The actor: Though encouraged by her father, Paul Sorvino, to do anything but follow him into acting, Mira Sorvino couldn’t stay away from the family business for long. After working her own way up with roles on soap operas and in indies such as Barcelona, Sorvino landed her biggest break—and nabbed an Oscar—playing a happy-go-lucky prostitute who gets the Pygmalion treatment in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, a star-making turn that was quickly followed by the cultishly adored Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion. Both films promised an easy career of playing fun and flighty blondes, but the Harvard-educated Sorvino deliberately challenged herself by mixing action films like The Replacement Killers with period pieces like The Triumph Of Love, and dabbling in everything from fighting giant cockroaches in Mimic to tangling with Mariah Carey in WiseGirls. These days Sorvino continues to be up for anything in independent features like the Nancy Savoca-directed Union Square, which recently had its U.S. première at the Austin Film Festival. She can also currently be seen discussing her Mighty Aphrodite experience in the PBS documentary American Masters: Woody Allen.
Swans Crossing (1992)–Sophia Eva McCormick De Castro
Mira Sorvino: I was the half-Chinese, half-Italian girl on Swans Crossing, taking advantage of my having recently graduated as a Chinese Studies major and half of my genetic legacy. I don’t know…. It’s a teen soap opera. I don’t really know how much more there is to say beyond that. It was fun. I was appreciative of having the opportunity. It didn’t go much further than a few episodes.
The A.V. Club: It was the crucible for a lot of budding actresses—Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brittany Daniel, yourself.
MS: [Laughs.] Yes, yes. Swans Crossing… Man, I haven’t thought about that one in a long time.
Guiding Light (1991)–Julie Camalletti
AVC: Right before that, you were on a genuine, “adult” soap opera.
MS: I was on Guiding Light for three episodes. I was replacing the actress who actually had the role of Julie Camalletti, for which I had been slated to do the screen test, and I was in the running to get the role as a contract role. And as the screen test approached—the way it works is, if you do well on the screen test, they own you. You have no choice once you’ve done the screen test to say, “Actually, I don’t really want to do this.” And as the date approached, I felt like, for me personally, I’d be going to prison. I just didn’t want to spend three years locked into something, because I really wanted to do film. And I kept thinking of ways, like, “Well, I could take class at night, I could do this, I could do that during those three years.” Then, finally, I decided if I can’t do more for my career in three years than what the lead on the soap will do, then it’s just going to have to be a gamble. So I turned down the screen test.
Then they called me a few months later and said, “The actress who got the role of Julie Camalletti is sick. Would you come and play the role for a few days?” I was like, “What?” They said, “No, we do that regularly. There’s an announcer who says, ‘The role of Julie Camalletti today will be played by Mira Sorvino.’” I remember taking the sides into my acting class with Wynn Handman and practicing the scenes in class. And there was one part about this murder mystery I found so humorous, and I just kept cracking up in the middle of performing it. He got kind of annoyed that I wouldn’t stop laughing. And then he put a moratorium on people bringing material in—like, the number of times they could bring in real material—because he was trying to give us these great theatrical roles, and here I was bringing in a whodunit for Guiding Light. I was very grateful that they saw fit to invite me back in after I’d turned them down the first time. But I wasn’t made for soaps. It wasn’t my dream job. I wanted to do film.
The Stuff (1985)–Factory Worker
AVC: This is listed as unconfirmed, actually, but Larry Cohen says on the DVD commentary that you were in your dad’s movie when you were a teenager.
MS: I was! I was a “Stuffie.” I was one of the drones that had already been converted by the evil Stuff—the frozen yogurt or whatever that was taking over the world. I was wearing one of those odd suits and climbing a water tower. [Laughs.] It didn’t require much actual performance.
AVC: Was that your first real experience on a movie set?
MS: My first real experience of being on a movie set in a performance. But actually, I was also an extra in That Championship Season, the Jason Miller production that my dad was in when I was 14. I was just a girl going to the prom in Scranton. That was my first experience, and that was a more prolonged experience, because I was also my dad’s P.A. for the whole summer, so I got to run around and be a set brat—bring coffee, and watch how Robert Mitchum’s assistant would bring him Dixie Cups full of vodka every 10 minutes. [Laughs.] He would pretend it was water, but he would get steadily and steadily drunker. It was sort of sad, because he’d be reading off the cue cards and he still couldn’t get the lines because he was so drunk.
Mighty Aphrodite (1995)–Linda Ash
MS: That was a blessing from heaven, that role. That was a fantastic role. Working with Woody Allen had been a dream of mine since I was 12, when I was reading Getting Even and Without Feathers. I was in a high school production of Play It Again, Sam. I played the Diane Keaton role in that. So getting to work for him was such a dream come true, and I never thought it could happen that early in my career. That was just an amazing role and a great experience.
AVC: He gave you a lot of leeway to create that character. What was your inspiration for Linda’s sort of bubbly, TV clown voice?
