Friday, January 27, 2012

Brooks, Dana & Mira, Not Being Sarcastic

Find Multiple Sarcasms on Video

Brooks, Dana & Mira, Not Being Sarcastic


Multiple Sarcasms is set in New York City in 1979, and middle-aged architect Gabriel (Timothy Hutton), is losing interest in his work, drifting away from his wife, Annie (Dana Delany), and not devoting enough time to his daughter, Elizabeth (the strikingly appealing India Ennenga of HBO's Treme). He spends most of his time sitting on the toilet struggling to write an autobiographical play or palling around with his long-time best friend Carrie (Mira Sorvino). As he becomes increasingly self-indulgent, those in his orbit grow restless. That's the premise of writer-director Brooks Branch's debut feature that boasts of the best cast in town (including Stockard Channing and Mario Van Peebles). In anticipation of this Friday's opening, I took part in roundtables with Branch and two of my favorite actresses, Delany and Sorvino, talking about the movie and much more. (Read to the end for Mira's fascinating political discourse.) I note my questions:
Danny Peary: Why did you want to do this story? Was it partly autobiographical?
Brooks Branch: The original idea was just to write something in the tone of real life. That was the impetus, but then it took on a life of its own. It's not really autobiographical in the sense that Gabriel [Timothy Hutton] is me. I'm not Gabriel and there was no Carrie [Mira Sorvino] in my life, so from that standpoint it's not autobiographical. I grew up a little more the Elizabeth character [India Ennenga] in that my parents got divorced when I was young. In some ways I'm part of each of the characters, but nothing specific. Most of the influence was the seventies relationship movies that I absorbed, like Hal Ashby's movies, Kramer vs. Kramer, even Ordinary People. All of that informed this subtle story. I ran a division of Paramount Pictures for a bunch of years and worked on and marketed blockbusters, so part of why I did this film was to be a little rebellious and stay away from the standard, three-act formula and try to write something the way real-life flows. That means there would be awkward directions and twists. That was the original thinking.
DP: The reason I thought it was autobiographical is the line about it being okay for Gabriel to be lonely as long as he knows someone is in the next room. Which is a line that you'd relate to as a writer.
BB: No question there's a lot of autobiographical language in it, that informs it. There are a number of lines that are--and that's a really good one you mention because I've had that feeling.
Q: Gabriel does most of his writing on a toilet seat. Is the bathroom a place where you had some of your best creative moments?
BB: What's funny is that I just came from a New York Times shoot where they shot me on the toilet. So I'm a little embarrassed about how my grandmother is reacting in heaven. The toilet thing in the movie just ended up being kind of funny. No question, I've probably had a million creative moments on the toilet.
Q: Why did you make this film now?
BB: I think it's that rebellious factor I mentioned. I originally wanted to write it as a play. I saw a lot of theater that is relationship-driven: David Mamet, Wendy Wasserstein, that kind of stuff. Then came the idea to put the play within a movie and write it as a screenplay. Then it sat there. My day job was at Paramount and I was a brand consultant and did a lot of other projects. Then a producer I was working with pushed me to take it off the shelf about three-and-a-half-years ago. Years ago we were going to make it for a studio, when a small film was a $7M film. So part of why we didn't do it was economics. Now we can make the same film for a lot less. Little did I know that independent film was going to implode while we set sail to make it.
Q: Has it imploded or has the model changed?
BB: I say imploded because the traditional formula that you used to make an independent film was not necessarily the formula by the time we got to shore. Meaning that when you set sail you'd often make a film unencumbered. By the time we got to shore, half the buyers weren't companies anymore. No question the model has shifted. My background was to help market things through clutter, so it was an interesting time to come back and look at different models.
Q: I found your choice to set the film in 1979 very interesting because it made me wonder if Gabriel would have a blog now and think that his wife would be able to text him when she can't find him. Were you conscious of that?
BB: Very. The sixties had cracked open a certain level of consciousness that led into the seventies. We hadn't gotten to the Reagan eighties yet. 1979 to me was a time when our culture was in no-man's land. It felt that the world, and especially New York, was in the place Gabriel is in, not knowing whether to be here or there. I went a little toward the mid-life crisis scenario. In some ways his life seems fine but he's trying to find his path. The other point you bring up in regard to technology is interesting because it would be such a different story if it took place today. Technology would have changed the story dramatically, even in how the characters argue. People fight through texting. It's different even showing it today. I'm fully aware that this is a subtle story. Here's a man who should be happy but he's not. It was difficult as a writer because it would have been easier to go left or right to make Gabriel more likeable, but I wanted to make the character real. We're in a troubled time right now where you're lucky if you have something to eat, whereas in the film Gabriel has a lot in his life but is having his crisis. His self-indulgence is evocative of that period.
