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'Six Feet Under' star surfaces in 'Swimming'
Laura Amrose older, wiser than you think
By Robert Denerstein

Like many teen-agers, she makes little effort to conceal her disdain for adult hypocrisies. She can look at the world with so much disbelief that her astonishment turns into a form of condemnation.

She's Claire Fisher, teen-age daughter of the Fisher family, which runs Fisher & Sons, the funeral home many of us have been visiting regularly in Six Feet Under, the much-acclaimed HBO series.

In truth, Laura Ambrose, the actress who plays Claire, is 24, married and has appeared in movies such as the parodic Psycho Beach Party. She also stars in Swimming, a nuanced coming-of-age drama that opens at the Mayan on Friday.

And, yes, many are surprised to learn that Ambrose is an adult.

"People hear that I'm married and they're like, 'Is that legal? Do the parents know?' I love it," Ambrose said in a phone interview from her Los Angeles home. "It's a gift. My 93-year-old grandmother looks like she's 70. I'm happy to play characters at this age."

Call them characters on the cusp. Viewers of Six Feet Under are familiar with the ways Claire attempts to deal with adolescent confusion. In Swimming, Ambrose plays Frankie Wheeler, a young woman who's making decisions about her sexuality and about the people around her.

"That period is memorable in everyone's life. It's what everyone likes to write about. It's the first time you're seeing the way the world sees you," she said. "You're terrified and seeing the world through new eyes. I'm not too far away from that time, so it's pretty easy to recall."

Swimming, which takes place in a beach community during the summer, can be seen as a quintessential independent production. Director Robert J. Siegel, who teaches film in New York's state university system, was totally devoted to the project, which stemmed from a script by one of his students.

The movie played at the 2000 edition of Slamdance, a film festival that runs in Park City, Utah, at the same time as the better-known Sundance Film Festival.

For the filming of Swimming, Ambrose spent two months residing in the Lazy G motel in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She didn't see the finished film until she arrived at Slamdance. (Coincidentally, Psycho Beach Party was playing at Sundance.)

Slamdance was the more relaxed experience, said Ambrose, who should know: She specializes in playing observant characters.

"I'm in almost every frame of (Swimming), but I have the least amount of dialogue. It's very interesting acting," she said. "It was fun to create a character and not always be able to rely on the text.

"Claire's interesting because she's kind of had to raise herself. She was kind of neglected because she's half the age of her adult brothers (Nate and David). She's really had to figure things out on her own."

From independent films to Six Feet Under, Ambrose has enjoyed some terrific working conditions.

"On Six Feet Under, we work together very intensely for a long time, so there's a lot of closeness," she said. "I haven't worked in this format (a TV series) before, but from stories I've heard, we're very much in an ideal setting."

Ambrose's work in Swimming has been well-reviewed. She's on a hit series, and life is good. But that doesn't mean life is problem-free.

"We live in a canyon. We're being overtaken by wildlife," she said. "I've gotten used to spiders and coyotes . . . .

"Now a family of raccoons has wedged somewhere into the roof. We have a skylight in the living room. At night, they waddle onto the skylight and look down on us. We're like this human zoo."

I'd read somewhere that Ambrose and her husband, who's not in show business, don't get HBO. Not exactly, she says.

"It was broken for weeks, so we had to get tapes. We had all the channels except one, HBO."

Can I squeeze a few Six Feet Under plot twists out of her? Will Nate live? After all, he was last seen being wheeled into an operating room for brain surgery.

Ambrose doesn't know what's in store but says it's difficult to imagine the show without Nate.

Stay tuned - for more on Six Feet Under and on a gifted young actress.

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