MS: TV clown? [Laughs.] I never heard it described that way. I’ve heard it described by the Italian press as “the voice of a chicken.” Well, I was working in my little acting notebook, and I was like, “Voices: Californian? No. Southern? Question mark. High? Maybe. Gravelly? Maybe. High and gravelly? Circle.” I just wanted to make it rough, because the high voice kind of makes you sound less intellectually gifted, and the gravelly part just added this kind of rough-and-tumble, been-to-the-school-of-hard-knocks element to it. So it wasn’t all sweet and Minnie Mouse. [Adopts character’s voice.] So it was like this—this kind of a weird way of using my own voice, but I could even kind of talk low in it, but it was still falsetto.
I don’t know, it just worked for the character. But he got nervous about it around four weeks into the movie. He was like, “Did you ever think about doing a different voice?” I nearly had a heart attack. I was like, “Well, I did talk to you about these different voices before I chose this one.” [Imitates Woody Allen.] “Yes, but, ah, you know, Diane and I, we, she tried several different voices before we settled on the one in Bullets [Over Broadway]. We changed it after a week or so. And, ah, then she really found the character.” And I was like, “Do you want me to change the voice?” [Imitates Woody Allen.] “I don’t know, ah, I was just thinking out loud….”
“Well, I will. Whatever you want, Mr. Allen. Whatever you want, I will do. Obviously I don’t have a problem with changing it, but I just want you to know it’ll be a different character, because I stand behind the voice as one person, and she’ll be a different person with a different voice.” And he was like, “Huh.” And I was like, “So do you want me to change it?” He was like, “No, no.” I was like, “Haven’t we already shot like four weeks?” He said, “Oh, that doesn’t matter. I have it written into my budget that I can reshoot the entire movie if I want.”[Laughs.] So he keeps you on your toes, because you could be totally recast after the movie is already finished! But I was really grateful that he let me keep the voice, because it was a really out-there choice.
AVC: That performance earned you comparisons to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday, who was another actress who had a very high, even genius-level IQ. Do you think you have to be smart to play that stupid?
MS: I really don’t know. But, as Sandy Meisner used to say, “A thinking actor is a stinking actor.” I don’t think intellect necessarily helps you as an actor. It just helps you talk about it after the fact. It’s really your insides, your instincts, your feelings that get you into a role.
AVC: Some critics seemed to think, especially after you got the Oscar, you’d parlay Mighty Aphrodite into a whole career of playing dim-bulbs.
MS: I kind of tried to eschew that, rightly or wrongly. I might have had a more commercially successful career if I had continued to bang that drum for a long time. I did what I call my “Dumb Blonde Trilogy”—Mighty Aphrodite, Romy And Michele, and Norma Jean And Marilyn. And after that I stopped accepting roles to play dumb blondes for a while, because I wanted to do other things. Because although immensely satisfying to play, they’re kind of far-flung from who I actually am. I never wanted to play the same role twice, and I still feel like I haven’t played the same role twice. That’s been a very conscious decision on my part. But, again, perhaps not a wise business plan. [Laughs.] I think a lot of actors learn early on that the public likes them a certain way, and so they capitalize on that for a while before they start branching out into their dramatic aspirations. And perhaps I should have done that, but I didn’t.
Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)–Romy White
AVC: Do you think that you’re better known for Romy or Mighty Aphrodite at this point?
MS: I think it’s like 50-50. The real cinephiles have all seen Mighty Aphrodite. The general public—and anybody who hated high school—have all seen Romy And Michele. I have the most fan appreciation for Romy And Michele, for sure. And I’m really glad I did it, because it’s really nice to still have teenage girls come up to me and do lines from the movie, because I remember when I was a teenager, and we used to do lines from Animal House. The fact that we got to that level of being in the public consciousness—that people thought it was fun to say, “‘I’m the Mary,’ ‘No, I’m the Mary!’” or, “I invented Post-its.” Sometimes they’ll come up with a really obscure one, and I’ll be a little stumped: “Oh my god, they’re doing Romy. I can’t believe it. That’s so great.”
Lisa [Kudrow] and I had a fantastic time doing it, and there’s actually talk now of a sequel. So if you write about that, it might get it done. We’re sending all the evidence over to Disney, like, “There’s still a lot of appetite for Romy And Michele.” We had that [Entertainment Weekly] photo shoot recently and we got so much response from people. We just love the characters so much, and feel like they could definitely hit the road in another scenario, another guise. It doesn’t have to be another reunion. It can just be another part of life that these two friends with weird personalities and inflated senses of intelligence have, and it would be really amusing to see what they’re doing now. At least we think so.
AVC: Do you think that TV prequel with Katherine Heigl, Romy And Michele: In The Beginning, hurt your chances of getting a sequel?
MS: You know, I really don’t know.
AVC: Did you watch it?
MS: I did. It was actually sort of sweet, in a way. But it was odd to see other people impersonating our roles, because I felt like we really had become the characters. So to see other people playing them like they were stock roles that you could just pick up and do was an odd experience for me as a character. Because I’d never originated a role that became that widely known and had other incarnations—like, say, someone who does a part on Broadway, and then 50 years later there’s somebody doing a revival of it. Now they actually are doing a Broadway musical of Romy And Michele, which is also going to be interesting, because they’re singing. It’ll be interesting to see that.
