British rock vet Marianne Faithfull is back on the big screen with a plum new role. In Sam Garbarski’s tragicomedy Irina Palm, which opens tonight, she stars as a desperate grandmother who takes a gig doling out anonymous hand jobs (through a hole in the wall of a sex club) in an effort to raise funds to save her dying grandson. It could have all been terribly depressing, but the movie’s sweet, subtle charm landed it critical raves overseas — most notably at the Berlin Film Festival, where it was nominated for the prestigious Golden Bear. Faithfull took time during a recent European tour to talk about the role, her own worst job experiences, and that most dreaded of sex-worker afflictions, “Penis Elbow.”
So this is a pretty untraditional role…
Very much so! [Laughs.]
Were you apprehensive about taking it on?
No, I knew it wasn’t a dirty movie. Maggie starts out as this very beaten-down woman with nothing in her life except her grandson who she really loves, and by the end of the movie she’s changed; she’s found a strange kind of self-esteem. It’s a peculiar and interesting film. Just to recount the plot doesn’t give it a chance at all. I’m not stupid — I know it’s a bit of a fairy story. But there’s a lot of depth to it as well. To me it was like walking a razor’s edge: On one side was vulgarity and on the other was sentimentality, and I had to avoid both sides. I think it’s also very funny.
Agreed. The first time she goes into the hand-job booth…
Oh, it’s hysterical! She thinks that being a "hostess" is clearing up and making coffee!
And once she takes the job she’s so prolific that she has to be treated for “penis arm”…
Penis elbow, actually. It’s like tennis elbow. You know. It was an awful drag to do those scenes because I had to go around with the bloody sling on my arm the whole time.
Is that a real ailment?
I don’t know! I don’t know much about that world. I’ve never been to a sex club. I’ve never seen a dirty movie. I know a little bit about this thing with the holes, and that it’s a crossover from the gay world to the straight world.
Your right arm must have gotten a workout, even though you were only simulating.
We used dildos, and that was quite disgusting enough. God. It’s just a terrible, terrible job.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Gosh. Well, I really didn’t enjoy some of the movies I did when I was young. I felt kind of used. Although I have great admiration for Jack Cardiff, when I did The Girl on the Motorcycle — known in America as Naked Under Leather — I felt kind of exploited. Maybe I had to get older. Maybe I was just too pretty, and I would be all used up by now if I had kept going on that path. I don’t know. I think you have to really, really want to be a film star. And although when I was 14 I actually did want that, when I had that experience with Girl on a Motorbike, Ididn’t like it all. It was a perfectly okay shoot — it wasn’t a nightmare or anything — but I didn’t like the position I was in, being the starlet. I’m not really like that, I suppose. I’m too snooty. –Sara Cardace