I have actually seen two Fairuza Balk movies in the theatre, both deeply disturbing in their own way and both movies I dearly love. When she and I were children—she’s about two and a half years older than I am, a few months older than my sister—I saw her in the theatre in Return to Oz. When we were young adults, I saw her in The Craft. I had a long talk with my then-roommate after that one that in many ways changed the course of my life, so well done, Fairuza Balk?
Fairuza is her real name. It’s a Farsi word meaning “turquoise,” which her father, Solomon Feldthouse, named her for the colour of her eyes. Her father was a psychedelic and folk musician; her mother, Catherine Balk, was a belly dancer. Young Fairuza was bitten by the acting bug early. She was six when she started acting and not much older when she started taking acting classes, when she took a class on how to look at the camera and not be shy.
It’s true that I have my problems with the assorted Oz adaptations. I don’t feel any of them capture the utter lunacy of the books. However, the closest of the ones I’ve seen is definitely Return to Oz. Balk isn’t an ideal Dorothy—for starters, book-Dorothy is blonde—but she captures some of the innocence and determination. She also has to deal with the wildness of the stories. It’s Balk who comes into contact with the Wheelers, and she handles the situation much the way book-Dorothy did. It’s an odd movie, a cross between two of the books, but a fine performance.
Nancy is a very different character. She is described as being white trash without wanting to admit she’s white trash. Whether that’s fair or not is up for interpretation—the term “white trash” is classist as hell, just to start with—but it’s true that Nancy has led a rough life. She’s got an abusive stepfather. It’s never said, unless it’s in the sequel I haven’t seen, but I suspect she’s a scholarship student at the private school she attends. Having wealth and freedom have to be appealing to her, and if she goes mad with it, well, wouldn’t we all?
There’s more to Balk than those two roles, of course. We discussed her here last Christmas. There’s her turn in American History X. She’s done an episode of Justice League. She performs music and makes art. She’s an interesting, complicated figure who will always, for my generation, be Dorothy or Nancy. Or, as my then-roommate dubbed her, “Scary Nose Ring Girl From The Craft.” Still, there are worse legacies.