Parallel Lives (1994)–Matty Derosa
AVC: You did another movie about class reunions before that.
MS: Wow, is that even about class reunions? I guess it was, although I wasn’t one of the reunionees. I was the girlfriend of Ben Gazzara. I have this weird thing: When I was in my 20s, I was always paired up with much older men. [Gazzara] is a contemporary of my dad’s, really. But that was before Mighty Aphrodite—and actually, that’s part of how I got Mighty Aphrodite, because I wore a blonde wig in that movie.
When I graduated from Harvard, the day after I graduated—literally the next day—I went to this local hair salon and was like, “I want to go ’50s bleach blonde.” I waited until none of my professors would see me, because I thought they would deem it “unserious.” And that’s exactly what I wanted; I didn’t want to be serious anymore. For me, the dark hair was part of this student persona that I wanted to get away from. So I became this bleach blonde, and I started waitressing, and then all my hair started falling out, because I had a really cheap guy do the touch-ups for $50 a touch-up. It would take five minutes for them to lift my hair from dark brown to light, light blonde. And as I would get ready for my waitressing job and put it up in a ponytail, chunks of it would come off in my hand. Or I’d be in the bath. Usually you lose a little hair in the shower, but it was, like, my hands were coated in hair. It was ripping off where the stress of the chemicals was too much. So I had to go back to a more normal hair color.
But for the character, Matty Derosa, in Parallel Lives, I thought she should be blonde, so I just wore a wig. And when I did my callback for Woody for Mighty Aphrodite, after I got downstairs after finishing my audition, I realized “Oh, I meant to show him the pictures from Parallel Lives.” So I called back up, and I said, “Hello, oh, excuse me, is Mr. Allen there?” He said, “This is he.” I said, “Oh”—because I didn’t expect him to answer the phone—“Oh, hi, it’s Mira. I was just wondering, do you think she should be blonde?” “Well, I don’t know, that really depends on who plays my wife in it, and what the color of her hair is.” I was like, “Okay, because I have pictures of this movie I just did for Showtime, this improv movie, and in it I’m blonde. I’m sort of like a blonde bimbo.” And he was like, “Oh, okay, maybe you can leave them at the front desk.” So I left them, and then yes, the decree once I got offered the role was that he would like me to dye my hair blonde. So I did. But I think that that helped, the visual, because it looks very different for me to have dark hair versus blonde hair.
AVC: Parallel Lives has an incredibly weird cast: James Belushi, Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, Robert Wagner.
MS: Yeah! Even Chandler from Friends. It was just this hugely broad, wide cast. And it was really fun because all of it was improvised. I think it helped me hone my skills for later movies like Mighty Aphrodite or even Union Square, where I do a lot of improv, and the characters are encouraged to speak whatever thought comes into their heads. The directors trusted me enough to feel like I would stay in character and serve the story by blurting things out. Having done a movie that was entirely improv was a good camp for that.
Barcelona (1994)–Marta Ferrer
AVC: I imagine there wasn’t a lot of room for improv under Whit Stillman.
MS: No improv whatsoever. In fact, if you missed a period or a semicolon, he would tell you and you’d have to redo the monologue. You know, I just saw him a month ago in Toronto and felt great affection for him. I was really happy to see him. It was a more restricted way of working than I was used to, but it’s an excellent film. So he has his methodology and it works really well.
I had two brilliant monologues in that movie that I still want on my reel, even though it was such a long time ago, because the writing was so funny. It had some really hilarious observations about Europeans’ impressions of Americans, which can be quite negative. I think I called America “the land of badly dressed fat people. A throwaway society. Everybody living in shopping malls.” It’s a really hilarious, vicious monologue about the U.S. Then there’s the line about the sexual revolution, or how things have changed. I say, “Oh yes, I don’t go to bed with just anyone anymore, I have to be attracted to them sexually.” [Laughs.]
The Great Gatsby (2000) – Daisy Buchanan
MS: It was a wonderful opportunity to be in a story I’d loved since school. It was a neat experience.
AVC: What do you think about Baz Luhrmann remaking it in 3-D?
MS: I’m sure it’ll be amazing. Everything that Baz does is special. But I think it’s a hard book to turn into the quintessential version of it as a movie, because it quintessentially is a piece of literature. The language of it—the narrative language, not just the dialogue between the characters—the way he writes it is so beautiful that something is always lost when it goes to film. But I think his will be an amazing version. Will it ever equal the greatness of the book? I don’t know if that’s possible, because when you don’t have the last lines of the book, “And one fine morning…” Those words just always fill me with emotion, and you can’t put them on screen, because nobody says them. I suppose you can have somebody narrate it, and read those words, but it’s not the same as the experience of a reader ingesting it, envisioning that lonely harbor. Such a beautiful book.
Norma Jean And Marilyn (1996)–Marilyn Monroe
AVC: Speaking of remakes, there’s suddenly interest in movies about Marilyn Monroe again. You’re probably the most famous person in the last 20 years to play Marilyn Monroe.
