Selma Blair on Living With MS, Loving ‘Cruel Intentions’ and the #MeToo Movement: ‘It Just Set Me Free’

And she was the most critical son of a bitch, but I mean, she was the first to say, "Crap — that was horrible, that movie." But then, "Oh, Selma, such presence in that." I had so little energy that I'm shocked I even got through what I did. I'm fucking amazing. I didn't know what the fuck I was going to do. And I loved being a supporting actress. And I was always asking, “Is there a part for a corpse?” Like, that's what I felt I could play. All I could give is what I could give. I loved witnessing it. I can't even carry a note. I went to college for English, psychology, pre-med, music. My mother definitely taught me humility. I'm so grateful I had a roof over my head.
It's very clear-eyed.
Why did you not talk about James Toback in the movie?
My God, those busy people, like Reese, stood up to get me meals. I'm a loner though. That's where group stuff works so amazingly, like to take little bits of load off for the village to do. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jaime King, with her heart and her time and appointments. It does.
I am in a lot of pain; I am well. I said I was in remission, and I want to give that its due for the stem cell transplant, because nothing was taking down the flare. It absolutely put me in remission, which means no new lesions have formed since my HSCT.
It just set me free. And now I realize once you turn on the light, you're like — it set you free. I remember being so nervous, because I was still afraid of the predator. I was still under his threats. And when he said such horrible things in Rolling Stone, when the interviewer’s own wife was a victim of Toback, and Toback didn't know.
And so it was hard to even show in the movie that little bit talking on the phone, because her brain was going. She wouldn't go to a doctor. You know, she was so proud. My mother, she had cancer and didn't know. And mistrusting of doctors, for good reason. And she would have been horrified to have been revealed to not be on her game.
It's interesting, I was chronically a miserable person in my life, I must admit.
Oh, did I sound angry and bitter? I'm just a loudmouth. I'm not.
That was the beginning of a new era for people.
And she latched onto me, and changed me in the way that she could talk about with humor about her condition of misery. And I was just like, “Oh my God, I'm saved.” She's just so much like my family at home. Of course, I always knew of Carrie, but having someone more my generation reach out, because everyone I was hanging out with was 15. And bring such joy and familiarity to it. And I was really trying to keep up with the Joneses, you know, these superstar young people.
After a limited theatrical release, “Introducing, Selma Blair” is now available to stream on Discovery Plus. 2018, when she was 46 — that have plagued her for her whole life, as well as her decision to be the subject of a documentary. During an interview with Variety at her Los Angeles home in late August, Blair was much the same, and detailed the mysterious symptoms — undiagnosed until Aug.
And when I took those stem cells and people went to such efforts to help me, the nurses, the hospital — that was my wake-up call. But you're making this choice, and let's remember this: You're making this choice right now.” Because you were miserable. That was my kind of rebirth to say, “You might have not been happy about living before. When I get angry, I'm like, "You asked to be here!" Because as I was saying, I was a miserable person before.
I thanked God every day in my gratitude group, but I was getting weaker. I don't have a left side!" I just figured this is age and nerve damage. I didn't acknowledge that I was really in an MS flare for many years, and I was getting debilitatingly worse. My riding instructor, she would say, "OK, left leg, let's get it!" I have a history of knowing how to ride as a good amateur rider, but I was like, "God, is this aging?
Despite repeated attempts on Toback's part to contact Variety for unrelated reasons, he did not offer further comment on the record. When contacted by phone and over text, Toback denied Blair’s allegations and declined to comment further.
I have thyroid eye disease, I didn't know. My vision had gone, and I just thought, "Wow, my postpartum is intense." My self-hatred was off the charts. I was putting my breast milk in my eyes, they were so red, for three years.
I wasn't looking for a hand out, but it fucking gets you really unnerved as you try and keep up. I've hurt since I can remember. I was a loving person, but yeah: miserable, a bit sharp, a bit snarky, a bit angry that I had to get up and do things when I just chronically felt unwell. And I'd compare myself to people, like, “What?” I didn't understand people didn't hurt every day. I was chronically a miserable person. No, it's true!
In the interview, Blair talked extensively about her late mother, who died in May 2020, and who emerges as a character in the movie through Blair’s anecdotes about her, often accompanied by her vivid imitation. (Blair speaks on the phone with her mother once in the film.)
Either way, there's neuropathy, and maybe it's people being helpful, but it is funny. I didn't read any of the responses to dear Christina, who's a dear friend of mine. But I did read some of mine — yes, I was checked for Lyme disease. But the Lyme thing is so huge; Lyme is debilitating too. I get that still every second of my day. Everyone has such a say in the diagnosis.
She didn't have dementia. There was no message in it, other than I was a person that still wanted her mom. When she did die so suddenly — I mean, I don't know if she died of COVID, I don't know if she died of the cancer, which was going to get her in months anyhow. She enjoyed her cocktails. And that was a fear, like oh mom's just pickled. She didn't have Alzheimer's. She did not have a pickled brain.
