- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rosanna Arquette was the first of her siblings (Patricia, David, Alexis and Richmond) to find steady work as an actor.

It might not have happened without her performance in “The Executioner’s Song.”

The 1982 miniseries, a retelling of convicted killer Gary Gilmore’s final days, earned her an Emmy nomination and the respect of her peers.

“It, for sure, was a movie that called attention to me as an actor, especially in Europe,” Miss Arquette says. “Song” earned a theatrical release abroad.

It proved a well-deserved break, given her subsequent work in films including “Desperately Seeking Susan,” “New York Stories” and “Baby It’s You.”

A new director’s cut of “Song” comes out today on DVD with footage not seen on American television. The telepicture holds up remarkably well, with both Miss Arquette and star Tommy Lee Jones delivering the kinds of performances that typically spark Oscar talk. Mr. Jones won an Emmy for his work that year.

“Song” tells the true story of Gilmore’s release from jail after a 12-year stint and how he struggled to rejoin society. His failure to adjust, combined with an unrelenting and inexplicable rage, led him to murder two innocent men.

Yet he was able to attract Nicole (Miss Arquette), a single mother who found a kernel of decency in the unrepentant killer.

“The Executioner’s Song” didn’t feel like your typical television movie when it came out 26 years ago. The miniseries boasted a script written by literary icon Norman Mailer, who adapted his own Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

The late author was on the set during the shoot, Miss Arquette recalls, along with his sixth wife, Norris Church Mailercq. She says Mr. Mailer’s presence and the quality of the script ensured a near total lack of improv on set.

She did have some help bringing Nicole to life. Miss Arquette spent time with the real Nicole Baker.

“It was quite enlightening and informative. I was able to get inside her head as to where she was at the time,” Miss Arquette says. “She was a kid. He did have a spell over her.”

Though Mr. Jones played Gilmore as a sinister presence, Miss Arquette says her research revealed a criminal who had a “Christ-like” appeal to his admirers.

The actress’s time with Miss Baker also yielded a peek at Gilmore’s diary, a disturbing tome Miss Arquette contends even Mr. Mailer didn’t see.

The actress has worked steadily since shooting “Song,” but lately she’s been spending time behind the camera.

Her most famous directorial effort came with “Searching for Debra Winger,” a 2002 documentary about the struggle older women face in Hollywood.

Miss Arquette says progress has been made since she wrapped that film.

“When you see a movie like ‘Sex and the City’ featuring women in their 40s, it’s very exciting,” she says, adding that ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” as another positive sign.

“Women who’ve been around for a long time and have experience, that’s something I want to see on-screen,” she says.

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