"Eat Pray Love" marks writing debut for actress

Mon Aug 16, 2010 12:01am EDT
 
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By Jenelle Riley

LOS ANGELES (Back Stage) - Jennifer Salt has the distinction of breaking into and succeeding in the competitive world of the entertainment industry twice.

Her first go-round was as an actor, appearing in such classic films as "Midnight Cowboy" and starring as spoiled Eunice Tate on "Soap."

But Salt says she eventually "lost the love" for acting and turned to writing, where she found even greater success. After seven seasons as a writer and producer on Ryan Murphy's "Nip/Tuck," Salt now finds herself in theaters with her first produced screenplay, "Eat Pray Love." Salt and Murphy adapted Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir about leaving her comfortable marriage and journeying to three countries -- Italy, India, and Bali -- to find herself. Salt, her own life marked with opportunities and coincidences, seemed destined to write the film.

She was born in 1944 to actor Mary Davenport and screenwriter Waldo Salt, who survived the Hollywood blacklist and won two Academy Awards, for his scripts for "Coming Home" and "Midnight Cowboy." All her life, people had told Jennifer Salt she would make a good writer, but she resisted.

"I never wrote," she says of her early years. "I also never really thought about being an actor. But when it was time to go to high school, we couldn't afford private school, so I tried out for all the special schools in New York."

With a monologue her mother coached her on, Salt auditioned for a performing arts school and got in. After that, she attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she became friends with actor Jill Clayburgh and director Brian De Palma, who was a graduate student.

Though Salt got "great parts" at Sarah Lawrence, upon graduation, she says, "I lost my nerve about going out there and auditioning and supporting myself as an actor." She took a day job instead. "It was a very, very unhappy time," she admits. "Fortunately, Jill Clayburgh was a member of the company at the Charles Playhouse in Boston, and she brought me to meet the head of the playhouse, Michael Murray, who kindly cast me in a very small role in a production of 'MacBird!'"

A political satire starring Stacy Keach, "MacBird!" moved to Off-Broadway. Regional theater followed, though Salt says those roles were nothing of note. Then her father wrote the screenplay for "Midnight Cowboy," and Salt met director John Schlesinger. "My dad had thought of this little part for me, almost an extra part," she recalls. "But when I met with John, he cast me in a bit of a larger role." The role of "Crazy Annie" was largely physical, as the character appears in flashbacks making love with Joe (Jon Voight). So Michael Childers, who was Schlesinger's lover and assistant, shot footage of Salt running through the park and talking in a Texas accent, which served as her screen test.   Continued...

 
<p>Writer Jennifer Salt arrives for the premiere of "Eat Pray Love" in New York August 10, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>