I would have been like, I'm the shit! I did more than I ever thought! I'm in a fucking Wrigley's commercial! Now, I might've undervalued myself, as I see myself now, but I wasn't myself then. My God, I'd be thrilled if I came here and booked a commercial for Wrigley's Double Mint.
Happy! I don't have the same pain. I never had any intention of getting pregnant. I have energy." I felt amazing. I wore pink. But when I did, I was like, "Oh, this is what my mom was talking about. I was like, "I see what these people are talking about. I'm not a baby person. I stopped being such a New York Jew. All my lifelong symptoms went away. I have a hustle in me." I felt amazing! I don't have depression. I even wrote in journals, "Oh my God, this might be why my mom got pregnant four times." She didn't really love kids or babies or any of that, and I certainly don't. But then I got pregnant, and I felt amazing.
She said what she wants to say. She just wanted to say that to let you know where she is in her life. I don't think it's really helpful either.
I'm being honest! It's not.
She'd be furious that I dressed like this for you. She'd say, “This is a movie star? This is your coming out party, and you can see half your ass cheek?”
Because I really couldn't understand: “I need to sleep all day.” I'm not asking for a handout, but if I could have acknowledged that there was something real — a label that people understood — it would have just helped me emotionally.
People were ready to be able to let go of their secrets.
Because it was already covered. And this was just a different thing, and I have moved past it.
What was happening then? You say in the movie that your symptoms got much worse after your son Arthur was born.
I couldn't believe I was in a film with Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Michelle Gellar. I always wanted to be a debutante, buy into all the fun, and I was like, "I'm just a fan." I mean, I'm not trying to — because I was older, but without career success, without a history, a pedigree in Hollywood, but because I was so excited, it helped me feel just young. I couldn't believe it. I loved it. That was a coming out party. “Cruel Intentions”?
I'm not going to play the girl next door; I'm going to suck. I didn't even know it in my skin. I didn't have access to people that weren't uncomfortable. I need to grab onto something more tangible and maybe off-putting. So to play Cecile as this bumbling — it's just great for me to play a bubbly person in that, and take someone who was a victim and make it bearable with her kind of ridiculous optimism until she woke up. I mean, even the movies that I did that were shlock, that I was even terrible in — I realized I really need people to elevate me.
And how are you doing today?
I am plenty proud of a lot of things, but, no, my mother — she was right. I loved watching her.” I don't elevate a lot of things, but if someone is elevated, I'll meet them, and I'm thrilled and I'm just right. And that is knowing your strengths, and not getting too down. She did enjoy “Cruel Intentions,” but mostly it was like, “I don't know what you're saying, mumbling.” But it was true. “I needed the money, Mom,” or, “That was with Meg Ryan.
My God.
As captured by first-time feature director Rachel Fleit, Blair is an open book; she’s charming, vulnerable, insightful and hilarious. The film “Introducing, Selma Blair” documents the 2019 stem cell transplant Blair underwent in order to heal her multiple sclerosis — and though the two-month-long medical process is harrowing, the movie both illuminates and entertains.
The way you talk about your career in the movie, it's not self-deprecating or false modesty for the sake of it — 
I'm still intimidated by my mother. But she was still a force. And she would have lit a cigarette, asked for a drink at the end, eaten it with her credit card, not realizing it wasn't a cracker. And she wanted me to intimidate people, because she knew that was how you kept safe. I'm not going to intimidate anybody.
It's just a period of acceptance that I'm changed. It's softened my edges, and the neurological damage I have, it's been a gift because it's really softened me and created a lot more compassion for myself and others. You go into it thinking, “Oh, it's going to be a cure.” But what is cure? Which is always useful. And that's fine; I'm lucky. It did what he said.
What did you want the movie’s audience to know about your mother?
I don't think it's helpful.
I want to be alone, like my mother. People can show you goodness. I hated having caregivers in my house. But my God, did they help me — and for Arthur to see people rallying around his mother, who is a loner.
Blair delved into her career as well, and how she “loved” being in “Cruel Intentions” — but that her mother’s favorite of performance of hers was in Todd Solondz’s 2002 film, “Storytelling.”
I think it's incredible. I mean, it's the least offensive movie of his, because he's so understanding. I love it. And when I'd get to say his lines: “Oh, Selma, that was lovely!” And my mother got that.
I thought, "Oh, I'm a head case." When I moved to L.A., I remember going to a doctor for it, and he didn't give me an MRI, didn't give me anything, but looked at me and was like, “Are you just wanting pain meds?” Because I was like, “Librium helped the last time.” I've never been addicted to pain meds, never wanted it, but just even asking for Librium, he just assumed I was looking for drugs. Every avenue I turned my whole life, almost, except for one eye doctor at 23 said, “Has anyone told you you have MS?”
What was that time like? You were so central to the late 90s, early 2000s teen boom, when you were in your solid mid-twenties.
When you were 23?
Then I had a horrible labor. The pain was so intense in every joint, in my hip, everything. I really couldn't move. I couldn't move. I was not paralyzed. By the time I did give birth, the pain set in. Finally, at 37 hours, when I had an epidural because I couldn't take it anymore, and my friend said, "Stop trying to be such a midwife, lady.” So, I got like five epidurals until I could finally relax enough, but it would never take on my full body.
