Consider this a pilgrimage, a trip to Mecca to pay homage to Cher.
Journalists from as far away as Singapore fly to Colorado's most exclusive ski resort for the privilege of spending an afternoon with the star of "Moonstruck," "Mask" and most recently `Mermaids," a bittersweet comedy with Cher as a free-spirited mom in conflict with the prevailing conservatism of the early '60s.Why Aspen instead of New York or Los Angeles, the usual screening-and-interview towns? Because Cher has just purchased a new $2 million, 5,500-square-foot adobe hideaway which she'd love to show off. But not to the press.
Invited guests include "Mermaids" director Richard Benjamin, co-stars Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci and the picture's three producers. They all have flown to Aspen to promote the film and to see Cher's four-bedroom, 4-1/2-bath mini-manse with its kitchen designed by Sheila Lukins of Silver Palate cookbook fame.
"I don't think I know one person who does interviews unless he's plugging something," says singer-star Cher, 44, when she arrives at the Silvertree Hotel in nearby Snowmass, noting her celebrity status "is like painting a big target on myself - and letting anybody who wants to go for it, do it."
Cher is wearing cowboy boots, denim jeans, a beige knit sweater that occasionally hikes above her navel and about 15 pounds of turquoise jewelry. She is slinging a fur-trimmed coat over her shoulder; sacrilege in this anti-fur community.
By her side is 19-year-old Ryder and 9-year-old Ricci. The trio comes as a package. Take them or leave them. Cher couldn't care less.
She has long been accustomed to getting her way in the recording industry and in personal relationships. Since winning an Oscar for her love-struck widow in 1987's "Moonstruck," Cher has parlayed her power to become a major player in the film industry.
Granted, her production company at Tri-Star hasn't made a single picture after five years in business. But on the set, Cher commands a $4 million salary, and with "Mermaids" she had creative control that ranged from the choice of costumes and wigs to the hiring and firing of directors.
For "Mermaids," there were three: Lasse Holstrom, Frank Oz and, finally, Richard Benjamin.
"I guess I was involved in the film for a year and change before Richard came. And it was difficult," Cher says. "I mean, Lasse Holstrom (the director of "My Life as a Dog") wanted Christina to commit suicide in a pond. And, Frank Oz (the Muppeteer who directed "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") didn't think `Mermaids' was a comedy of any sort. He felt that not having anything amusing would make the movie more meaningful.
"That's not what I saw in it. So, it was really hard for me," Cher says, giving a forlorn glance to Ryder. "Nonie (Ryder's nickname) was probably the only person who saw me every day and knows how difficult it was."
Violins, please, for the centerpiece of this ensemble comedy which, essentially, is Ryder's story even as it revolves around Cher.
Cher plays Mrs. Flax, the exasperatingly liberated mother, who moves to a new town each time a romance sours. Elder daughter Charlotte (Ryder) counts 18 moves in 15 years.
The family's transitory nature takes its toll on Charlotte, who wants desperately to become a nun, even if she is Jewish. And it makes it tough for Kate (Ricci) to stay on a swim team long enough to develop her Olympic potential.
"My mother was Mrs. Flax. We moved constantly," Cher says, explaining her attraction to "Mermaids" after a three-year absence from the screen to pump up her singing career. (Cher's studio efforts culminated with the glossy 1989 "Heart of Stone" album and an eight-month concert tour that reportedly grossed more than $1 million a week.)
"I know from being a single mother myself, that you want to do your best and you try to do your best. But sometimes you're not equipped," said Cher, whose children are musicians. Chastity, Cher's 21-year-old daughter by Sonny Bono, is cutting her first album. Elijah Blue, Cher's 15-year-old son by her second husband Gregg Allman, played guitar on Cher's latest tour.
Although Cher says her forever-fleeing character in "Mermaids" is based on her mother, it's noted she ran away from home when she was 16 and scooted from husband Bono in 1975. Today, she avoids the ravages of time with nips, tucks and breast augmentation. Did she see any parallels between herself and Mrs. Flax?
Cher shoots an if-looks-could-kill glance before answering the question in precisely metered tones: "I don't think so. Also, I didn't run away from the marriage. I walked."
Cheryl LaPiere Sarkisian dropped out of high school at 16 and married Salvatore "Sonny" Bono, a neighbor and a singer who was 11 years her senior. Together they recorded a string of chart-topping singles, including "The Beat Goes On," "All I Ever Need Is You" and their 1965 signature song "I Got You Babe."
They hosted TV's Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour from 1971 to 1974, divorcing a year later. The program was revived for two more seasons in 1976.
Sonny later became a restaurateur and Palm Springs mayor.
By the time of her divorce, Cher had already established a solo career with 1971's "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," 1973's "Half Breed" and 1974's "Dark Lady."