MS: I loved that experience. It was an honor to get to play one of my icons. I had always been touched by her, and touched by the fact that, as a teenage girl growing up in a rather repressive household, she was so openly sexual. But also openly, seemingly good and innocent, like a child. That was very appealing to me, because she wasn’t this vamp whose sexuality was this dark, knowing thing. It was just natural to her.
And her life was so sad. She had such a miserable life. Getting into playing her, researching her, you got drawn into this vortex of desperation as she got older. I almost had a nervous breakdown on the set, because I was putting on the dress she had actually worn—with the cherries on it, from The Misfits—that I had found at this costume house in New York. I went in there and asked if they had any Marilyn costumes, because we were looking for things for the movie, and they said, “We have the actual dress from The Misfits. Your production can rent it.” So putting it on was almost this religious experience for me, and I felt like, “Uh, how dare I try to play Marilyn Monroe? Who am I to think that I can impersonate Marilyn Monroe?”
Then I had this weird epiphany that I was never going to be Marilyn, to take myself off that hook, because nobody could be her but her. But this is my homage to her, and I can try to put into this performance the things I think I know about her, and the things I think I know about her heart. So that made it easier for me to do it. Because to try to compare yourself to Marilyn, you’re always going to lose, and there’s no way you could be her, because she was one in a million. But I think there’s something iconic about her story, which is the great American tragedy—the 20th-century tragedy of illusory fame and lovability by millions, but ending up completely alone and desperate. I think it’s an interesting parable that people get drawn to time and time again, because she seemingly had everything and yet had so little.
AVC: Did you get any flak from Marilyn Monroe purists for your interpretation?
MS: I did not, actually. People who actually knew her liked the performance. Some people did not like the way the role was written for the Ashley [Judd] side. Someone came up to me and said, “I knew Marilyn, and she was never vicious.” They showed her as kind of a ruthless, rise-to-power character incarnate in the Ashley character, and my character was the softer side of her. So personally, maybe there’s bloggers out there who hate me, but there are bloggers out there who hate everybody. In terms of all the feedback that I’ve ever gotten in person, people were positive.
AVC: I only bring it up because the Wikipedia entry on the movie has a lengthy section on “Inaccuracies,” and one of the main complaints was that she was supposedly portrayed as a “psychopath.”
MS: I didn’t portray her as a psychopath! The movie used a dramatic device to divide her in two. It’s a fictional interpretation of the events of her life. Nobody’s saying this is exactly what happened in her life. The Internet has a way of being overly simplistic.
AVC: Well, we find it’s easier to get our work done that way.
MS: [Laughs.] I don’t think you wrote it, so I’m not putting you in that basket. The film got nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe, so it wasn’t such a negative thing when it came out. I actually had a comment that was passed on from Arthur Miller who said, “Who was that girl who played Marilyn?” Not Ashley but me. And he said, “How did she understand Marilyn’s pain?” That was probably the best comment I’ve received about any performance ever, because he was married to her, and he made a whole life’s work of apologizing for the way he treated her, writing After The Fall and everything. So the people who actually knew her thought it was a good portrayal, and I was very pleased with that. That’s where I leave it. I don’t care what Wikipedia says. [Laughs.]
Gods And Generals (2003)–Fanny Chamberlain
AVC: You also played a real person in this one. Did you also research her life?
MS: I did. You know, that’s one of the longest movies ever made. Have you seen it?
AVC: Not all of it.
MS: [Laughs.] Recently a director’s cut was released by my friend Ron Maxwell, and apparently he’s restored my scenes to the second act. When I came to the screening—he had this big opening in Washington D.C. with Ted Turner and all these people, and he hadn’t told me that he’d cut me out of the second act. So I watched the first two hours. I’m in there with General Chamberlain. And then we go to our intermission. I come back, and I’m watching the second two hours of the movie, and I’m just not in it. I was like, “Where did it go?” I guess his first turned-in cut was originally five hours, and Warner Bros. kind of lost it. So he cut it down to three and a half, and I was one of the casualties—but he had neglected to inform me.
But apparently now it has been restored, and the second part is back, which is at the theater where John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln. We had this nice little exchange on the stage, and I really liked that scene. So that’s back in there now, for those diehard Fanny Chamberlain fans. [Laughs.]
Summer Of Sam (1999)–Dionna
MS: I loved the dancing sequences with John Leguizamo. We had so much fun preparing for that. We just worked for a month with Paul Pellicoro at DanceSport in New York, rehearsing the Hustle moves. The first scene is a choreographed number, and the second scene is improvised, where I’m in a red dress. We had so much fun with both those scenes.
There was a certain scene which was not so much fun, which is the orgy scene, where at the end of it I was crying in the corner, like, “I did not become an actress to do this.” Because it was basically like being in the middle of a porn movie. Everybody else in the room—although they were not actually having sex—was completely naked, feigning sex with loud, loud noises. We were strategically covered. I mean, on camera we looked naked, but we had little things covering the most important areas. But everybody else in the room, who were also sort of rubbing up against you, was naked. For hours of this, everybody grunting and hollering. It was very demoralizing, so I was glad that was only one day of that shoot.
