|February 1999 Bikini
are some things you just shouldn't mess
with: Texas, a dog that's eating, and
video game hero Lara Croft. Paul Semel
gets downloaded and dirty with the star
of Tomb Raider III.
I am awakened up by
the sound of gunfire. Although I've lived
in a number of hellholes in my life - Los
Angeles, New Jersey, the suburbs - I have
never been awakened by the sound of
gunfire before. But sleeping on the
second floor of Lara Croft's English
countryside mansion, here I am awakened
Needless to say,
I'm not happy about it.
"It's 4:30 in
the morning!" I yell down to the
responsible party, the lady of the manor.
Her response? "No it's not... it's
4:38." This isn't what I want to
hear, but being too tired to work up any
real anger, I jokingly pretend I'm
Cartman and respond in my best screechy
kid voice, "Go back to sleep, you
That doesn't work
either. Now she's shooting at me. Well,
not at me - about two inches above my
head to be exact -but in my general
direction. And though I know she missed
me intentionally, I still only rise up
enough to peer out the window,
Kilroy-style. "Fine!" I yell,
"You win! It's 4:38!"
If life has taught
me anything, it's to know when I've been
licked. And when you're dealing with Lara
Croft, you're always licked. As the
inspiration for the Tomb Raider video
games (of which Tomb Raider III: The
Adventures of Lara Croft is the newest),
Lara is not a woman to be trifled with;
when she tells you to get your lazy ass
out of bed, you get your lazy ass out of
bed. Which I did, heading down the stairs
in my Ally McBeal-like pajamas to where
Lara was practicing her marksmanship,
stopping only briefly to grab my tape
recorder, two beers, some sandals, and a
Opening the door to
the courtyard, where there's both a
target range and obstacle course, I am
greeted by the well-lit image of my host.
She strikes an imposing figure, this
Lara. Proportioned like Pam Anderson, but
with muscles like Linda Hamilton in
Terminator 2 and the big eyes and pouty
lips of Wild Things' Denise Richards,
she's both sexy and scary, frighteningly
good-looking and just plain frightening,
the kind of woman you'd want to get tied
up by, just not in a
Batman-tying-up-Joker kind of way. And
she's a pretty good shot, too.
Sitting on the
ground, I crack open a beer, offer it to
her, and drink it myself when she defers,
hoping to calm my nerves. Whether it was
the gunplay or just Lara herself that
inspired my jitters though, I didn't
started with a plane crash in the
Himalayas," she says when I ask how
she got started. "At first I was
sure I would die. I was the only
survivor, it was freezing, and I had no
idea how to survive. But I managed to
pull myself together. It took me two
weeks, and I was almost dead by the time
I staggered into a small village."
Pausing to look at
me, her thick English voice becomes
contemplative. "I actually don't
remember all that much," she says.
"I was suffering from exhaustion,
not to mention emotional stress - it was
the most traumatic experience I've ever
known. I lost a lot of my friends in that
crash. But since then I've been
determined to look after myself. You see,
I was so used to a life of pampering and
luxury that I never knew anything
different. Two weeks fending for myself
really opened my eyes, and I realized
that even though the circumstances were
traumatic, I never felt so alive. I
became determined to see the world and
stand on my own two feet."
The life of an
explorer is a lonely one, Lara tells me.
There aren't any bars where Indiana
Jones-wannabes hang out, swapping stories
of snakes, rolling boulders, and Nazi
henchman. "Most adventurers I meet
are out to get me," she explains,
"so there's no chance of having a
chat with them about combat or survival
Which isn't so
important when you live somewhere
civilized. But Lara doesn't really visit
those places. "I've actually never
visited either city," she admits
when I mention New York and Los Angeles.
"I don't think there's much worth
pursuing in either place at the moment.
Most of the relics I search for tend to
be in wild locations.
can L.A. really be described as
unexplored places are there
anymore?" I ask. "I mean, is
there anywhere they haven't put a
"A lot more
than I ever imagined," she responds.
"The world's still full of places
that are unexplored. Hopefully I'll be
the first to get to them - unless
Starbucks beats me to it."
Lara Croft is the
kind of woman who has to do things her
own way, even if it gets other people
killed. Which is why she won't stop
shooting, no matter how nice I ask, until
she decides she's done, and then it's
only because she wants to work out a bit.
Which reminds me, I need another beer.
As with the rest of
the house, the kitchen is immaculate,
with not a trace of dust, grease, or last
night's dinner. This says nothing about
Lara, however, as the house, and thus the
kitchen, is maintained by her butler.
