Interview: Dominique Swain, ‘Lolita’ Star in 1997 Remake

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CHICAGO – About 15 years ago, a controversy erupted over a new film version of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel, “Lolita.” The version was to be closer in spirit to the original novel, and therefore more open about a older man’s obsession with an underage teenage girl. Taking on the young girl role of Dolores Haze, AKA “Lolita,” was the actress Dominque Swain.

Swain was picked for the character after applications for the role numbered around 2500. Not only were the filmmakers for this new imagining of the novel fighting the censorship, but they were also competing against the version directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, who worked off a script from the original author and turned the May-December creepiness into broad satire.

At the center of the storm was Dominque Swain. Only 14 years old when the filming began, she took on one of the most notorious title roles ever created. She has had a steady career since that film, following up in 1997 portraying John Travolta’s daughter in the unique action film “Face/Off.” Other notable roles were in the independent favorite “Pumpkin” (2002) and the Nick Cassevetes-directed crime drama, “Alpha Dog” (2006).

Dominque Swain at the Hollywood Celebrities & Memorabilia Show, Chicago, September 2011
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for got the opportunity to speak to Dominque Swain at the Hollywood Celebrities & Memorabilia Show, on “Lolita” and a host of other career topics. Providing the Exclusive Portrait is photographer Joe Arce. What do you think you understood about the character of Lolita that got you the role over the 2,500 actresses that were auditioned?

Dominique Swain: Adrian Lyne [the director] blamed my spontaneity. He just said that I did things in a way that was totally different, pretty much every time. I was lucky to have an actor like Jeremy Irons, who is such a great actor and so solid, who was ready to work with a kid who had never been in a film before. I didn’t realize how grateful I was until I started working more, especially in television, where they want you to express it precisely, exactly the same every time. What do you admire most about the language and power of the Vladimir Nabokov novel, and how did you honor that novel in your performance?

Swain: I revere the novel, I’ve read it six times. Whenever there were scenes in the film, I would refer immediately back to the book for more information. One thing I wrote to Adrian Lyne on my audition tape that I initially sent, is that Lolita didn’t have a point of view, she was third person. I told him I know who she is, and I can give her a point of view. That’s all I wrote, and that’s what I felt. When you’re a kid, you have balls of steel. [laughs] It seemed that Lolita got more attention because of Adrian Lyne’s more literal translation of the novel than the Stanley Kubrick version. What do you think is better or more honest about your version as opposed to earlier film?

Swain: In terms in an adaptation of the novel, Kubrick was up against even a more puritanical culture then our production faced. And yet, we were widely criticized as well. I think the reason was that we were more racy, it was because I was a kid, I went from 14-years-old to 15 while I was filming it. I think the whole point of ‘Lolita’ is that Humbert Humbert [the main character] is attracted to the kid. It was his arrested development, he was a kid as well. He saw the girl and couldn’t resist, because he was attracted to the kid in her. I think that made people a lot more uncomfortable, because he is attracted to the child in her person. You done a number of films and have worked with many directors. Which director did you have the best working relationship with, and how did that relationship translate into your performance in the film?

Swain as the Title Character in ‘Lolita’
Swain as the Title Character in ‘Lolita’
Photo credit: Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment

Swain: Adrian Lyne was like a second father to me. Zev Berman from ‘Briar Patch’ [2003], I love him and his creative vision. Nick Cassavetes is amazing as a director [Alpha Dog, 2006], he saw different people’s strengths and catered to them completely. He was also able to see the differences in people’s attitudes, and what he wanted to inspire in the characters that he had created, so he was very much a master puppeteer.

I think your relationship overall with the director is very important. Some directors think it’s not their job to influence the actors at all, and I think that’s completely dumb. They hire you because they know what we can do, and when it’s a collaborative vision, it’s always going to be better. I can give them what I have as an actor, but if you can figure out what I’m capable of, it does inspire confidence and risk taking. Given that your career started with the one-two punch of ‘Lolita’ and ‘Face/Off,’ what type of role have you yet to play that you are anxious to try?

Swain: I would like to do voiceover work, like a Disney princess or something for Pixar. A guest appearance on ‘The Simpsons,’ I would put that at the top of my resume. I even had yellow hair as a girl, that was me. [laughs] What can you tell us about Christina Ricci that the rest of the world doesn’t know?

Swain: Lots of things. [laughs] She’s really cool. The first time I talked to her is when we worked on a scene together in ‘Pumpkin.’ And she said, ‘the girl doesn’t think that’s a good idea.’ And I thought, what girl? Then I realized she was talking about herself. It wasn’t something she did all the time, but I thought that was just the funniest thing. It was a great idea, just blame another version of yourself. It was fantastic. She is smart, sexy, hilarious and awesome.

The “Hollywood Celebrities & Memorabilia Show” is now “The Hollywood Show” and will be in Chicago on March 24th and 25th, 2012. Click here for details. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald,

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