But working with Spike [Lee] was a treat, because he set up the way the he shot the movie so that it was all completely fresh in the moment. He used two cameras at all times, and Ellen Kuras, the amazing DP of that, really had it down to a science, so you didn’t need to stop the scene to cover it. You were covering it as it was happening. So if in one take something amazing happened that didn’t happen in another one, it didn’t matter, because she already had it from the other side, because she was working two cameras at once.
Like the scene in the cemetery. There’s one take where, because John and I really trusted each other, Spike was like [whispers], “Spit in her face.” And I didn’t know he had said this. But because we trusted each other, when he spit in my face, I slapped him in his face. Then we went on with the scene and I jump out of the car, screaming in this cemetery. None of that was in the script. It just happened, and it was all caught, and it was all in the movie. And I love working that way, when life overtakes the state where it’s the page, and it becomes something further than where the blueprint was. I love that way of working, and I loved working with Spike Lee.
Bamboozled (2000) / Famous (2000) / Welcome To Hollywood (1998)–Herself
AVC: You’re one of the rare actors who’s actually played yourself in several films—like with Spike Lee again in Bamboozled, but you also did it in Welcome To Hollywood and Famous.
MS: Right…. Bamboozled. What was Bamboozled? I don’t even remember what Bamboozled was. What was Bamboozled?
AVC: Where you presented the Emmy with Matthew Modine.
MS: Okay. Now I remember it. Yes. I remember. I don’t think I ever saw it. In Famous I did it because we were trying to get other actors to do it. I think for a while Demi [Moore] was going to do it, and this person and that person, and then they all fell out. Then I was like, “Okay, I’ll do it.” It was really fun, actually, and Charlie [Sheen] is so hilarious, and he was so gracious with his time. He was so fun to work with. It’s just that tiny little scene.
AVC: Is there an approach to playing yourself? Do you aim for a heightened-reality version of yourself?
MS: We were playing it for comic effect. I’m playing “me” in a movie, I’m not playing me. I’m playing as though I had a role in some big Hollywood romance—like At First Sight, or something. I’m not playing Mira Sorvino in her day-to-day life. It wasn’t supposed to be that me and Charlie Sheen were an item in real life. It was supposed to be we were characters in a romance. So I actually wasn’t playing me. I was playing me playing somebody.
Free Money (1998)–Agent Karen Polarski
MS: Free Money. My Brando experience. The movie? Perhaps not as fully realized as we all hoped. Have you seen the movie?
MS: So then you understand. It was sort of like we were all in different movies. Like Charlie—
AVC: He was going by “Charles Sheen” then.
MS: Oh, well. [Laughs.] Like Charles and Thomas Haden Church were in a dumb buddy comedy, and Brando was in a wacky black comedy, and then me and Donald Sutherland were in a serious family drama. We did not break from that. So it was three different movies. But it was an amazing experience for me to work with Brando, because I had always idolized him, and it was so thrilling to get to work with him.
AVC: And then he beat you with your own shoe.
AVC: Probably no other star has a Brando anecdote like that.
MS: I actually have lots of Brando anecdotes from that movie, but it would take all day, so I can’t really tell you. And besides, I’m saving them for myself, for when I’m 80 and write my book.
AVC: I did happen upon a story where Bernardo Bertolucci talked about your Brando impression. Do you still do your Brando impression?
MS: [Coyly] Sometimes.
AVC: Would you do it for us so we can put the audio on the website?
AVC: No way I can convince you?
MS: No, I’d probably have to have a drink or two in me. [Laughs.]
Human Trafficking (2005)–Kate Morozov
AVC: A slightly more serious movie with Donald Sutherland.
MS: Yes. Well, I agreed to do the telefilm because I had been working with Amnesty International as their “Stop Violence Against Kids” spokesperson. Human trafficking was one of the topics we covered under that canopy, and I—like most other people at that point in 2005—didn’t realize, up until we did it with Amnesty as part of this promotion, that slavery still existed. I thought Lincoln freed the slaves, that we don’t have slavery here in America, and that in most parts of the world there’s no slavery. And little did I understand that it’s now a $32 billion-a-year industry. And by some estimates, there’s 27 million people living in slavery across the globe. And that here in the U.S., we have this huge problem of our own domestic minors being trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, and American kids are being bought and sold every day for sex.
I did the movie because I thought it would be this great combination of my activist life with my artistic life, and it really was that. We were able to partner Lifetime with Amnesty afterwards and do this big advocacy campaign, even hitting Washington as one of our stops, and advocating for a stronger passage of the TVPA, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, as well as this Mail-Order Bride Bill. Doing the promotion for the film after the film was over, I started to meet victims of human trafficking, and that changed my life. Now, I don’t know if you know, but I’m the [United Nations Office On Drugs And Crime] Goodwill Ambassador. I spend a great deal of my time traveling the U.S. and the world meeting victims of trafficking, and [non-governmental organizations], and members of government, and police, and being a victim’s advocate, and advocating for stronger legislation, and all kinds of things. So it has become a gigantic part of my life. And certainly doing that movie was no small part in increasing my interest and that passion.
