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Are You Ready for Paz?

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“Gay Street and Wave-uh-lee,” Paz says to the cabdriver after we’re finished with dinner. Though Paz and I have remained friendly over the past few years, this is the first time I’ve been back to her apartment. It is consumed by an eighteenth-century gilded bed frame, which I remember having watched her convince the salesman at ABC Carpet she would pay for in full when she became a successful artist. Antonioni movies are stacked next to cereal boxes and Criterion Collection DVDs. A painting by Jack Nicholson, whom Paz accompanied to the Departed premiere and with whom she has remained close, perches next to a portrait of Paz by her good friend and “spiritual adviser” Francesco Clemente. There are vintage posters of Marcello Mastroianni, Brigitte Bardot, and Isabelle Adjani on the wall. Paz puts Paris, Texas into the DVD player as I walk into the bathroom.

I remark on her shower curtain, with the oversize red G embroidered in its center, and she says that she recently “liberated” it from the Gramercy Park Hotel. The bathroom mirror is cluttered with postcards, Scorsese letterhead, and a nude photo of Paz bent over a couch. When I return from the bathroom, Paz is standing completely naked, twirling her hair, an icy draft gusting from the window. “You don’t mind, do you?” she murmurs. Her hips wave back and forth, toes curling on the carpet. “It’s a period bush,” she says. “The HBO series takes place in the 1920s. I’m trying to get into character.”

Paz is a creature of fearful symmetry—it’s obvious why, earlier this year, Milk Gallery dedicated an entire exhibit to James Macari’s nude photographs of her, or why Jim Jarmusch had her naked in every scene she shot in The Limits of Control. “Paz is completely aware of that contradiction of vulnerability and strength,” Jarmusch says. “Nudity is her favorite wardrobe, her way of confronting her own fears head-on. And that’s what makes her a great actor.”

Paz gets naked whenever possible: in front of her mother, walking down Greenwich Street in her short film Pupa Papa Puta, or in front of anyone with a camera. “Paz exudes sex,” says her friend Ellen von Unwerth, another photographer, who has shot her on over a dozen occasions. “She needs people to feel as though they’re stepping out on that edge with her where she is most comfortable.” And Paz is very vocal about her need for affection. “I need to touch, to be touched, to feel safe inside,” she explains. “I want to be made love to all the time. Eat, sleep, act, make love.”

Some of her relationships have been disastrous. She is still recovering from a yearlong love affair with Scott Weiland, the Stone Temple Pilots junkie. He drifted in and out of rehab as Paz tried her best to help him. (“At least I know what that’s like,” she now says.) But it would be a mistake to assume that Paz’s insatiable appetites indicate a lack of control. “Paz treats relationships like a short film that she is directing,” says Donald Cumming, her first boyfriend and the lead singer of the Virgins. “She was 17, and we had this amazing night together. For two weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. She wouldn’t return my calls, and I was just heartbroken. Finally, I ran into her at a house party. She spotted me from across the room and then she took the longest possible route, saying hello to everyone along the way. When she finally reached me, she asked me, ‘Are you in love with me yet?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Good. You can be my boyfriend then.’ ”

As we are talking, Paz dives headfirst onto the bed to answer the phone and whispers to one of her many suitors. “I’m in bed, and I’ve said my prayers. Un beso.” In the background, Paris, Texas is entering the monumental scene when Harry Dean Stanton’s character describes why he left his wife and child. On cue, Paz plays the scene, her face buried deep into the pillow, her lips folded like a rolled-up sardine can.

“Then he ran. He never looked back at the fire. He just ran. He ran until the sun came up and he couldn’t run any further. And when the sun went down, he ran again. For five days he ran like this until every sign of man had disappeared.”

Paz lifts her arm up and begins to massage her scar tissue.

“Are you okay?” I ask her.

“I still cry about it.”

“Why?”

“Because I feel like no one will love me,” she says matter-of-factly, and then she falls asleep.

The following morning, I meet Paz at Golden Bridge Yoga on Centre Street. Her druid robe hangs dangerously close to a burning candle near the entrance. When class is over, she struts out of the studio in leopard-print spandex. “I had an orgasm! My hands are still shaking,” she says, just loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. “It was like the time I went to Graceland. Elvis’s ghost gave me an orgasm in his recording studio.”


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