Armed with nothing more than an open mind and half a tuna-fish sandwich, Heather Graham steps into New York sunshine. It's a seventeen-block hike to an art gallery, which, in the spirit of the times, is filled with a bunch of scarified obelisks that have something to do with the Cabala. To be fair, the gallery visit isn't her idea, but Graham, who just got back from India, is interested in mystical-flavored things these days.
"To be honest," she says, unzipping a ski jacket, calmly modeling a certain mussed perfection, "I am into a lot of New Agey–type stuff. It's great to appreciate it—and make fun of it at the same time."
The pilgrimage to India was a promotional obligation for The Guru, a romantic comedy that makes serious fun of the American obsession with New Agey–type stuff. Graham plays a porn star with a heart of gold and a head full of soft-core spirituality. Or as her character, Sharrona, the star of Glad He Ate Her and other entertainments, puts it: "My pussy is the door to my soul." One day, Sharrona bares her soul to her temporarily impotent co-star Ramu, an ambitious Indian immigrant, and before you can say "cable access," Ramu steals her philosophy and becomes the Deepak Chopra of deep throat—a charlatan sex guru. "A lot of people stand on this spiritual high ground," Graham says of the film's message, "when in reality, they're way more screwed up than the next person."
The trailer for The Guru
Graduate students of the Graham oeuvre may note that this is the second time in five years the 33-year-old actress has played a porn star. The difference between Sharrona and Rollergirl, we must report with regards and regret, is that she doesn't get naked this time. "It really is a full leading-lady part," says Guru director Daisy von Scherler Mayer. "But Heather was worried about being pigeon-holed. So she didn't want to take her clothes off. That was the only stipulation."
"I would do nudity again," Graham counters, "in certain circumstances. But I'm not jumping at the chance." She pauses to exercise her womanly prerogative. "I don't want to be naked!" she groans. "It's embarrassing and nerve-racking! You feel vulnerable and awkward."
Impossible as it is to imagine, Graham actually spends a great deal of her time in an advanced state of awkwardness. In fact, this is how she sees herself: less the California bombshell who appeared to have discovered a new tantric position on the cover of Talk, and more a gangly collection of Wisconsin-born body parts. "I'm really sort of dorky," she says. "It's just my natural personality, which I think is ... charming! Right?"
Among those charmed by the better Heather was her Guru co-star Michael McKean, best known as Spinal Tap front man David St. Hubbins (and, of course, Squiggy's partner, Lenny). McKean, who plays a low-rent porn auteur, sees in his cambered blonde colleague the silhouette of an honest-to-God physical comedian. "You never know," he says of Graham's comic chops. "Who knew that Leslie Nielsen could do comedy? That Lloyd Bridges was this brilliant shticktician? I certainly didn't help her with her homework, and she never went for any of the clichés."
And let's see Lloyd Bridges act on roller skates.
"I like to be two things at once," Graham says, zipping up her jacket and heading back into the fading late-autumn light. It's the Friday after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, but all she'll buy is an I ESCAPED THE BETTY FORD CLINIC T-shirt at a local street fair. "Sure, I get to play sexy parts some times, but then I'm a big dork. The world may see you one way, but the fact is you're completely the opposite."