Trade Of Innocents (2012)–Claire Becker
AVC: And you just made a new movie about that same subject?
MS: Yes, which is very specifically about child sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. That’s with Dermot Mulroney. We shot in Thailand, last year, for Cambodia, because the Cambodian government would not allow us to do the story there.
AVC: Gee, why?
MS: [Sarcastically.] I don’t know! But Thailand allowed us. The booming sale of children in Svay Pak to pedophiles of all nationalities—American, European, and Asian—it’s just brutal. I’ve met little, little, little, little kids who have been sold for sex, and it’s just unfathomable how people could abuse children in this fashion. It’s just the most inhuman, heinous of crimes. And they often kill them. So it’s not even that it ends with just repeated rape. It definitely makes you want to fight it.
The movie is like a crime-drama thriller, with the subject matter being the child sex trafficking. Dermot is excellent as a non-governmental actor, ex-military, leading this special sting operation in conjunction with the local police to try to get traffickers on tape, bartering for the sale of underage girls. And my side of the coin in the story is that I’m the mother. We’ve recently lost our daughter, he’s my husband, and we’ve lost our daughter like a year earlier to a pedophile killer kidnapping in the U.S. A guy just kidnapped her and killed her. So we’re still reeling from that loss. So we move overseas to get a fresh start. He’s left the military and now he’s doing this with an NGO, and I start working with an NGO on the aftercare side of things. I’m working with the girls who have been rescued from trafficking, to rehabilitate and heal them, and in the process I’m getting healed. And in the process, I become friends with this little girl who lives down the stairs from us, and her little friend who lives in the shantytown behind, and they get all caught up in this trafficking snare.
It’s very exciting, actually, but it’s also very, very moving, and it’s uplifting. It’s not just total devastation, where you want to kill yourself afterwards. Themes of this sort certainly can make you feel that way, but I’ve recently found that, of all the pieces that I’ve seen—whether they be feature or documentary—on trafficking, they’re no good if they’re just devastating, because they just make you want to wring your hands and walk away. You need to see solution-driven presentations of it. You need to see things where people and the work they’re doing is actually having an effect on human trafficking.
And that’s the only way to engage the audience in a meaningful way, because the world is full of such horror, and the last thing you want to do is rub people’s faces in it and say, “See that? See how bad it is?” Because people instinctively recoil. They say, “Ah, what can I do about it? It’s too bad. I have to close my eyes. There’s so much going on. I can’t handle that.” But if they awaken their sensibilities and their empathy, and they’re shown, “Some people are doing this about it, and you can do that, and that,” then they can become active abolitionists. Because I don’t think anybody consciously wants to live in a world where slavery is thriving. I think we’re all sort of proud that, “We don’t have slavery anymore.” Well, we do, so it’s each one of our responsibilities to contribute to some way to end it.
WiseGirls (2002)–Meg Kennedy
MS: You know, WiseGirls is not a bad little film. It missed a theatrical distribution by inches. It did well at Sundance, it got a really good reception there. I made one of my very best friends in the world on it, Melora Walters, who plays one of the three waitresses. It’s a pretty gripping little story about a waitress who’s a former med student who gets caught up in this mob-run joint, and I end up being the house doctor for the local gunshot wounds, and we all become part of sting operation. It’s actually kind of a good movie.
AVC: Do you think it was overshadowed by the gossip reports about you and Mariah Carey getting into fights on set?
MS: I think so, which was crazily blown out of proportion. There were never any blows exchanged or hair pulled out or anything like that. There was just a verbal argument, and a chucking of a… She threw a large wooden saltshaker over my head. But if she’d wanted to hit me, she could have. [Laughs.] It was just an argument over professionalism. We all made up, and everything’s all good. That was unfortunate. But I think even without that, sadly, because of her enormous fame as a performing artist, anytime she’s cast in something, it skews the way that the film is presented by the press, because she’s seen first and foremost as a great singer. But most little independent films don’t see the light of day, so I don’t know if it would have made it otherwise anyway.
AVC: While refreshing my memory on this incident, I happened upon People magazine’s “Five Fun Mariah Facts,” and one of them is still “Mariah Carey threw a salt shaker at Mira Sorvino, and Mira Sorvino wrestled her to the floor.”
MS: No, there was no wrestling to the floor. There was no physical contact.
AVC: Well, it’s just a “Fun Mariah Fact.”
MS: Yeah, but it’s not a fact. It’s not true. We didn’t ever touch each other. There were just verbal things, because she was many hours late every day to set. Like, five hours late.
Mimic (1997)–Dr. Susan Tyler
MS: Giant cockroach movie. Guillermo [del Toro] is a very dear friend of mine, and I think I now wish I had done one of his later movies, because I have an intense disgust for cockroaches. I met with him, and felt I was in the presence of a genius. I don’t love horror movies, but I felt if I was ever to go down that dark path, it would be under his surefooted care. But I wish hadn’t done the one about giant cockroaches. I wish I had been in one of his later ones, which were more esoteric and beautiful.
