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Showbiz Today Star of Tomorrow
NEW YORK (CNN) -- It wasn't long ago that Piper Perabo was a struggling actress in New York City, making ends meet by waiting tables and holding on to her hope that one day her dreams would come true.
Fast forward two years and two films later, and Perabo is playing her life experiences out on the big screen as Violet in "Coyote Ugly."
Perabo made her film debut in "Whiteboyz" (1999) and followed that with a co-starring role in the recent release, "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle." Now, in Jerry Bruckheimer's latest film, she tackles her first leading role, playing Violet, a small-town girl in the big city who is simultaneously overwhelmed and intrigued by her new life -- a feeling, Perabo, a small-town girl who moved to the big city, surely recognizes.
CNN met the actress at Coyote Ugly -- there really is a New York bar of that name -- where she talked about her new role and her hot career.
CNN: You beat out hundreds of other actresses for this role -- they did a countrywide search. The script just came to you, and you didn't know about the hype surrounding it.
Piper Perabo: The day I read the script I went and got a guitar ... because I felt like, this is the movie that I really want to go for next. So I started to learn guitar right away. I didn't know that they were, you know, doing all these searches and everything.
I had just done what she does in the story just about a year earlier -- I moved from New Jersey and came to New York and was working at a bar, and you know, trying to make it. So it was just funny to read a script that was just similar to what had been going on in my life.
CNN: Before we talk about the movie, let's go back a bit. You grew up in Toms River, New Jersey. You're only 23. You couldn't have started acting too terribly long ago.
Perabo: I went to college in Ohio, at Ohio University, and I graduated two years ago. And so when I graduated I moved to New York, and I was waitressing here and auditioning -- and I got my first job pretty soon after. I got "Whiteboyz" about a month after I had moved to the city, so I've been working for two years.
CNN: You're 23 years old, have three movies under your belt and a fourth on the way ("Lost and Delirious"). You only really started pursuing this career two years ago?
Perabo: It's what I studied in school and it's what I've always wanted to do. But yeah, I've only been really making any money out it for two years. I can only pay my electric bill for my last two years on my acting.
I mean, its hard to be an actor in the city -- trying to make it as an actor -- because you waitress all night, you get home really late and you're super tired and your feet hurt. (B)ut you have to get up early next morning to prepare for your auditions that day. So ... you never really rest. But it was fun.
CNN: When you first moved to the city, were you a little overwhelmed?
Perabo: Yeah. I got lost a lot, and I was a really bad waitress ... I got lost on the subway. I didn't realize there was a difference between local and express, so I'd always get on the express and my stop would fly by. I'd be like, "What is wrong? This train is supposed to stop here!"
CNN: What did Violet go through when she came to the city?
Perabo: Well, it's actually really similar. She tries to get a waitressing job for a while -- I mean, she's looking for a while before she finds Coyote Ugly -- and it's hard to get a waitressing job in the city.
CNN: You need experience.
Perabo: There are a lot of people who wait tables. And especially because you can do it at night and you can do your work in the day, she and I had a very similar experience.
CNN: "Whiteboyz" was your first film. What was it like when you actually sat in a screening room and watched that movie?
Perabo: It was weird. Mark Webber, who is one of the guys in "Whiteboyz," was with me and ... I just kept thinking, "Oh my God!"
CNN: In your next film, "Rocky & Bullwinkle," with Robert De Niro, Rene Russo and Jason Alexander, you play a detective?
Perabo: I play an FBI agent.
CNN: How soon after "Whiteboyz" did that come together?
Perabo: I auditioned for it two months after "Whiteboyz," and then a month later I got the job.
CNN: Are you pinching yourself?
Perabo: Yeah, every morning.
CNN: Coyote ugly: It's a slang phrase. Do you know what it means?
Perabo: Yeah, it means you are so drunk, and you go home with someone on a one-night stand. And you wake up in the morning and you see them and would rather chew your arm off than wake them up -- like a coyote in a trap.
CNN: Violet suffers from stage fright; does Piper ever get stage fright?
Perabo: Yeah, depending some scenes. ... I'd be standing up on the bar and there'd be 400 people in the bar and I was like, "I wish I was a librarian today." You know what I mean?
CNN: What did you experience the first time you saw this trailer playing in a theater?
Perabo: I was working in Montreal shooting a film, and had the night off. So I went to go see "The Patriot" by myself, and ... the trailer came on and I hadn't seen it before. ... I was so excited, because it's just so exciting. And there was this ... guy next to me and I wanted to (say), "Hey man, this is the movie and it's coming!" But I didn't because I thought he'd think I was a freak. So I just kind of sat there by myself.
CNN: You didn't say to anyone, "Hey, that's me!"?
Perabo: No, and I wanted so badly to tell somebody, so I'm telling you. I'm reliving it right now.
CNN: You think you'd ever work at a bar like this?
Perabo: I don't know. You have to be really ballsy to work at a bar like this. First of all, I'm not a good waitress, so I don't know if I'd have the guts to come in every night. It's a hard job, but fun.
CNN: You've already gone through the publicity storm that accompanies the film, but are ready for the public's reaction?
Perabo: I don't really know what to expect. It's like a blind turn on a highway: You can't see what's coming, so you don't really know how to prepare. I mean, you can't go to Barnes & Noble and buy "The Complete Idiot's Guide To Your-Movie's-Coming-Out."
I just finished ... "Lost and Delirious" with this director named Lea Pool. Her films before have been in French. She's Swiss-French and now lives in Canada. This is her first film in English. It's about a girls' boarding school. It's another kind of coming-of-age story, but it's a drama. (W)e just finished so maybe this winter it will be done.
CNN: What do you do with your free time?
Perabo: Well, last time between jobs, I drove cross-country with my best friend. I really like to just jump in a truck with your backpack and just drive and go somewhere. I think that's why I like New York City because you can just put on your backpack and just explore; you never know where you are going to end up. I've never been one for sitting on beaches.
CNN: Where would you like to see your career go in the next few years?
Perabo: What I'd really like to do is do a film or two a year and then do theater in New York the rest of the year. Willem Dafoe seems to move between kind of avante-garde theatre and film, and I think eventually that's what I'd like to do.
Rimes croons incognito in 'Coyote Ugly'
Touchstone Pictures' "Coyote Ugly"
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