Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Maria Bello

Strength and Softness

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Maria Bello Movies on DVD

I met Maria Bello during a World Trade Center junket, which is hardly the best place to meet anyone. But all the same she was warm and forthcoming about her experiences.

See also: Coyote Ugly (2000), Auto Focus (2002), The Cooler (2003), Secret Window (2004), Silver City (2004), Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), A History of Violence (2005) , Thank You for Smoking (2005) and World Trade Center (2006).

Q: Was there any particular thing that you had to do to prepare for this role?

MB: I think it's the most challenging role I ever played. Donna's such a beautiful woman. She has such a strength, but she's so nurturing and kind. And I'm so different from that, I think. As soon as I met her, we ended up doing the dishes together at her house. And I thought, that's such a way that women get to know each other -- in the kitchen doing the dishes and putting out the desert and putting out the food and taking care of the men and the kids. It reminded me of how I grew up in Philly. I felt like with Donna, I played half my mother and half Donna. If you go online and see pictures of my mother, you'll see I look exactly like her in the film. I think there's a softer quality. I gained a lot of weight for it, and I had blue eyes, 'cause everything was soft about her.

Q: I didn't even recognize you for the first five minutes.

MB: Really? A lot of people said that, even other actors didn't recognize me until the credits. Which made me really happy. I like the idea of disappearing into a role and never playing myself.

Q: You were there in New York on 9/11. On the set, is it like reliving the terror of that day?

MB: It was re-living the humanity of that day. I wasn't in the hole with the guys. What I was so touched by that day was man's humanity to man. It wasn't so much about the tragedy, but how we loved each other. And I think this film is a reflection of that love and how we came together. Whatever your political viewpoints were, whether you were rich or poor, or your race. Like that last scene in the hospital really happened. It wasn't in the original script. And Donna told me that story and Oliver included it in the movie. She hadn't broken down the whole day. She kept it together. She's a cop's wife. That's what she did -- take care of the family, take care of her friends. And then she met this woman. And the woman just saw her across the room and came up to her and hugging her and praying in her ear. And Donna finally broke down. [Note: So does Maria.]

Q: From hanging out with Donna and John, what did you pick up that was important or surprised you?

MB: Donna, I feel like I tried to take away her essence. She bikes like 50 miles a day. She's way different than you would expect. She's in one way like my mother a traditional housewife, and the other half is an adventurer and a seeker. She has no judgment about anything. We were talking about a mutual friend who worked on the movie, and a lot of people can have judgments about him. And she was like, "you get to know him as aperson and he's fantastic." Anybody -- you get to know their story and you fall in love with them. And my mom's like that too. And John, just his inspiration and his strength, and that he survived that and he survived it with such goodness and such kindness. There's no trace of animosity in his whole body.

Q: I'm curious as to the mood on the set. For such a powerful movie, are there a lot of light moments?

MB: Always. Always on a movie set. There's a hundred people or so that work on a movie set and we had to keep some levity to it. Like that scene that Nick and I have with the pregnancy test. We kinda made that up in the moment: "The stripe is the stripe!" He's so wonderful in this movie. I've never seen a performance like it. Can you imagine as an actor, being stuck and not being able to use your arms and legs and all that emotion came through his face. I was so blown away.

Q: But you do a really good job in a tough role, which is what I call the "waiting wife" role.

MB: Thank you, but I really had to modulate it in a way. Because part of me thought I'd be hysterical the whole time. And Oliver really held me back. And I really knew Donna and that she didn't break down the whole day. It was very difficult, but thank God Oliver reigned it in and sort of made a performance that wasn't hysterical, which I would be.

Q: What was your experience with Oliver?

MB: He had to reign me in all the time. I tend to get big and I get anxiety ridden and stressed and he would have to say, "Pull it back. You don't have to work so hard." I think I have to get into this really deep place to be able to do it, and his thing was just to relax and take it easy. He challenged me a lot that way. He's also very positive. He's a good father in the way he approached me. I guess he figured out that's what I needed. I needed someone really nurturing and kind, who said me I was doing a good job. Because then I do a better job. If someone tells me, "that really sucked. Do it again." I'm allowed to say it and I do. But he never said that.

Q: Is he sort of a nut?

MB: He's so eccentric and brilliant, but I've probably never met a person with such a big heart. He's a beautiful man and I'm happy to know him. He just has a bigger way of looking at the world.

Q: He's one of the true crazy artists of the day.

MB: I wouldn't say crazy so much as authentic and fearless. He's more and more free. I'm inspired by that as well. As I get older, I'm learning about that -- not to hold anything back and try to fit everything into a box.

Q: How do you think this movie has changed you?

MB: It changed me quite a bit. After A History of Violence, I was in bed for three months. I was so anxiety ridden, because I tend to take a character away with me. And after this one, I felt such a softness in me. Something had definitely shifted. I found it with my son, I found it with my family, I found it with my friends. I found that I was inspired to look people in the eye on the street. I try to remember that every day, but a lot of days I forget. I'm a working mother...

Q: I loved A History of Violence, by the way.

MB: Thank you very much. What a film, huh? I think it's unfortunate that David wasn't nominated. It's the most bizarre thing, ever. It was on everyone's top ten list.

Q: What would you say to people who think Oliver Stone is exploiting the tragedy?

MB: Well, this movie is a reflection of the humanity of that day, instead of the tragedy. Oliver has a reputation of taking a very hard line politically. And this film, I think the personal is political. It was a choice that day whether to react with fear or react with love. And I think that love was the most prevalent thing.

Q: Are you close with your mom?

MB: We just shot the Gap campaign together. For the holiday season they're doing "family." "Peace, Love and Family." So my mom and I got to shoot it together, and it was such an emotional day. It was so beautiful. She's an incredible spirit. She basically cured herself of cancer 22 years ago. She had 5 months to live. She had Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and through prayer, meditation, Western medicine, Eastern medicine, she healed herself. She's an inspiration to me. That's how she says it: [accent] You just gotta laugh!

July 24, 2006

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