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2017/02/05

The Unparalleled Lori Petty

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


Has there ever been a time that you thought about a TV star, singer, or actor who you haven’t seen much of recently and thought,”I wonder what she/he has been up to?” I’d heard the hype about the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black," so I decided to give it a try, and quickly found myself binge-watching it on a regular basis. During season two, a new character--but a familiar face--appeared, and I was excited to see that it was Lori Petty, who I’d adored from her acting in movies in the ‘90s. The roles that I remember her from most were the crime/action/surfer flick Point Break, the baseball comedy/drama A League of Their Own, the Pauly Shore comedy In the Army Now, and the film adaptation of the comic Tank Girl. Seeing Petty back onscreen was so much fun; like an unexpected visit from an old friend who you've been thinking about, but haven't seen in ages.


Lori Petty as Kit Keller in A League of Their Own
In all fairness, Petty didn’t exactly fade into the ether after the ‘90s; she was in quite a few TV series from then until now, including "Superman," "Star Trek: Voyager," "NYPD Blue," and "House," as well as several movie roles. Unfortunately, many of these were off of my radar, so I just nostalgically thought of her former roles and hoped that she’d be back around.


As I mentioned before, I'd seen her in some roles during the '90s, but it was the 1995 film Tank Girl, based on the comic book series created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, that made me really fall in love with Petty’s acting. Checking out the comics is something I've always planned to do, but sadly, haven't gotten to yet, so I can’t speak to how faithful to them the movie was. But, I adored the frenetic energy Petty brought to the character of Tank Girl. The storyline is set in a somewhat futuristic, drought-affected Australia, with Tank Girl, her sidekick, Jet Girl (played by Naomi Watts), and hybrid soldiers called The Rippers fighting against an oppressive mega-corporation called Water & Power. Petty’s portrayal of Tank Girl is wild, crazy, and unapologetic--exactly how I imagine a person in Tank Girl’s situation would be. As a very young woman back then, I admired Tank Girl and Jet Girl’s “take no s***” approach, how they refused to be taken advantage of, and how they fought for what was fair and right. Add to that the outrageous costumes, the set designs, and a soundtrack that featured music by quite a few of the decade's well-knowns (including Bjork, Bush, Veruca Salt, L7, Hole, and Ice-T, who had a part in the film), and the entire movie was a non-stop romp of fun. Though it didn’t have a lot of financial success when it came out, it has a cult following to this day.

 Lori Petty as Lolly Whitehill in "Orange is the New Black"
But back to the excitement I felt when I saw Petty onscreen as Lolly in "Orange is the New Black": after seeing her handle both serious and comedic roles so well in the past, I was eager to watch her shine as she played this character too, and I wasn’t disappointed. Lolly is an inmate at Litchfield Penitentiary, where most of the show is set, and was also an inmate at a facility in Chicago. Though I don’t remember the show specifically stating what Lolly’s diagnosis is, it’s clear that she deals with mental illness. She believes that government agencies are doing surveillance on her, and shares conspiracy theories with anyone who will listen (and even those who won't sometimes). I don’t want to provide spoilers, but there are some poignant flashback scenes where the compassionate side of Lolly is on full display, as she cares for people in her neighborhood, especially those who are disadvantaged. Petty adds depth and layers to what could easily become a very cliche, stereotypical character. There are moments of humor, but it’s also tempered by the way Petty shows Lolly as a complex person struggling with mental illness who deals with loneliness and feeling isolated. Petty does this so well that, watching the show, there were times that I got emotional during particular scenes involving Lolly. The compassion I couldn't help but feel for her got me so caught up in the moment that it was easy to set aside that it was just Petty acting out a character.

Not only as Lolly, but in all the roles she’s played, Petty has a wonderful physicality and timing to her acting. In a close-up shot, viewers don’t even need to see the rest of her body to pick up what’s being conveyed; her eyes and facial expressions can say it all, and then some. Even then, don’t discount the scenes where the whole person is in view; with gestures, the way she walks or runs, etc., Petty adds personality to her characters that rounds them out into so much more than just two-dimensional.

I’ve seen that Petty has said she feels that the character of Lolly will be back for a new season(s) of "Orange is the New Black", and IMDb lists her in upcoming roles in the films Fear, Love, and Agoraphobia, a story about a female Marine and an agoraphobic man, and Dead Awake, a horror/thriller movie that’s in post-production. I'll definitely be on the lookout for new projects from her now, and can't wait to see what else she might be working on.

I wasn't able to find an official website for Lori Petty, but you can follow her on Twitter at @LoriPetty.

So, your turn, readers: What entertainers have you had that "I wonder whatever happened to them?" feeling about? We'd love to hear from you in the comments.






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