Q: There had to be something you wanted to say about someone in 1979 who was making decisions about his marriage and career while still pursuing art and who wasn't going to be happy no matter how much money he had.
BB: I think that's true. There was an important element to me and the other writer, Linda Morris: Gabriel really finds his path through his art. In many movies, the Pollocks and other artists have to numb themselves in many ways in their art and dig down deep to produce that art, which is a painful process. Gabriel is already pained and finds his path through his art, which is a little different.
Q: Can you talk about the casting of the film?
BB: I've worked in entertainment for twenty years and all the talent agencies know me, so I had a little bit of an advantage in having access to someone we wanted. But as far as the actual casting, it was a collaborative vision. I wanted to get the best actors, not trendy actors. I wanted actors who could take their egos out of their roles. I was really lucky with each of the actors I got. The second I sat down with Tim, I thought "this feels right." The same with Mira and Dana. Mario Van Peebles I'd worked with before. I had created a shorts film festival for Turner Classics Movies, and I worked with directors from David Lynch to Griffin Dunne to Mario. I was talking about the role to him and how I wanted someone to play it differently and then I remembered he was an actor, too. I wrote the agent role with Stockard Channing's voice in mind. She said yes immediately and I thought, "Wow, that doesn't happen." So I was lucky.
DP: You mentioned that Gabriel is not always likeable. Other than casting Timothy Hutton, how do you make sure that he isn't completely unlikeable? I'm not sure he's a great catch for either woman, but we like him because Timothy Hutton is playing him.
BB: There's nothing more complicated than that.
It wasn't trickier than casting the right actor who could show a sensitive side of a character even when the words coming out of his mouth are bugging us. I had a vision of what not to get. I didn't want to get a Young Turk, someone really handsome with an ego. Not that Tim isn't handsome. I just didn't want someone who feels he has the world by the ass, because then we're going to really hate the guy. I think Gabriel is a likeable person in his overall life but the slice of time when this movie takes place is probably his most unlikeable period. Meaning he's in a self-indulgent zone. In the year after the movie takes place, you'd probably find a more likeable Gabriel.
Q: Why is Carrie working in the music business rather than in some other kind of job?
BB: The reason it's called Multiple Sarcasms is that I wanted that to be sort of their tribal language. Gabriel and Carrie have sarcasm in common. They can finish each other's sentences. As great as his wife Annie is, and I think Dana pulled this off masterfully, she's not really sarcastic and doesn't have that same tonality. I think it was important to have Carrie be in a job where you really believe she'd be a buddy of Gabriel's. The movie is about soulmates. What if your soulmate was someone you met but you weren't in a situation to act on it? I didn't want you to see her as someone where you'd immediately say she and Gabriel will end up together. It was important that she be kind of brash and have her be in a world where she is in complete command.
Q: In the movie, we see a scene from Gabriel's play. Did you intend from the start to have two of Gabriel's alter egos on the stage?
BB: Often when there's a scene of a play within a movie, it's a throwaway and it doesn't matter what the full play is about. We actually thought it through so it would be a great play if you saw it all. We actually shot a lot of the play, so what we did leave is a sliver of a fuller story. For maybe a split second we had only one Gabriel, but the idea to have a second Gabriel came pretty quickly. I think the trick was to pull if off visually. Should they look alike? At one point we had them being handsome versions of Gabriel but that would have been a casting nightmare. So we relaxed and had one have dark hair and the other blond and had them wear the same shirts.
Q: Have you thought of staging the play?
BB: Making the actual play? Oh, I don't know. It might be fun. I'd have to put an actual movie in the play!
Q: Talk about the titles that show seasonal progression.
BB: I was a painter and graphic designer before I went into marketing, so in a weird way, my background is playing with visual arts. So early on I thought about the visuals during the credits. Elizabeth takes photographs throughout, being a spectator to all that's going on with her parents and Carrie. So the idea of the montage was to show time passing, but I wanted to show her artistic sensibility coming together. You see that in the end credits even more. If you pay attention to the words, and you'd have to see the film several times, you'll is that her voice as an artist has developed through the pain.
