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''Action'' suffers in the ratings despite being a critical fave

But star Illeana Douglas says that the small screen is where the true spirit of indie film lives

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Illeana Douglas
Fox Network

Dirty words, prostitutes, and even Keanu Reeves couldn’t save the new Fox series ”Action” (9:30 p.m.) from dismal ratings. Last Thursday’s debut episode pulled in an audience less than half the size of the one that lapped up NBC’s rerun of ”Frasier,” and an encore showing on Sunday couldn’t top UPN’s professional-wrestling fest. But such Nielsen nightmares aren’t likely to make Illeana Douglas run back to the movies. The ”Stir of Echoes” star says playing a sassy hooker on ”Action” is a big step up from the feature fare available to actresses today. ”I’ve seen independent film changing, becoming geared more and more towards foreign markets and A-level stars,” she says. ”To me, television is becoming more like what independent film used to be, breaking barriers and trying to expand the form.”

Though Douglas says the nasty Hollywood high jinks of ”Action” could never exist in the world of independent filmmaking ”because no one’s arguing about where to park their Lamborghini when the budget’s only $500,000,” she points to her recent experience with ”Happy, Texas” (opening Oct. 1) as an example of how distorted the indie world has become. ”The producer couldn’t get financing based on the cast list of me, Jeremy Northam, William H. Macy, Steve Zahn, and Ally Walker,” she says. ”He finally had to finance it himself, because everyone he talked to had their list of [big] names they wanted in the movie.”

You can bet that list included a few sexy young starlets. Douglas says that aging gracefully isn’t always an option on the big screen. ”You’ll see by next year that Oscar-winning actresses will be on TV, because there is no more work for them in studio filmmaking,” says the 34-year-old actress. ”Unfortunately, that’s the state of the business. In film you only get control when you bring in box office money, [whereas] women have tremendous control in TV.”

And the tube offers the thrill of instant gratification. ”When I was doing ‘The Larry Sanders Show,’ not only did I have input into the character, but two weeks later what I shot was on TV. Sometimes you do something in a movie, like with ‘Stir of Echoes,’ where there’s another movie that’s sort of similar and you have to wait a whole year to find out how you’re going to be impacted by the fact there’s another film that’s also about ghosts.” Hey, sounds like an episode of ”Action.”