When Christina Applegate came out about her MS diagnosis, I was looking at responses to her tweet, and someone was like, "Have you considered that it might be Lyme disease?"  I imagine you’re constantly being told you don't have MS — that you have something else.
I'd pass out. How am I such a weak, lazy-ass that I can't handle what every mother does? And the cranial sacral people, they said, "No, this is what mothers have." So, I just said, "OK, buck up. I'd just fall. Things would happen, and I just had so much self-hatred. This is what mothers do." The nerve pain and everything just continued for months — for years!
Her caretakers called my sister Mimi and said, "I think your mom is gone." Yeah, it's a grief for me. She took a nap. She was home, she wasn't feeling well, and she was coughing.
May 23. Early.
The L.A. Times and Vanity Fair stories about James Toback — those were earlier than I remembered: like, in October 2017.
So, in that, I'm free. But to know the rules is to break the rules, as my mother said.
To me, that wasn't racist at all. Oh, “Storytelling,” she loved. He's ahead of his time. Pitch perfect. Todd was making a commentary. And she loved Todd Solondz — “Happiness” is her ideal. And she could not stop saying, “Fuck me [mmm] Fuck me [mmm].” She just thought, “Ah!” It woke her up. Howard Stern would play in the background before things got so politically correct, and that he would play that outtake of me saying, “Fuck me” to this Black teacher, things that we don't —.
(The L.A. Blair first spoke anonymously in an Oct. 2018 that 395 women had ultimately contacted the paper with sexual harassment and assault allegations against Toback.) 2017 Los Angeles Times story that featured dozens of women accusing Toback of sexual harassment and assault; then a few days later she spoke by name in a first-person account published by Vanity Fair. And Blair discussed how she felt set free after coming forward with her allegation that director James Toback had sexually assaulted her in the late 1990s. Times reported in Jan.
I have a very different perspective now. It just all felt natural. I embraced it. I loved it! No, I loved it. I have things that I wish I probably did differently. I have good stories in Hollywood.
I rewatched “Storytelling” to prepare for this.
And when he says all they're all cunts and liars, then I was like, “Oh, I'll talk. Like, their stories are exactly the same.” I had no idea the floodgates it would open, and really a huge beginning of an era as we see so much change. I was really genuinely afraid for years. I can't let these women just be called liars.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Variety's magazine story about Selma Blair is here.” />
Your mother died early in COVID, right?
And because I came into this business playing a child, playing 14 as Cecile Caldwell at the age of 26 — and having already gone to university and considered medical school and being kind of miserable all my life — I was already kind of a worn-down, old Jewish soul. Come, it's my birthday! You're sober, I'm sober." And she was just a breath of fresh air, because I had hung out with everyone younger — I'm much older than people thought I was. You're so cute! We were at a women in Hollywood lunch, maybe 2002 or something. And acting like a WASP, and all these things. And she just came up to me in her way, with Bruce Wagner. "I'm having a party!
Like so many people, I couldn't be there to make her beautiful for when the coroner came. That was my greatest feeling of failure as a daughter. To protect her from any judgment. But she wasn't, it was cancer and she was brave and wonderful.
It depends where I have to go. When people would say, "Oh, no cane day?" Some days I wear my braces, some days I don't. But, yeah, it is unnerving. I don't need to justify to people. I don't need to apologize for it. But I'm perfectly willing to explain. I'm fine being a bridge for people with some chronic thing or a neurological difference. Bossy fucking people! I'm a talkie. I am. Even with me, it was debilitating for me emotionally.
She was home?
But having had cancer, in annoying moments, like with one of my sons or whatever, I do say to myself, “At least you're not dead!” The thing that you say in the movie about just being grateful and wanting to just face every day — that's obviously something that people say. I get it.
It really was.
You seem to have a huge support system here. Does it feel that way?
It was in every thought. I was fishing for other people. Truly, it's unbelievable looking back now how much it had a hold on me. Glenn Whipp had agreed to just listen, and just not put me in.
How did you get to know Carrie Fisher?
But we’ve never talked or met until today. Early in the #MeToo reckoning a few years ago, you were tweeting hints about things, and you and I DM’d.
What movies did your mom think you were good in?
Of course she left in COVID. So tricky, because she's such a private person. And she's my person, I love her so much. You know, she became a judge so that people couldn't mess with her credibility. She'd been messed with in her life. It was so painful.
So, if I had real physical symptoms, I dismissed them as, "I'm just highly sensitive, and I'll have to work through that." My father did take it seriously, but I didn't. When I had gotten out of the hospital for something else, it had already gone back. I'm the opposite of a hypochondriac, because I convinced myself everything was in my head. At 23, after a very big medical issue. But the vision damage had lasted. But we find things when we find them. There was no Google then.
This is a gratitude thing, and it doesn't mean you're going to always be comfortable. You made it, you're here.

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