“Do you have any mascara??” she begs. I hear feverish rattling and shuffling noises coming from the tiny bathroom. When I answer a regretful “no” and scurry to offer help, I see Nora hunched over a make-up drawer. “I don’t know where it went!” she looks up in puzzled but bewildered amusement. “Does this look weird?” she asks pointing at her long mascara-less lashes. “I could put on eye-liner, maybe?” I assure her nothing is the matter with her face. She looks as cute and fresh as ever. Her chestnut pixie cut has grown out but the wavy new locks make her look even younger. In fact, does Nora Zehetner ever age? She’s 32-years old now but to me, and to many others, she’s still the adorable, dewy-faced, rosy-cheeked teenager we saw in Brick and Princess Ithaca. (If it’s any indication of type-casting, her IMDB profile has her playing at least four different girls named Rose…!) Does it bother her? “I have played younger for a long time,” she confirms. “I was in a frustrating age range for a while – too old or too young for everything. But I think I’m finally able to play close-ish to my age.”
Nora Zehetner lives in the East Village. The last time I was in her walk-up apartment I fitted her for Katie Ermilio’s video look book shoot. She wore pastel pink satin gowns for spring and darted through the streets of Williamsburg like a character in a Jacques Tati comedie. Today we’re talking vintage and it’s freezing outside and we can’t find the mascara. But the tan little poodle puppy is practically in the same spot, protective and loyal, jumping from her basket to Nora’s lap and back. Ellie has been blind since birth – Nora got her when she was just one – but both girls have found perfect living symbiosis. “We never knew each other any other way. She’s super tough – absolutely fearless- it’s very inspiring. But I do have to be careful not to move furniture around or leave things on the floor because she memorizes the lay-out of the rooms and she is likely to trip over or run into things if they aren’t where she is used to them.” Nora’s clothes are stored in the bedroom. She doesn’t have much but every piece is meaningful: her grandmother’s jewelry, hats she bought and shipped from a small town near her mom’s house in Dallas, sweet designer dresses and shirts with bird prints. In fact, there are birds everywhere. “I love birds! I guess I had unconsciously been buying things with birds on them for years. And a few close friends call me Nora-bird and so they always buy me things with birds on them as well.”
As the day goes on, I discover a Nora who’s consciously reserved but purposely outgoing. She’s serious by nature but knows how to mandate a youthful, assembled spirit. She pulls funny faces, climbs furniture, smiles mischievously, dances like a page boy, and gets into girlie retro character. Though her self-proclaimed clumsiness is somewhat surprising, everything makes perfect sense. She’s not snooty, or crazy, she’s a creative East Village girl who lives a quiet, soul-searching life and loves to make breakfast. “I think egg sandwiches are the greatest thing in the world!” she claims. “I think I have a million variations on the egg sandwich. But the basic one is just a fried egg with Parmesan, open-faced on sourdough bread with mustard and cornichons. I love pickles and vinegary things. I pretty much eat like a pregnant woman always.” Gluttony aside, Nora is a pleasure. After a few changes she finds herself back in the bathroom, applying lipstick, when her tummy starts to rumble. “So silly I didn’t eat breakfast,” she complains. Maybe that’s why she’s can’t find her mascara this morning…? “Aaah, found it!!!” she cheers. And the picture is perfect.