The only area of
disarray, I notice, is the counter by the
sink, where Lara has left the stack of
photos she showed me last night when I
first arrived. Most are of her friends -
Jennifer, who runs a gym in New York
City; L.B., who lives in Chicago with her
husband and their kid Samantha; and Kris,
a computer jockey in London - though
there's also a few of people she's only
met once or twice, including Marilyn
Manson, Liv Tyler, and Bono.
While showing me
her snapshots, I jumped onto the counter
to sit, and pulled my knees up to my
chest in an attempt to seem more
vulnerable. "Tell me about your
friends." I said, quietly. "Are
they people you know from school, or are
most of them people you've met during
really. I have some old school friends
who I see from time to time, and during
my travels I've met a couple of people
who've become close friends, but,
unfortunately, there's usually not much
time for socializing."
taken a toll on her love life as well.
Not one picture is of a guy with his arms
around her shoulders, kissing her, or
holding her hand. Then again, it's hard
to trust men when so many have tried to
Even so, I asked
what a guy would have to do to get her
have to know how to handle his
weapon," she laughed, leaning
against the sink. "Seriously,
though, I really don't have much time for
men at the moment - though part of me
might enjoy a little romance from time to
"The thing is,
any guy who wanted to go out with me
really wouldn't see that much of me.
There's no room for passengers on my
trips, and as soon as I've finished one
adventure, it's usually straight into the
Still fiddling with
the pictures, I held up one of Lara with
her friend's kid and asked if she ever
thought she'd settle down one day and
have little Laras of her own.
"I do like
children," she replied, "but it
would hardly be practical at the moment.
Maybe one day...."
And with that, Lara
went to bed.
Arriving back at
the shooting range - a pair of beers in
one hand, a corned beef and pastrami
sandwich on rye with Russian dressing in
the other - I watch Lara run an obstacle
course that would kill even the most
energetic of grade-school kids. And
again, And again. Until finally she does
the entire thing in under a minute. By
which time I've killed both beers and my
herself off, Lara grabs a bottle of
Evian, walks over to where I'm sitting,
and stands over me like she's probably
stood over a lot of inert bodies. But
instead of bleeding a lot, I crack a joke
about how she's always wearing the same
aqua-green top and khaki shorts. "I
have four new outfits for Tomb Raider
III," she declares, playfully
kicking my feet. "I even got a
long-sleeved thermal jacket for the
Sensing she's in a
playful mood, I continue to rib her,
asking what she does with the artifacts
she finds, since Indiana Jones always
gave his to museums and doesn't she think
she should do the same after all?
"I have my own
private collection,' she tells me,
"which will be auctioned for charity
when I die. I'm afraid I couldn't
possibly part with any of my trophies at
the moment, though."
I also mention
that, at least during the game, she's
been known to search a huge tomb for a
single key when she could just as easily
kick in the door or shoot out the lock.
"But then the
game would be over way too quickly,"
she says rather matter-of-factly.
"There have been times in real life
when I've done that, but in a game,
where's the fun in that? "
the fun in killing poor, defenseless
animals?" I jokingly shoot back, to
which she replies, "I only kill in
self-defense. It gives me no pleasure to
kill an animal, though when face-to-face
with a savage and hungry beast, there's
little else I can do. But the fur trade
is cruel and unnecessary - I don't own
Looking up at her,
I can't help but notice that she's
grinning more than she has all weekend.
She obviously enjoys being teased,
especially when it gets kind of flirty.
finally ask the one question I've been
waiting to ask. "So..." I say,
motioning toward her chest, "are
doesn't react the way I was hoping she
would. She doesn't peel off her shirt,
revealing them to me, or let me touch
them, or even say "yes."
Instead, she gets angry.
"You know I'm
100 percent silicone," she snaps,
throwing the Evian bottle to the ground,
"so why the fascination with my
chest? I'm really sick and tired of
people going on about it. I can't help
the way I was made! "
Lara picks up her
bottle and storms off, so mad that she
probably would've shot me were this not a
place where such things are frowned upon.
And I would've deserved it. I had hurt
her feelings, crossed a line I shouldn't
have crossed. I had been a dick, a
sexist, piggish, male stereotypical dick,
and now my host, my subject, the woman
with whom I hoped to befriend, was
walking away from me in a tizzy.
Which is when I
realized: She's got a nice ass.
