Lauren Hutton Takes a Nightly Beating as a Rape Victim in Extremities

updated 11/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

The perfectly chiseled face that launched a thousand moisturizers stares nervously into an unfamiliar mirror. "Okay," Lauren Hutton tells herself in the cramped depths of her dressing room at the L.A. Public Theater. "It's time to go see the rapist." For the next two hours the supermodel, who has spent much of her adult life posing in haute couture and flashing her famous gap-toothed smile for photographers, screams, bites, kicks and otherwise defends herself against her onstage assailant. "Every few nights," says Hutton, pointing to a mottled thigh, "I get another big juicy bruise that looks like a peach run over by a bulldozer."

For this, she earns a paltry $271 a week. "I'm in it for the money," cracks Hutton. This is, however, her theatrical debut in William Mastrosimone's play, Extremities. The emotionally draining drama about a young woman who is raped and then menaces her attacker with a claw hammer has already battered three actresses performing the role on the New York stage. Susan Sarandon and Karen Allen suffered cuts and bruises, and Farah Fawcett fractured her wrist. "It's horrible," concedes Hutton of the toll the play exacts from its stars. Out of self-preservation, she worked with a stuntman early on to minimize her chances of injury. To maximize her understanding of the complex role, she visited several California rape clinics and talked to victims about their experiences. To kindle the requisite anger, Hutton nightly pores over detailed case studies of rapists, before literally hitting the boards.

Such dedication, as well as an obvious ability to project far more than beauty, has won Hutton the measured respect of critics. The Los Angeles Times approved of her "cool, professional and gutsy performance," but carped that her delivery was "rigid."

For Hutton, who turns 40 next week, Extremities is a chance to move beyond a modeling career that is more on ice than on fire. Her multimillion-dollar Revlon contract expired last March after a decade and, by mutual consent, was not renewed. "I'm getting too old to be just a model," she says. But Jerry Ford, head of the Ford Model agency, where Hutton has long been a star, disagrees. "She still has a bright future," he says. "Mature women no longer want to be told what to look like by a girl of 16."

While Hutton intends to hang around as a mature role model, she is focusing most of her energies on acting. After a sporadic movie career that included parts in films like Gator, The Gambler and American Gigolo, she is determined to hone her acting skills. In recent years she studied with noted drama coaches Stella Adler, Kim Stanley and the late Lee Strasberg.

In her childhood, Mary Laurence Hutton hardly seemed destined for glamour. Yet the skinny "yellow wax bean," as the eldest of the four Hutton girls was known in her southern Florida town, eventually emerged as a stunning Christian Dior floor model in 1965. Her professional first name came from another model-turned-actress, Lauren Bacall. She caught the eye of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, who paved the way for Hutton's appearance on 24 of the magazine's covers. (When working, she often fills in the gap between her front teeth.)Then came her landmark $200,000-a-year contract with Revlon and a peripatetic life spent working and traveling to exotic locales such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Tibet, Morocco and South America. Her frequent companion in her travels has been Bob Williamson, a publicity-shy investor with whom Lauren has lived for many years in a modest Greenwich Village house. So far they have no plans to marry or have children. "Life seems to be taking up all our time," she observes.

For the moment Lauren is too busy acting. Her new film Lassiter, with Tom Selleck, will be released early next year. She has also completed Tout Feu, Tout Flamme with Yves Montand, and she plans to shoot a film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni once her contract for Extremities winds up in December.

Hutton's improved acting skills and haunting beauty are likely to land her more good parts. But one of her most appealing assets, professionally and personally, remains her spunk. She tells of a posh literary party in Manhattan, at which Polish author Jerzy Kosinski suddenly interrupted her in mid-sentence. "If there were a dictionary of faces by nation," he brashly told her, "yours would be the American face, for it embodies all the good and bad of this country." Replied Hutton: "Do you know how to break a Pole's finger?" Forthwith, she punched him in the nose.

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