that she met with David O. Russell about last year. “I think it should happen,” she says hopefully. “All within time. I have patience.”
In the meantime she’s been auditioning for some big, hush-hush projects, one a starring vehicle with Johnny Depp; another an ensemble piece for which she’d have to go back to being a redhead (Lohan doesn’t like to wear wigs). She’s also hoping to do some charity work with children in Kenya, just as soon as she gets clearance to travel there. “I send them emails every other day, asking ‘when can I go?’”
But, she wants it known, this trip to Africa will be no media op. “I’d like to go under the radar, that’s my goal. I don’t wanna go and bring the whole scene with me; that’s not what I would be going for.”
Before any of it happens, though, it appears she’ll have to face some life-and-death situations on a more local level, doing community service at the L.A. morgue as part of her DUI sentence. “It’s scary, but it’s something I have to do,” she says resignedly of the news, announced that day. Lighting another cigarette, Lohan gives a wry laugh. “It’ll be good if I need to use it in a role.”