By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Debbie is shouting through her tears. “And I don‘t really care what people think of me, because I know what God thinks of me, and I know my position in God, and my position in God is that I am the parent, and I have a right, and they took away my right, and they took away my child.”
And yet she has another child, Madison, now 2, who crawls into her lap to nurse. When asked if she will consider putting Maddie in the business, Debbie scoffs.
“Absolutely not. You know, I had offers for people to be her agent before she was ever born. When I was pregnant, they said, ’Promise me that you‘ll let me manage this one.’ All the time. You know that newborns can start working at 1 month old? Get this: I believed it. I thought that would be great, I thought this would be another avenue for me to do an income, so I did. I got pictures of Maddie, and I took her on a couple of auditions when she was 9 months. And I didn‘t get anything . . . But at that time, I thought that it would be okay. See, I was so unwise. I had no idea what I was doing. But it’s the ignorant that are the most -- they really feel they know what they‘re doing.”
Last month, Debbie filed for bankruptcy and moved to Michigan, where she and Madison will live with Debbie’s mother until Debbie can, in her words, “get back on my feet.”
It‘s late April, and Jena is not in fact living in a mansion, but an airy duplex in West Hollywood. She looks relaxed, says she and her roommates watch a lot of TV: They’ve just left a Who Wants To Be a Millionaire phase and are currently absorbed in the Elian Gonzalez tug of war. Not surprisingly, Jena is adamant that Elian “should be able to decide for himself where he lives.”
Toasting a bagel for a visitor, Jena explains that, while living on her own is what she wants, it‘s also a bit like looking into the abyss.
“No one is really going through the same thing as me. I don’t really have any people to see as standards or the way I should be,” she says. “So I have to do all the comparing within myself, so it‘s good, but it’s also kind of hard . . . I get advice from everyone who knows my situation. Actually, I recently read an essay in the L.A. Times, in the Metro section, and the first sentence was, ‘Shame on you, Jena Malone.’” (“Showbiz Mom Gets No Respect” was written by Jamie Class, the mother of a teenage actress, who scolded Jena for taking Debbie to court, while doing her best to elevate all stage mothers to the rank of martyr.)
Then there are the quotidian inconveniences, like not being able to drive herself anywhere.
“I go to get a license and it‘s, like, uproar, an emancipated minor, what’s that?” Jena says. “I passed the test, but the computer can‘t print out a license to someone under 16, it’s just not legal, you can‘t type it in, whether you put emancipated or not. So I have to go get a court order to get a license. I go to the grocery store, everyone’s looking at me strange, like, some 15-year-old with a Ralphs card? ‘Yes, it’s mine. Yes, I know, it‘s pathetic.’ It‘s just, it’s weird. It‘s like mentally, I think I’m in the same world as everyone else, but physically, I‘m kind of not allowed to be in that world. It’s very strange.”
When it is mentioned that Debbie believes that Jena, in her heart, wants the emancipation reversed, Jena does not hoot. She does not disparage Debbie. Rather, her response is delivered with an appropriate amount of affection, a rational distancing, a thoughtful pause.
“I realize what kind of person she is, and it‘s really up to me whether I want to accept it, and kind of not have any expectations and just kind of love her for who she is and realize that she’s my mom and no matter how much hurt or pain, it‘s not the kind of relationship you just write off. I don’t think that‘s healthy.”
Having healthy relationships is paramount to Jena at this juncture. Toward this end, she recently fired her manager, Beverly Strong, whom she felt was becoming too controlling. It was not a happy ending. At their farewell breakfast, Strong (who declined to be interviewed for this story) read from a letter she’d written, one that Jena says was particularly nasty. “In it, she said things like everything my mother had been saying was true, that I was selfish and spoiled.”
Yet Jena shows little sign of being disturbed by Strong‘s opprobrium; on the contrary, as she recounts her philosophy with regard to relationships, she sits up straighter, and her voice gets louder. “Any kind of relationship,” she says, “whether it’s out of love, or business, friendship, whatever, you have to treat each one the same, and if there‘s not respect, and you feel like you’re staying in it just for loyalty, there‘s no reason.”