She's known for playing some of the more memorable airheaded blondes commited to celluloid in "Mighty Aphrodite" and "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion," but Academy Award-winner Mira Sorvino is no dummy. Since winning an Oscar for her career-making turn as a daft prostitute in Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite," the Harvard Univeristy graduate (she majored in East Asian Studies magna cum laude) has built an impressive body of work by juggling indie work with studio fare, all while giving birth to four kids and serving as the United Nation's Goodwill Ambassador for human trafficking since 2009.
In her latest indie vehicle to hit theaters, "Union Square" (opening this Friday), Sorvino plays Lucy, a manic mess of a woman who surprises her estranged sister Jenny (Tammy Blanchard) by showing up unannounced at her glam New York apartment overlooking the New York location of the title on Thanksgiving eve. Over the course of two days, Lucy and Jenny lay their grudges bare, reveal some big secrets, and make an effort to get along once and for all.
A glowing and chatty Sorvino caught up with Indiewire in Manhattan to discuss what she describes as "one of the best movies" she's done in a "very long time"; her relationship to her father, veteran character actor Paul Sorvino; her refusal to play the villain; and that Oscar win.
Lucy is the definition of a hot mess in "Union Square." It must have taken so much out of you to play her.
It did -- although it was very fun and freeing. It's electrifying to get to play someone who's able to do whatever she feels. That being said, you had to feel whatever she felt. It felt so extreme all the time because she's struggling with bipolar disorder. The funny thing is, in the beginning of the movie you just think she's hysterical, not knowing if you can take much more of her. But once you get into it, then you see her more delightful side. She can be bubbly, ebullient and funny, but then she crashes into these moments of sadness. But, you come to realize, it's for a good reason.
It was hard to play the heavy side of it. The scene along the river [where she contemplates suicide] killed me. The thing was, we had a short window of time to do the scene because the sun was coming up. We did it at four, five and six am. Every minute of that was too long for me, because it was so upsetting to play. But I was lucky to get the role. It's a fantastic one.
How do you get your energy level up to where it needs to be to play a character as charged as Lucy?
A lot comes the personality of the character. Once you find that, it just drives you around. I do work off of caffeine a lot. I'm a sort of coffee addict. And protein bars. Every few hours I'd have one and a latte from Starbucks [during our interview, Sorvino sipped from a Venti Starbucks latte].
Did the rushed shooting schedule help you in that respect?
Yes, it helped because you had the adrenaline of a race. You had to start it and you had to finish it. You couldn't just decide, "Today I want to shoot five pages rather than ten." If it had been longer, it would have been very hard for me. Nobody was doing it for money. There was no money in it. You could say that I paid to be in it, because I had to pay my nanny twice my daily salary to work on it [laughs].
But I think it's one of the best movies I've done in a very long time. It's rare to find something that's a dramedy like this. Usually it's only comedy or drama. And a lot of independent films, it's usually heavy drama. As a viewer these days, I don't want to choose something that's going to bring me down, but I don't want to see something that's stupid either.
Do you know anybody like Lucy?
Yes, and I'm not at liberty to say who. She's parts of that person in terms of the way the bipolarity expresses itself -- the fun and juvenile [aspects] of her personality. But there are other parts of the character that are unique to her. If I had not had that person to draw from, it would have been a very different portrayal.
You've stuck to mainly indies over the course of your career. The few studio dips you have made were for the most part with auteur types like Guillermo del Toro ("Mimic") and Spike Lee ("Summer of Sam"). Since winning the Oscar, did you set out to only do work that really spoke to you as an artist?
Yeah, that's always been my way. I think it's commercially that hurt me. But I never had this strategy to stay on top, or be as marketable as possible. When I was a kid and wanted to be an actor, I used to think, "Gosh, I'd like to do great roles, but have no one in my real life know who I was." I wanted to enjoy anonymity. I'm a private person.