Q: Your film is about a superselfish guy who almost loses everything he loves because of what he does, but then has things start to work out. Is there a message?
BB: The message is that each of our paths to happiness is drastically different from anyone else's. In real life you can go off your path and the people around you won't understand why you're bummed out because you have a great spouse and job. Your happiness doesn't have to fit anyone else's definition. People who come up to me and get this message come through a lot of different windows. They don't all relate to Gabriel. Some relate to Annie, Carrie, or Elizabeth. I'm happiest when people feel the real-life dynamic of it.
DP: You have a line in your movie about "hesitating in life." So I thought that was part of your main theme. Gabriel is someone with writer's block and to him that equals life's block.
BB: That's absolutely dead on. In my opinion it's not about making the right decisions in your life but just making decisions. Paralysis can be the worst thing. Gabriel doesn't necessarily make the right decisions but he made decisions he felt he had to and communicated those as truthfully as he could. That's the part that I want people to debate in the car after the movie.
Q: What do you like about your character and what you love to change about her.
Dana Delany: I don't know what Brooks has told you but I grew up in the '70s so I love that the whole movie had that feeling of a Paul Mazursky movie. I remember his An Unmarried Woman had a huge impact on me when I was getting out of college. What I loved about the movie was a similarity in terms of the way Mazursky's movies used to go from screaming to laughing to crying; it would take emotional left-turns all the time. So I think my favorite moment in the movie is when Gabriel and Annie are fighting and then she just starts laughing. And I really fought for that because I thought this is what we do in life but we dont see that in movies anymore. And of course what I would change is to have Annie and Gabriel stay together.
Danny Peary: Should they?
DD: Well, another thing that I like about the movie is that they chemistry and really did love each other and probably still do love each other, but that doesn't mean you should be together.
DP: Are they fixable?
DD: Oh, who knows? I dont know. Is anybody? Thats a question larger than I am. Ive had many relationships that ended where it's like, "Was that fixable?" I dont know.
DP: I see her as being gypped.
DD: Do you? Why?
DP: Well, she wasted a good part her life with this guy who has a female friend whom he spends his quality time with while Annie is there for him if he wants her.
DD: I know a lot of relationships like that though.
DP: Well, people are gypped when that happens. Did you see that?
DD: No, I think it's life. Sometimes when we feel like we're gypped it turns out it's a huge opportunity; we just don't see it at the time. And I like to think that Annie goes on the have an interesting life and career and a different kind of relationship where it's not all about him.
Q: Brooks said this movie is about finding a soulmate. Do you believe in the concept of soulmates? Or is it something where you could have a soulmate in different parts of your life?
DD: In different parts of your life, yeah. I think were constantly evolving. I think there are people that you just have some mysterious chemistry with, which I like, but I think you still have to do all the work.
Q: In this role there was so much emotion just below the surface but you weren't high strung. How did you build her?
DD: I've been in that position of a relationship ending where you just sort of feel you could lose it at any second and youre trying not to. Actually, when we shot the movie I just had come out of a relationship, so I kept trying to pull on that. But I think that can get in the way too. You get in your head too much and you really need to be in the piece, not in your life, because that gets too heady and intellectual, as opposed to just working with Tim and how I feel about him as opposed to my own life.
DP: Do you like to talk to the director a lot about your character?
DD: No, I like mystery. I don't like to over-talk things, I like to be surprised. I feel like if you talk about it too much then you're already setting it in stone and you're not open to surprises.
DP: So you're looking for leeway to create a character?
DD: Yes, very much so. I like when the director and I have a mutual trust in each other, and I felt that with Brooks. They hire you so that's what they're getting--you.
Q: Talk about working with Brooks.
DD: Obviously. you don't know going into it what it's going to be like, and you are thinking, "Wow, he's never made a movie before." But the shoot was so relaxed. What I really like about Brooks and why we've remained friends is he's very collaborative and he's got a great sense of humor. He likes the messiness of life as I do, so he accepts that things are odd and weird because they're funny and human and he just goes with it when making choices.
Q: Did you get much freedom to improvise here?
DD: Yes, which I loved. When I'm allowed to improvise, I don't take it lightly and I know what I privilege that is. So Im very serious about it and I think I help when I do it. It's not about me looking better; it's about helping the story. Brooks was great with that.
