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'Union Square' Star Mira Sorvino Looks Back on Her Oscar Win and Explains Why She's Drawn to 'Dumb Blonde' Types

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire July 10, 2012 at 10:23AM

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.
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"Union Square"
"Union Square"

Did growing up with your famous father influence that wish?

Yes. People would always come up to us, and he would have to sign autographs... at restaurants, airports and stuff. I was always shy. It just made me nervous. Other people love that and that's what they want. They have that life of the party personality. So in an odd way, I've got to play great roles, but I'm not nearly as famous as some of my contemporaries. That's worked for me in my personal life.

Right now, with my four kids and my marriage, I love them so much and I'm happy to not be constantly barraged with attention. It's interesting, how everything's turned out -- not to say that I don't want commercial success, or don't want to make big movies that are powerful.

Also, being pregnant four times has taken me out of the market for a few chunks of time [laughs]. But I also think that in indies, you have the chance to achieve something that is pure, and this is the perfect example of that.

Despite having four kids, you're remained remarkably busy on the film front.

I still love working. I love doing what I do, but I try to do shorter projects now. But I don't want to retire! You do a few projects a year, you pick interesting roles, so it works out. You can't only do ones the size of this film, because you can't survive financially. Right now the business is very difficult for actors, very difficult. A lot of actors have to go back to their day jobs in order to get paid for their acting. Obviously I have to mix it with jobs that have financial salaries.

I did this movie that comes out in September that stars Dermot Mulroney that's about the slave trade of children in Cambodia. Because I work as the Goodwill Ambassador after making "Human Trafficking," it was a great way to marry activism and artistry. On that one I took the children. It was a great experience for them. They got to ride all these boats on these rivers and meet the kids. It was so eye-opening for them to get to travel. I remember when I travelled with my dad on location, how interesting that was.

"Union Square"
"Union Square"

You just balance. There are negatives to working away from home, but it also broadens your kids' world so much.

It's always a hard push because my dad and my mother made the decision, once I was in second grade, that my mom would stay in Jersey with us at home while he worked during the school year. So we did not follow him around, except in the summertime. Before that we had gone to the Bahamas, Spain, England... I think it eventually broke up their marriage. So much time apart separated them. I don't want that to happen to us, so I do bring the kids along more than some people.

Your father initially wasn't thrilled about the idea of you entering the industry, correct?

Well, I got bitten early by doing school plays. I did a play in third grade called "The Mystery of the Missing Capitalizations of Punctuations" [laughs]. I played a teacher with a silly voice and a big wig. Fifth grade, I did another play, and that's when my dad started to teach me about substituion. My dad was my [acting] coach when I was a kid. Then doing these performances in front of an audience gave me a rush like downhill skiing. You never knew what was going to happen next. This movie has that same feeling -- I didn't know what was going to happen next with Lucy.

The roles that you're best known for -- Linda Ash in "Aphrodite" and Romy -- are so endearing because they seem so unaware of how folks perceive them. They're not the brightest bulbs, but they don't seem to know it or care.  What attracts to you to those types of characters? Are people surprised when they meet the real you?

I think they used to be more surprised. Now people have to some extent through media gotten to know my essential personality. Also, people always stress that I went to Harvard, so they assume that I can't be all that dumb. There is a thread of continuity in those roles. But in this one, the character is actually smart. She's just emotionally all over the map. She looks like a dumb blonde, but she's actually not dumb.

I have a hard time playing people that I don't like. I haven't played many villains. I think very early on I played a femme fatale in a short film that got me the Robert Redford movie. But that was one of the only times I played a morally corrupt character. Oh, and in "Barcelona" too.

"Mighty Aphrodite"
"Mighty Aphrodite"

That's the film that got you the Woody part.

Yeah, you're right. Whit [Stillman] screened it for Woody. The casting director had read me once and thought it was too far away from my natural personality. But to get back to why I'm drawn to these roles -- one is the heart, two is the unfettered quality (maybe because in my life I am not unfettered, I get anxiety about how I said something).

About your Oscar win -- how's it been living with that title over your head?

Well they don't give you a tiara and scepter. You got this beautiful and wonderful honor. It's definitely a great addition to my life, but I don't wake thinking, "I'm an Academy Award winner." I just remember it as this incredible, pivotal moment for me. It took the pressure off my career in a way, even though people would probably think it's the opposite.

Many people go their entire career -- great actors -- never being nominated or never winning. I had this incredible gift given to me at a young age, so I felt validated and appreciated early. I'm not a greedy person. It's not like, "Okay, where's the next?!"

This article is related to: Interviews, Union Square, Mira Sorvino







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