Vogue Magazine - February 1992, Pages 228-229 & 285



Hot Tomatoes
Written by Randall Koral

Not long ago Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker joined me for a game of five-card draw, nothing wild. There are worse ways to get acquainted, and I suspected poker would come easily to them after portraying characters who play cards in Fried Green Tomatoes. The movie is what first brought them together, and now they are friends, as close as their first names. (Green Tomatoes director Jon Avnet avoided mixing up his Marys by dubbing them Stu and Lou.) Masterson plays Idgie Threadgoode, the hell-raising proprietor of a diner in Depression-era Alabama. Parker is Ruth Jamison, Idgie's more even-tempered partner in love, crime, and food preparation. Their adventures are recounted in flashback by nursing-home resident Jessica Tandy, who finds an eager audience in malcontent southern housewife Kathy Bates.

Tandy and Bates get top billing (something to do with the Oscars they've won), and they are as wonderful as they've ever been. But Masterson and Parker, whose characters tough out all the adversity the pre-civil-rights South has to offer, have much more to gain here. Fried Green Tomatoes shows what they can do, and what they can do together.

We set up in a bar in downtown Manhattan. They've dressed the part: faded jeans (Masterson's are black, Parker's blue with one ripped knee), leather jackets, and boots. I brought cards and enough chips to stake the cast of Ocean's Eleven. We order coffee and Cokes.

Did I say they were friends? Make that coconspirators. If each is her own harshest critic, each is the other's biggest fan. They defend each other from even the slightest self-deprecations. They finish each other's sentences, and when a private joke occurs to them, they whisper.

Before Masterson deals the first hand, she says, "We know this is illegal." I know it, too, but hope our activities will be concealed in this dark booth at the back of the near-empty bar.

"Vice," says Masterson, dropping her voice into Mata Hari range. "I know all about vice."

Does she want that in print?

"I don't mind," she says. "Nobody would believe it anyway. Even though it's totally true."

"Yes," Parker chimes in, leaning to address the tape recorder. "She's decadent. The innocence is a fraud!"

`Decadent` may be overstating it, but this is a good moment for Mary Stuart Masterson to bury the innocents she has played on-screen, all those "tough yet vulnerable" characters who live in the memory of critics, casting agents, and others who would reduce her career to an arc that began, when she was eight, with the little girl in The Stepford Wives and reached its zenith in 1987 with the role that remains her most widely known -- the smart-alecky tomboy in Some Kind of Wonderful. She played Eric Stoltz's long-suffering girl in that film, Sean Penn's in At Close Range, D.B. Sweeney's in Gardens of Stone, and Andrew McCarthy's in Heaven Help Us. The last is the best of that now-forgotten bunch. But even when her films aren't good, she is. "Cable has ruined me," jokes Masterson. "Only my bad films show every night. Everybody thinks I'm still sixteen, not sexy."

Everybody should reconsider.

As long as we're setting the record straight, let's also put to rest the idea that Mary-Louise Parker is some kind of space-alien naif. Two years older and noticeably quieter than Masterson, Parker, at twenty-seven, is a lesser-known quantity. Though she stood out as the lone female in the cast of Longtime Companion and appears in the recent Grand Canyon, as of this poker game her highest-profile performance has occurred onstage, in Prelude to a Kiss, opposite Alec Baldwin and then Timothy Hutton on Broadway. Her searching brown eyes and tentative smile are too often read as vacancy signs, when in fact she is, like Masterson, well grounded and completely in control.

While Masterson talks freely about her parents (director Peter Masterson and actress Carlin Glynn) and growing up in New York and Texas, Parker volunteers only that she attended high school in Arizona and college at the North Carolina School of the Arts and came to New York the day she graduated. She's even less eager to chat about her relationship with Timothy Hutton and does her best to keep his name out of the conversation -- another contrast to Masterson, who met her husband, George, when both were teenagers and married him two years ago.

Eventually we get around to the relationship between their Green Tomatoes characters. Fannie Flagg, who wrote the novel and cowrote the script, made it clear that Idgie and Ruth are in love but left their sexuality open to speculation.

"I don't think it really matters," Masterson concludes, folding a hand. "And that's the way we've treated it. What's explicit is that [Idgie and Ruth] really love each other and that they have a family together, an alternative family."

Like their characters, the actresses cooked for each other while on location in Peachtree City, Georgia. And both are strict vegetarians. So the question arises, how about green tomatoes?

"I make them in one scene," Masterson says.

"I spit them out," says Parker, who has won every round.

When the waitress loses patience and busts up our game, we decide it may be time to end the interview as well. We cash in our chips, and I pay the price of a pack of Marlboros to Parker, who began by insisting she was "not a games person" and has ended up the big winner. I go home, the loser, hoping someday to find out what fried green tomatoes taste like.