Q: When did you make this movie and when did you start being in Desperate Housewives?
DD: I owe this movie to Tim Hutton. We had just finished working together on the television series Kidnapped, which got canceled, and then this came up and he suggested me to Brooks and I think I left two days later to start shooting. And then Desperate Housewives came up about a month later.
Q: Are you returning to Desperate Housewives?
DD: I dont know. I just did a pilot and well find out soon whether it gets picked up or not. When it would go into production is all up in the air. It all is. I will have a new show on the air that I'll be starring in, I'll be back on Desperate Housewives, or I'll be out of job and looking for something else. I dont know.
DP: How much in advance do you know what's going to happen to your character?
DD: Very little. Like the day before, usually.
Q: Do you have some sort of standing contract if they decide to bring the scenario back?
DD: It's one of those contracts that all works in their favor. I have contract with them, a seven-year contract, I've done three of them, so they have the choice of bringing me back but I don't have the choice of whether I stay or not.
Q: Is it different doing television and movies?
DD: Everything has its own tone. Desperate Housewives is such a beast unto itself. There's nothing like it. I don't even know how to describe it; I mean it takes on a whole other life of its own. This movie is a little more real and smaller and it's not so over-the-top. For me, every project is finding the tone, which is hard.
Q: The show and the movie are so drastically different, but Annie's relationship problem is something you'd expect your character to have on Desperate Housewives.
DD: Yeah. But on Desperate Housewives it would have to do with Katherine having a midlife crisis. So thats what's nice about the show, it's about women. We often see the man having the midlife crisis but not a woman.
Q: Do you relate to Katherine, on Desperate Housewives?
DD: Oh, God, no! I always have to find something, but on the outside, no. I think Ive been lucky on Housewives because I wasn't one of the original four women my character is not so iconic. So I get to do all the weird stuff that Marc Cherry wouldn't let any of the other women do. Like have a nervous breakdown and stab herself and become a lesbian; if that happened to any of the other women I think people would be very upset.
Danny Peary: Do you get fan mail still from fans of China Beach?
DD: Yeah, I do.

DP: Are these different fans from those who are fans of yours for Desperate Housewives?
DD: Yeah, I would say so. But there's some crossover. I get a lot of letters now saying, "It's fun to see you now on Desperate Housewives," but they preface it with "I always loved you on China Beach."
DP: Could you do a China Beach reunion update?
DD: People have asked about that but the biggest issue now is just getting it released on dvd. Theres a problem with the music rights because nobody expected dvds to come along. I think John Wells is actually working on that. I hope it happens because there are bootleg copies but no real official copies of it. I loved doing that show.
Q: You're now moving back and forth between television and movies. How do you choose projects at this point because TV requires such a time commitment?
DD: Whether I can fit something into my schedule is the main thing right now. Because I think I'm going to get only two weeks to myself this year. I'm not complaining, it has been fantastic, but my agent keeps saying, "I want to find you a movie," and I keep saying, "No, I'm going on vacation. I'm taking two weeks and doing nothing." I think once all this TV stuff is done I'll be back to it.
Q: What's this new show you're working on?
DD: As ABC likes to say, it's a procedural with character, because that's what ABC does. But it is both; I play a medical examiner on it. It's good, it's really well-written, a mix of drama and comedy. I think it's smart and it's an interesting character. She's very complicated. so I like it.
Q: You have Camp Hope coming up; could you talk about that?
DD: That's sort of a Catholic horror film, its interesting. I play this mom of a kid played by Will Denton, who played my son in Kidnapped. And I get to also play the Virgin Mary, which was fun. It was written and directed by George VanBuskirk, who was raised very Catholic and went to a Catholic camp, so I think its his life experience. There actually is this Catholic camp that still goes on. Its pretty scary.
Q: I love the fact that you seem to be a really self-possessed person who wants to get to know herself. How do you feel like that helps, or do you feel like it helps your attitude toward Hollywood and roles you get and don't get, or helps build your characters?
DD: I think I'm at a place in my life where I know none of it really matters, so I always remind myself of that. I don't take anything personally. I feel like I'm on my own path, and if that involves acting, great, and if it doesn't, fine. Because there are so many other things I'm interested in, I have a healthy sense of detachment from all of it.