But I still think it’s a great movie. I just have disgust, and I think the audience… My father was like [Imitates Paul Sorvino], “Mira, people are not going to come see a movie about cockroaches. There’s a kind of evolutionary revulsion we have toward those sorts of insects, and no one will come to see it. It’s not like a giant snake movie. It’s different!” [Laughs.]
AVC: You did get one thing out of it: Someone named a beetle excretion after you.
MS: I know, which was from my wonderful friend, the late Thomas Eisner, who was this entomologist. What a great human being. I was very sad to learn that he had passed away. He was this amazing man at Cornell University whom I went to visit as part of my research, and he showed me around his lab. Speaking of Marilyn Monroe’s influence, he had this giant cutout of Marilyn Monroe in his insect lab. So that just shows you the far-reachingness of her appeal.
But he was this brilliant man and the love of his life—besides his wife—was insects. He was just fascinated by them, and their world, and their hormones and secretions. It really gave me a perspective on my character the scientist’s love of these things. And I could get over my revulsion for the cockroaches, which had certainly grown after having lived in a railroad flat in New York, where if you came out in the middle of the night and turned the light on, a thousand roaches would scatter. [Laughs.] One once ran across my mouth while I was sleeping. So that was a fun place to live, with the bathroom in the hallway and the tub in the kitchen. And when I say “hallway,” I mean common hallway. I had to leave my apartment to go to the bathroom. I had to use a little key to go to my WC. It was fun.
The Final Cut (2004)–Delila
MS: Yes, which I don’t think that many people have seen, and I think it’s a rather interesting film. I loved working with Robin [Williams]. Robin’s an amazing guy. What a brilliant man. I don’t know if you’ve had the good fortune of speaking with him, but he is brilliant, and he can improv a rant on anything and knows about everything. It’s as if he digests the entirety of the New York Times for breakfast and then spits it out in these comedic bits. He’s always on. He has one of those personalities where it seems like they’re on speed, but that’s just the way they’re built. They’re just… [Makes babbling noises.] I think some people don’t understand how brilliant he is, because they just get blown away by the funny. But he’s just a brilliant man.
The Replacement Killers (1998)–Meg Coburn
MS: I wanted to work for John Woo, and he was one of the executive producers, and Antoine Fuqua. It was funny: That and Mimic, the directors both made greater— or at least, more broad-reaching, more artistic movies—after their genre forays, and I kind of wish I’d worked with Antoine on his second or third movie. But I always like to give emerging directors my support, because you can tell when you talk to somebody that they have it, and you want to work with them, and it’s exciting. It’s just sometimes they’re not really allowed, at the earlier stages of their career, to bring the fullness of their imagination to the project, because studios are very, very nervous about what they’re doing. They want to make sure that it’s going to fit.
But I loved working with Antoine, and it was fun to do an action movie. It was kind of like being a kid and playing cowboys and Indians, or cops and robbers. And I enjoyed the role of Meg. I thought she was fun to do. I blew my voice out when I was doing a reshoot of Mimic—because it was one of those screaming scenes where I’m in the subway and I’m yelling because the monster is coming—and when I came back to the set of The Replacement Killers, Antoine was like, “I like your voice that way. Keep it.” So every day I had to yell to burn out my vocal cords. My voice wasn’t the same for a year and a half afterwards because it had the rough, gravelly, two-registers-lower sound to it.
At First Sight (1999)–Amy Benic
MS: At First Sight is a very traditional Hollywood romance, and I enjoyed doing it. It’s a pretty straightforward character.
AVC: By this time, Val Kilmer had developed a reputation of being really difficult on set.
MS: You know what, he was real easy to work with. I just hate furthering rumors about people being difficult, because it can do such enormous damage to their careers. My experience with him was nothing but positive. He was really professional and gentlemanly, and a terrific actor.
House M.D. (2008)–Dr. Cate Milton / Will And Grace (2003) – Diane
AVC: Other than your early soap work, you’ve only done a couple of TV series. But I read that your role on House was set up as a recurring role, and that the writer’s strike sort of ended that.
MS: Yeah, I don’t know. There are still sometimes rumors that maybe they’ll bring me back sometime, because I was supposedly a colleague on leave from the hospital. I would love that. I had so much fun doing that, and I just think that [Hugh Laurie] is just blanking brilliant. He’s a brilliant actor, and the whole cast was really wonderful and really nice, and extremely hardworking. They work so hard. They shoot two episodes at once. They are constantly running around that studio lot, shooting part of the next week’s script and part of this week’s. They work extremely hard. I think it’s such intelligent writing, and such wonderful acting, and directing. The producers do such a great job of keeping it unique. It really is such a unique, special show. So I would love to do it again.
AVC: There seems to be this real migration lately of movie actors to television.