No one who's met
Lara would be surprised that boob
questions don't fly. This is a woman
who's had amazing adventures, cheated
death more times than most of us have
cheated at cards, faced dragons, tigers,
and bears, oh my, and yet all anyone ever
wants to talk about are her tits.
Which is probably
why details of her sex life are
off-limits, almost as if people are
overseeing her image. When asked when she
lost her virginity, she offers only a
curt, "That's really none of your
business." And asking if she's
seeing anyone at the moment gets an Al
Jaffee-style snappy answer to that stupid
question, "Why? You want a
date?" (That she revealed as much as
she did before is unusual.)
In fact, this cone
of silence extend beyond Lara, covering
her friends, family, and business
associates, as well as people she's only
been rumored to have met one night at a
bar. Everyone asked to comment for this
article declined, and the lineup reads
like the guest list of Madonna's 40th
birthday party: Liz Taylor, Jack
Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Cameron Diaz,
Gwyneth Paltrow, Calista Flockhart, the
doorman at the Sky Bar, Julia Roberts,
Still, the rumors
persist. It's been said that an executive
at one of the major film studios was so
taken with Lara that he sent her nine
Volkswagen Beetles, one in each color.
And fellow video game hero Crash
Bandicoot was supposedly so distraught
when Lara said she just wanted to be
friends that he wrote 124 poems about how
she would've gone out with him if he was
taller, smoked cigarettes, or named Vlad
I ask her about
these stories when I finally find her,
two hours later, curled up in a chair in
her library reading Bridget Jones's
Diary. (Well, after I apologize profusely
and promise to build many temples in her
honor.) "I actually saw Crash a
couple of months ago," Lara says,
setting the book on her lap, "but he
was in too much of a hurry to chat. All
that spinning around must make him quite
dizzy, but he seems to cope well
enough." Beyond that, though, she
and Lara is treating me to a nice filet
mignon, a good bottle of Pinot Noir, and
a fine Macanudo. In between the main
course and desert, I pull out my tape
recorder. We've been talking for days,
but had yet to discuss the new game, Tomb
Raider III, which was based on an
adventure she'd had last year.
"It was more
unusual than the others," she says
of that outing. "The artifacts I was
looking for were really quite strange. I
went to Nevada, the South Pacific,
Antarctica, and India in search of
It also gave her a
chance to visit friends in London, though
not for long. "Things in London got
tricky," she explains, "so I
had to resort to going out only at night
- and then I had to stick to the rooftops
But Tomb Raider III
isn't the end of it. There's already a
book about her, Lara's Book: Lara Croft
and the Tomb Raider Phenomenon, with
essays written by Generation X scribe
Douglas Coupland, while Paramount is
planning a movie of her life. As
flattering as these things might be, Lara
isn't really phased by the attention.
"Paramount and Eidos [the makers of
the game] have looked after me very well
so far," she says, "so I'm
happy to let them handle it. Besides
which, Hollywood really isn't my
Sensing that her
last utterance was a good one to leave
hanging in the air, Lara stands up from
the table and heads upstairs. But not
being all that sleepy, I instead head to
the kitchen for another beer. The opener
isn't where I had left it, though, so I
start looking through the drawers, and
instead find a cupboard full of candy.
"This is it," I think, barely
containing a squeal, "I've found her
deep, dark secret. I can see the headline
now: 'Exclusive! Famed Adventurer Lara
Croft Has Sweet Tooth!'"
I quickly look
around for a pen to jot down the details
of this revelation, when the butler walks
stay out of my candy drawer," he
barks, shuffling toward me.
yours?" I ask hesitantly, hoping I'm
wrong. "She eats this stuff too,
kidding?" he says, closing the
drawer. "If you looked like that,
would you eat this crap?"
The next morning,
right before I leave for the airport,
Lara and I have breakfast on the porch.
Her morning workout had gone well, and
she is once again a playful mood, even
flicking a strawberry in my general
But when I jokingly
scold her like a father would a daughter,
she doesn't laugh. For a moment, she
looks like a hurt little girl. "My
parents don't understand my passion for
adventure," she finally mutters.
"I remember my childhood days with
happiness, but at the age of 16 I was
sent away to school to be 'groomed' for
the life of an aristocrat.
I don't have much contact with my parents
This makes me
wonder if her death defiance isn't just
her way of getting her parents'
attention, and while she understands why
I think that, she says the real reason
isn't so Freudian. "I go on my
adventures," she says, "because
they're my one true passion. Sure,
nothing last forever, but whatever
happens, I'll be happy so long as I'm on
Publishing Inc. ©1998 Bikini Magazine