Q: What are some of those other interests that you have? Like this movie, where a guy changes career paths, what would you do if you had to change your career path?
DD: Oh boy. There are so many places I want to go. I've never been to Africa, I've never been to India. I could see myself traveling around the world and just helping people. I get great satisfaction out of meeting people from different walks of life. I like being helpful. It just sounds so corny but I get great enjoyment out of it. It's kind of egotistical in the long run, but it just makes me feel good. I did a TV-movie remake of that wonderful movie Resurrection, with Ellen Burstyn, and my character was a healer and ends up traveling around the world. It sounds pretty bazaar, but I could see myself doing it.

Danny Peary: I noticed that your credits in the production notes doesn't include Mimic, which is one of my guilty pleasures.
Mira Sorvino: I have no idea who wrote what's there and what's been edited out. They probably just make a random assortment of what fits.
DP: But you are proud of Mimic?
MS: Oh, very much so.
DP: Do you have a whole new fan base from that film?
MS: Yeah, the audience for that and The Replacement Killers is a lot of people.
Q: Do you have a guilty pleasure among your many films?
MS: I dont know if I feel guilty about it but I like Romy and Michele's High School Reunion a lot. It's just a fun and silly underdog buddy comedy of two very stupid people who have good hearts, so I enjoy watching it. And it really has resonance with various audiences. It's very big among teenage girls still even though it's already been, gosh, more than ten years since it came out, a long time. Also, gay men really like the film and people have been Romy and Michele in drag for the Hollywood Halloween Parade
Q: You and Lisa Kudrow should do a 10-year reunion.
MS: Yeah, weve talked about doing a reunion movie. I dont know. It would be fifteen years now, but well see if it ever happens.
DP: Why wasnt there a sequel? Did it not do well at the box office?
MS: It did good box office. It would have done better had it not been rated R. It doesn't feel like an R movie but the language was the thing that got it that rating. The "F"-word was used like five times in one sentence by Janeane Garofalo and if you use it even once witha sexual connotation rather than just as a cuss word, that's an automatic R. It's sad because films make their money through repeat business and what mom is going to bring their teenagers back five times to see any movie. That was our main audience but they couldn't come without an adult. I dont think they understood that it had an appeal for teenager girls but it really did because we were like them only a little bit older. We had the same mentality, that high school mentality. So we lost a lot of repeat business.
Q: Carrie is not entirely what you expect her to be. Do you prefer to play characters that are a little off kilter?
Mira Sorvino: I like all kinds of parts, but sometimes I like to play characters that have more confidence and are a little bit more ballsy and whatever than myself. Carrie was fun because I like ebullient characters. She's more outgoing than I am. She's just very off-the-cuff and says what she feels and thinks at the moment, and is not tremendously concerned with protocol. But she's a good person. There was more in the film originally where you got more of a picture of her life. She views herself as kind of a punk gal who's living this great life, but I think at the core shes pretty lonely.
Q: A major theme of this movie is people being stuck in a rut. Has that ever happened to you and how did you deal with it?
MS: I've gone through periods in my life where I made a change or stepped back. After years of working back-to-back, I escaped to Europe. I lived in Paris for a while and just stopped being a movie star, and was almost like a student tourist. People didnt recognize me and I could just be normal. That was right after the height of my fame and I was overwhelmed and not very happy. So that grounded me again. But the biggest revolution in my life was getting married and having children. My life is completely different now. I have three children--five, three and nine months--and even getting ready to come to press today was sort of an Olympic undertaking. I don't care about the business the way I did before. If it all this went away I might be disappointed, but it would not be the be the end all. I could be in a little Podunk town in Middle America and be waitressing again and as long as I had my family I'd be happy. Taking care of kids, beings other than yourself, revolutionizes your life.
You're no longer this selfish entity saying, "Oh, what will fulfill me?" It's now, "What do they need and how can I make them happy and have a great life and grow up to be good people and good members of the world community?"
Q: In the movie Gabriel has a daughter and still manages to become so self-absorbed.
