In 'Killer Joe,' Gina Gershon bares lots, says it 'sets the tone'

Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church star in "Killer Joe."

Photo by Skip Bolen

Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church star in "Killer Joe."

When 22-year-old drug dealer Chris has his stash stolen by his mother, he has to come up with six thousand dollars quick or he's dead. ...

Rating: NC-17 for graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality

Length: 103 minutes

Released: July 27, 2012 NY

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple

Director: William Friedkin

Writer: Tracy Letts

More info and showtimes »

PHILADELPHIA - It is, without doubt, one of the more memorable entrances in movie history:

There's Gina Gershon, answering a knock on the door at the start of "Killer Joe," naked from the waist down, and not in any hurry to cover herself.

"It definitely makes a statement about who she is," says Gershon, laughing a bit and reflecting on this woman, Sharla - a character dreamed up by Tracy Letts for his play, and then adapted to the screen by William ("The Exorcist," "The French Connection") Friedkin.

The story is trailer-trash noir: A desperate and rather dim guy (Emile Hirsch) and his none-too-bright dad (Thomas Haden Church) go about hiring a hit man. That would be the title character, played by Matthew McConaughey, and Gershon gets caught up in all this nasty business, too.

"It's out there," says the actress, who dropped into town recently. "I love the opening, because not only does it set the tone of the movie - you can laugh, and you can see you're in for an outrageous ride - but it also just reveals - no pun intended - so much about who she is. Primal, feral, a sort of wild animal who just doesn't really care."

In fact, Hirsch and Church spend a lot of time walking around the trailer in various states of undress, too.

"They're very animalistic," she says. "It doesn't really faze any of them. Even (McConaughey's) Joe - he hasn't lived in the house for more than a week, and he's walking around naked. I guess it's really hot in there."

Joe, a police detective by day, has moved in because he's taken possession, in a manner of speaking, of the virginal creature in the bedroom, Dottie, played by Juno Temple. Letts, who won the Pulitzer Prize for another of his plays, "August: Osage County," has cooked up a pulp gumbo full of sex, violence, deceit and greed. A pulp gumbo in which this family who walk around naked can sit down at the table for a meal, hold hands, and say grace.

"You don't know whether to laugh, or leave," says Gershon, who turned down the chance to appear in a stage production of "Killer Joe ("I didn't want to do it eight times a week"), but took the role of Sharla for the film, rated NC-17.

And people are using words like "brave" and "fearless" to describe Gershon's performance - this for an actress who's heard that kind of thing before, for "Showgirls," for "Bound." There's a brutal scene toward the end of the film in which McConaughey's character forces Gerson's down on her knees and force-feeds her a piece of fried chicken.

"Everyone was like, 'Oh, how brave!'" she says. "I mean, I looked at it like OK, you have Friedkin, you have (cinematographer) Caleb Deschanel, you have Tracy Letts who's an amazing writer, like what's so brave about this choice?

"Sure, it's a challenging part, but as an actress, that's fine. I don't want to be stuck doing the same thing over and over again."

Still, Gershon, who has a book coming out this fall ("In Search of Cleo: How I Found My Pussy and Lost My Mind," about her epic search for her lost cat), concedes "it wasn't the funnest day on the set.

"It's a difficult scene - difficult for several reasons. Physically, obviously. But just emotionally, to me, here's a woman who thinks she has her life figured out, and she has an escape route, and she has her own Prince Charming coming to save her - and then she realizes her dreams are shattered."

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