Lauren Ambrose is that redhead from HBO’s Six Feet Under-some kind of redhead, clearly, as evidenced by the eyeballs that locked on her tangerine mane as she slinked into the Bryant Park Hotel on a recent afternoon, decked in a pink blouse and white slacks.
Ms. Ambrose, who is 23, plays Claire Fisher, the sardonic, pouty-lipped youngest child of the Fishers, Six Feet Under’s funeral-home clan. Like Claire (My So-Called Life) Danes and Sarah Jessica (Square Pegs) Parker before her, Ms. Ambrose has been praised for adolescent vérité on the small screen-Claire Fisher, unlike most TV teens, is a roiling stew of contradictory emotions, and often a complete pain in the ass, just like we all were. She smokes crystal meth, motors around in a green hearse, and once put a foot in an ex-boyfriend’s locker. Just like we all did.
The real Ms. Ambrose is married, mature and, from all appearances, unflustered. She grew up in New Haven, Conn., and now lives in Los Angeles. She and her husband, Sam, just moved to a new house, where they watch baseball games. They don’t have HBO. (Cable problem, apparently.)
Professionally, Ms. Ambrose is in that weird space right now between sort-of-somebody and stardom. She has a résumé, but it’s a relatively short one. She was in the Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle Can’t Hardly Wait, where she managed to have sex with Seth Green. She was in Psycho Beach Party, an Annette & Frankie satire in which she played a schizophrenic surfer girl named Chicklet. (Don’t feel bad; neither did we.) Ms. Ambrose was also in In & Out and a stack of Party of Fives. She was also in an independent movie called Swimming, where she played a working-class teenager in a resort town. Swimming is supposed to be pretty good.
Ms. Ambrose is not the big star on Six Feet Under; that mantle belongs to Rachel Griffiths, the fine Australian movie actress (Hilary and Jackie) who plays Brenda Chenowith and gets a lot of horny attention for being a smart, swan-necked nutcase and sleeping around. But lately, that Brenda’s been a tough pill-a couple weeks ago, she had a sweaty threesome with two surfer dudes, and for chrissakes, she’s engaged to be married-so she’s freaking the audience out. Should there be a mass viewer-allegiance defection from Brenda-land, Claire stands to benefit.
This is not something Ms. Ambrose talks about. She has, at a young age, pretty much mastered the smooth Hollywood love-down: Spend a little time with Ms. Ambrose as an inquisitive stranger, and she will, in short order, politely describe the togetherness of the Six Feet Under cast and crew, the genius of creator Alan Ball, the genius of the writers overall, the genius of her fellow actors, the genius of the producers, the genius of the key grip, her utter amazement at every single episode, and her gratefulness to be a part of the ride. She will not, even under heavy prodding, reveal plot points of June 2’s Six Feet Under finale. Apparently, people prod the other cast members all the time to dish such details, to the point that Ms. Ambrose said she and her colleagues once got a memo stating, “If you talk in your sleep, don’t talk about the show.”
Besides, “no one really wants to know,” Ms. Ambrose said. She paused. “Maybe they do.”
Because she’s on a fancy show like Six Feet Under, Ms. Ambrose gets to go to a lot of awards shows, something she might not get to do if she were on, say, Just Shoot Me. She said she goes to that stuff and gets starstruck. “I’m more starstruck than I’d like to admit,” she said. She mooned over Shirley MacLaine at a GLAAD fête; Ms. MacLaine said she liked Ms. Ambrose’s work. She saw You Can Count on Me’s Laura Linney at one awards ceremony, and when Ms. Linney said she liked her work, too, Ms. Ambrose … cried. (You Can Count on Me is one of Ms. Ambrose’s two favorite all-time movies; the other is To Kill a Mockingbird.)
Now she was doing the publicity crawl. That morning, Ms. Ambrose had appeared on Live with Regis and Kelly. It felt a little surreal, she said. Regis and Kelly apparently wear a lot of makeup. The next day she was going to be on CBS’s The Early Show. “It’s hard to believe this is a part of my job,” Ms. Ambrose said of doing interviews, “but I want to be good at it. I don’t know if I am.”
Ms. Ambrose gets asked all the time how, in her mid-20’s, she can play a teenager so well; she thinks this is funny, since it “wasn’t so long ago.” She said there are parts of Claire Fisher that are from her own experience, but on this front she was more vague. Claire loathes high school, and in real life Ms. Ambrose left Choate Rosemary Hall to attend a magnet school, but Ms. Ambrose said she wasn’t an unhappy child and no, she didn’t hate Choate. She just left because she was ready for other things.
“I was just an antsy kid, and I wanted to be an actress and I felt tortured,” Ms. Ambrose said. “The way that everybody does when they’re a kid, right?”
How To Love the Nets (Without Ticking Off The Knicks)
With the Knicks gone and the Nets ascendant, the island east of the swamp has been forced to consider the Nets not only as a New York–area basketball team, but, scarily, as the New York–area basketball team. How does a Knicks fan root for the Nets? It’s a paradox that at first seems as insoluble as another New York street phenomena, Jews for Jesus.
Let’s start with Jason Kidd. Even religious Knicks fans (or any fan of the sport, for that matter) can’t help but admire Mr. Kidd. A reliable commander at the point, he’s what the Knicks always needed to win. Having him play across the Hudson for a near-championship team is also depressing, of course, akin to seeing the love of your life move in across the street-with her new husband. But Mr. Kidd has whipped the Nets into a team reminiscent of that out-of-body Knicks club of ’98, the year that Patrick Ewing’s knees ran out of cartilage and he had to sit out the playoffs. Without Mr. Ewing clogging up the paint, the team flew and sprinted; Mr. Ewing’s knees were, in effect, an angioplasty. Seeing Mr. Kidd lob to his high-flying henchman Kenyon Martin conjures up ghosts of a dunking (and healthy) Marcus Camby falling from the rafters versus Indiana. It’s true: The Nets built the team we long to be.
Then there are Nets fans. And there are Nets fans; we checked, and they’re a lot hungrier than we are. Knicks fans, served champagne and strawberries at the Garden, have become cranky and pampered. But the Nets play in the Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands, which reeks of Jimmy Hoffa crassness. No tuxedoed popcorn guys in Jersey. Try fingers in the hot dogs.
So root away, Knicks fans. Unlike the days of the Yankees and Dodgers, there is no intra-city hostility here. The Nets have always occupied an odd space in New York sports; they’re like a foster kid, and until this season, they made no effort to really gain our attention. If Knicks fans shelve their jealousy and elitism, there is some great basketball ahead. Plus, the Nets are playing Boston. What other reason do you need?