MS: Yeah, yeah. I worried about that when I first read the script, thinking that perhaps he would lose favor with the audience because he is so self-absorbed. He's just a complete naval gazer for most of the film. At least Carrie calls him out on it a little bit. Even in his relationship with her, he's sort of saying, "Okay, now it's her turn to fulfill me now." [Laughs] Wait a second! I think he comes around toward the end, but his nature is essentially a bit narcissistic. Because he's sort of going from woman to woman and then he shamelessly puts them all into his play. He promises them that he won't and then he does. It doesn't totally make sense to me when the wife comes back after having seen the play, in which there's all this stuff about his imagined relationship with Carrie, and she's so happy for him. I think many men go through a time, when they're younger especially, where women are just sort of a new flavor, a new way to try out life; and sex is a way of living an adventure, not really a deep interpersonal experience. It's like going on a rollercoaster or having a great glass of wine or something, no more than that.
DP: Carrie says a line to Gabriel that goes something like, "I exist and I dont want to be a way for you to experience yourself." Did you have any input in having her say that line?
MS: I came up with that line, yeah. "I wont be another way for you to experience yourself." That was my line.
DP: I guessed that. Without that line, it would seem that Carrie is satisfied being a costar in Gabriel's life.
MS: Yeah. Carrie deep down, I think we discover, is sort of in love with Gabriel, but she's tried really hard to repress that and not ever create a conflict for him and his family. And so she's always been there as his buddy and his wife's as well. There were other scenes cut out--in one Carrie calls Annie after she and Gabriel had the argument in her presence to make sure they were okay. But, as you know, things end up on the editing floor. I really made an effort to make sure she doesn't come across like a home wrecker. She's not there to take him away, but instead has sublimated whatever feelings she has for him and has taken the role of his best friend and his familys best friend.
Q: In movies friends of opposite sexes typically repress feelings for each other. Do you think this is realistic?
MS: Well, remember Carrie and Gabriel started off as teenagers who tried fooling around, so it started with a romance. Then those feelings went underground for about twenty years. I found in my own life that it is hard to maintain best friendships with straight guys. If you have that much in common, then why isn't it a romance?
Q: Especially if he's married.
MS: Well, I never was really close to somebody who's married. I never had that situation, but in a male-female best friendship, one or the other is going to have feelings, although not always. You can have great friendships with people that you work with that don't turn into romances. I feel like I'm so tunnel visioned because I'm happily married and don't see men as potential romantic partners anymore. So I'm really oblivious sometimes when somebody says, "Oh, wow, that person really has a crush on you." [Laughing] I'm just like, "What are you talking about?" Most people think the best marriage involves people who are best friends.
Q: Do you think a marriage is heading for trouble when there's that third person there?
MS: Yes, if there is a third straight person in that mix. I think that that would be a problem. Definitely my husband's my best friend and it's caused some of my female friendships to suffer a little bit because he's the one I go to for everything, you know? We're each other's best friends and so I don't have as much time to be with all my other friends that I love dearly, certainly not with the three kids. I see a huge difference in the amount of real time and phone-call time I had for my friends before and now. It's just like we're off on a life that doesnt stop, you know?
Q: Do you see yourself writing something to reflect these insights now that you're a mother and have this ability to distance yourself from your previous adventures?
MS: I dont know. I do some fictional writing sometimes, but I dont know if it'll ever see the light of day. People have talked about doing a mommy blog or something. I haven't really joined the whole Twitter/Facebook generation yet. I know that there's a Facebook page with my name on it, but Ive never gone on it, and I've never tweeted. The writing that I do now mostly are my speeches for all of my activism that I do as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN on trafficking. I always do my homework and write my speeches for that.
Q: Can you talk more about that?
MS: Well, I just came back from Mexico where the Mexican government is the first in the world to officially adopt the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes Blue Heart Campaign. AIDS has the red ribbon and breast cancer has the pink ribbon, and we have the blue heart to try to raise awareness and action in every nation in the world. Mexico is the first one to really come forward and say they're going to emblemize the Blue Heart Campaign. President Felipe Calderon, spoke on the dais with all of us and was very passionate about it, which is great because Mexico is a place where a lot of work needs to be done. For the first time, I met underage trafficking victims. I had met adult trafficking victims before, but this time we went to a shelter for trafficked girls and that was a mind-blowing, heartbreaking experience. The girls there ranged from eight to thirty-five. When you first see them, your heart just starts breaking because they're all kind of normal.They're teenage girls giggling and laughing with each other, and kind of acting cool and the reality is that these girls were sexually trafficked and were in brothels and were beaten and abused. And this eight-year-old girl comes up to you and shows you her addition and subtraction homework and your heart breaks because you're told her father killed her mother in front of her and then dropped her off with her aunt and uncle who sold her to a brothel at four. Now shes eight. Anyway, so this kind of redoubled my commitment towards trying to be the best advocate I can be for them and trying to urge governments to adopt a unified top-to-bottom approach because you must do everything from the federal level down to the local level. You have to work with NGOs on the ground who are providing aid for freed slaves, you have to provide shelter and food and education and rehabilitation and psychological counseling. I was asking the shelter people, Well, how do you deal with their psychological problems? And I was expecting some clinical answer, but they said, "Well, most of these girls need love." And it was true! That was it. I dont know if they're ever going to be okay, but they were being hugged all the time and having their self esteem built up because apparently a lot of them want to kill themselves. A huge thing in so many countries is that the judiciary and the police forces are not trained in understanding trafficking, so a lot of times the trafficking victims are seen as criminals themselves. Even when they are treated like victims, if their case goes to trial, they're forced to sit right in front of their traffickers who have been threatening their lives and their families and are too afraid to talk.