MS: I think there are two reasons for it. One, the boundaries have blurred now. It used to be you were a “TV actor” or you were a “movie actor.” Movie actors could come out of TV, but they weren’t going back to TV, because that was going to signal that they had fallen from grace in the movie world. Now movies are fewer and further between, the writing is so good on television, and people are getting the chance to do such interesting character work on TV that a lot of huge movie stars are going to TV. It’s also because of the economy, because no one’s making money in the movie world. Like Union Square, the entire budget of the movie was under $100,000, so obviously, I was paying more to my nanny to do the movie than I was earning per day. [Laughs.] I was earning a $100 a day. You can’t feed a family of five on that. So definitely, there’s a lot of incentive work on television for that.
The reason I have not so far accepted—and I’ve been offered many, many roles, a lot of which have become hits, and my agents are like, “Well…” [Laughs.] The reason is because of the time. First of all, artistically, none of them have been like, “I want to do that. I’m crazy about that.” But I have three little children, and I just don’t want to leave them for that long, and the only really acceptable… There’s two different scenarios that could kind of work okay with family life. One is the multi-camera, half-hour sitcom, because the first half of the week is very light—which I learned on Will And Grace. Just a couple of hours a day on the first two days, then the third day was like a half-day, then the last two days of the week were longer. But then every few weeks, they’d have a week off. It’s a weekday schedule, you don’t work on weekends, and you don’t work late nights.
Because the one-hour drama is a crazy, intensive, movie-like schedule, and you work minimum 13-hour days, per union rules. Your day as a SAG worker is 12 hours plus an hour lunch. So it’s 13 hours. If you do the math, if your day starts at 7 a.m. you’re going to get home at 8 or 9 p.m., because it takes you an hour to get home. You’re going to miss your kids getting up and going to bed. You will not see them all week long. So that has been my reason for not committing to any of these dramatic situation ones, and I just haven’t found the right sitcom.
The other acceptable scenario for a mother who wants to be with her kids a lot is the cable scenario, because it’s four and a half months of shooting. I have to work at least that long a year in order to make enough money to break even. So that would be the trade—like, “I know where I am, we’re staying in one place, the kids can go to the same school, and I’ll be done with it in four and a half months. And I’ll be doing something good, it’ll be done, and for the rest of the year I won’t do any other work, or I’ll just do short little films and then be with my family.” So it’s really about the motherhood thing with me that I haven’t taken some of the jobs or TV opportunities that have happened to me. But also, none of them has sung to me. But there’s definitely appeal to it, because obviously the peripatetic life of a gypsy actor, especially once you have kids, it’s hard on them. It’s hard on them to move to Morocco, and then Canada, then Mississippi. It’s fun, but it’s also very hard on their social and academic lives.
AVC: So if someone were to offer you a 12-episode cable drama, you’d probably take it.
MS: Or a comedy. I really want to do comedy. I’m tired of crying. [Laughs.] I cry all the time when I act. I’m a crackerjack crier, and I’m tired of it, because I really have to put myself through the wringer to get there. It’s not like some sort of thing I can turn on. It’s something I have to feel. So I have to be miserable for all these super dramatic roles where I’m crying my heart on.
Union Square (2011)–Lucy
MS: It’s a wonderful movie. I think you’re going to love it. Most guys I’ve spoken to love it, because they relate to it, just on the family level. Just because we’re two females doesn’t seem to affect the audience. They see the same issues that they have—because every family has these humps they have to get over. Sometimes people don’t talk for a few years. Sometimes people have age-old issues or differences between them that come from childhood.
My character is this wacky, manic person, who in the beginning of the film is just about to have a nervous breakdown publicly while she’s having a breakup on the phone in Union Square Park. And this was Nancy [Savoca]’s tip of the hat to Anna Magnani in Roberto Rossellini’s short film L’amore, in which you watch the divine Anna Magnani, who’s this beautiful Grecian statue, go through this breakup on the phone. You never see the other character.
The Triumph Of Love (2001)–The Princess
MS: [To her publicist.] I know I have to go. But there’s one other film that we didn’t talk about, which was Bernardo Bertolucci’s production of The Triumph Of Love that his wife Clare Peploe directed, with Ben Kingsley and Fiona Shaw. I love that movie. Very few people have seen it. It came out right after September 11—just like that movie I produced, Famous, literally the week of September 11. Triumph Of Love. Oh, and we didn’t talk about The Grey Zone, which is another movie I’m proud of, and no one has seen it because it’s so dark. The darkest movie I’ve ever been a part of, for sure. But a great one, I think.
But Triumph Of Love is delightful. It’s an 18th-ccentury Marivaux comedy play in which I get to play a trouser role. I’m a princess disguising myself as a young man, and I have to woo three different people in it: a boy, a girl, and Ben Kingsley. [Laughs.] And it was so much fun to do. We shot it in Tuscany. I love that movie. It’s very quirky and very beautiful, and I would definitely recommend it for someone who wants to see something that’s kind of different than my other things.
AVC: But you’ve had so many varied movies, really. I’m not certain there is such a thing as a “typical Mira Sorvino role.”
MS: No. But I think there are some that people like to associate me with, like, Romy or Mighty Aphrodite. I think people might group this new role in Union Square more in that category, because she’s loud and she says inappropriate things a lot. But she’s quite different from them, too. She’s really much more complex than you see her at first sight. It’s all these different layers. But you’ll see.