The judges have no patience for it and don't really understand it so a lot of convictions are lost that way. Every country needs more convictions than they have right now of traffickers. Right now there's impunity for traffickers and they keep doing it because it's extremely profitable. Every level of society has to be involved in helping eradicate this. But there's so many trafficking victims. It's like maybe two million a year, globally at least and so little is known about the actual victims. Theres very little victim data. Only around 27,000 have actually been documented out of two million. We don't know about the others.
Q: When you went to Harvard, did you see acting as a way to give you a voice as an activist?
MS: No. Thats not how I thought about it. I actually went into college conflicted because I wanted to be an actress, but I also wanted to get an education. I was already auditioning for things when I got into Harvard and I was like, well, you know, I would be really stupid to not go straight into acting now and take advantage of this amazing opportunity. However I also had a really academic bent on one side. I was a Chinese studies major and ended up writing my thesis about racial conflict in China. So I really learned about prejudice and racial conflict and what the roots were within the specifically cultural context of China. I really wanted to use college to educate myself about these various social ills that I had been interested in since the time I was a kid. Then when I graduated I did a documentary about anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union. Then my acting career started happening to start off as an actor you have to put 10,000% into it or you're just not going to make it. You have to keep trying so hard at every audition and going to class all the time and supporting yourself with all kinds of weird odd jobs. There's just no time to be an activist when your'e a beginning actor. You cant have other interests really. But once I got established I started looking for projects that I could do that kind of married my interests. I was going to be doing this movie in Poland about this Polish family that rescues this Jewish family during World War II, but the woman selling me the rights changed the story to make it nicer and I confronted her about not telling the truth. Then I ended up doing The Grey Zone, which is the grayest holocaust movie. Then Amnesty International came to me and asked me if I would do an event on the disappearance of the women of Juarez for them. Then they asked me if I would be their Stop Violence Against Women Campaign spokesperson, which I did for a few years. And that sort of led to this UN thing. I was very happy because years earlier I worte the UN and asked if I could work on something to do with genocide or racial conflict. I didnt really know about trafficking at the time they were like, "Well, there's an office in Geneva that deals with this sort of thing, but it wasn't mmediate. Yes, come get involved with the UN. So I had been looking for ways to turn my previous interest into action and I hadn't really found the exact fit until Amnesty came along; and then the UN asked me to work with them. [Laughing ]So long story short. [Laughs]
Q: So now you're back to the kids or do you have another project coming up?
MS: I've just been offered a project today that I'm kind of excited about. It's going to be shooting locally. I can't really announce it yet because we haven't done the deal, but it would be something that would start shooting here next month. It's an independent film. To answer your question, though, I'm always with the kids! These days, I'm not doing the eight-month movie, or even the four-month movie. I'll do these shorter stints so the most I work in a year is six months so that I can be with the kids. I always feel horrible when I'm away from them. We dont have a full-time nanny, so getting ready for events is very difficult because we're calling in babysitters. But I think it's better because if I had a full-time nanny, it would be so easy to rely upon them, you know? I really want to be my children's mother. So I try and do it all.


  1. Ever wanted to get free Google+ Circles?
    Did you know you can get them ON AUTO-PILOT & TOTALLY FREE by getting an account on Like 4 Like?

  2. If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you got to watch this video
    right away...

    (VIDEO) Get your ex CRAWLING back to you...?