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Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to visit Pixar Studios in Emeryville, California. While there, another journalist and I were invited to sit down with Emily Mortimer to talk about her role in Cars 2, a film in which she voiced a purple Jaguar XJR-15 who works as a spy. Just a couple weeks ago I had the chance to sit down with the actress again, though this time I talked with her about being playing a fake hippie Brooklyn mother in Our Idiot Brother.
The film centers on Ned (Paul Rudd), an optimistic goofball who gets thrown in jail after he sells marijuana to a uniformed police officer. After getting out, he has no place to stay and is instead forced to bunk up with three sisters. The first sibling he goes to is Liz (Mortimer), a mother of two who is happy to have Ned stay with her, but her husband (Steve Coogan) is much less enthusiastic about having him around.
Check out my interview with Emily Mortimer below in which she talks about working with director Jesse Peretz, the dynamic on the set with the incredible ensemble cast, and her thoughts on Ned’s incredibly positive outlook about everything.
So I guess, for starters, I’m curious, was this a project that you went after or was it something that they came after you for?
They, very luckily for me and happily for me, came after me, because I knew Jesse very well. So he, he says anyway, but that might just be his pitch, that he wrote it with me in mind for the sister. When a friend is kind enough to write you into the movie, you’ve got to do it. That was just always going to happen no matter what, and then I read the script and I loved it, and I’m so grateful and lucky to be a part of it.
Your resume is filled with both comedy and drama, I’m curious, when you’re selecting projects, does genre play a role? Do you like to mix it up?
I like to mix it up, yeah. I don’t sort of think, “Oh, I need to do a comedy, I’ve done three dramas this year.” I don’t think of it like that, but I definitely from project to project I feel like I want to just do something different all of the time and stop, I don’t want to bore myself or anyone else. That’s my criteria for choosing things I do. It’s funny because in retrospect, it’s very easy to talk about your career as if it’s this great plan when really, from one thing to the next, you’re just trying to find work, taking what comes if it’s something that you like. There is that over defining sort of feature of the choices I’ve made, just to do things that are different from each other and to do things that are challenging as well. I’m always drawn to the thing I think I can’t possibly do, because I tend to be better when I think I can’t possibly do something than I am when I’m pretty sure I can do something.
So when a role is written for you, how does that play into that factor?
Well then like it or not, you’ve got to do it. Lucky for me this one I liked.
In that sense, did you see Liz in yourself?
Well I had just had my second baby, and I was a Brooklyn, I still am a Brooklyn mother, so I definitely know people or see people round about my hood that remind me of Liz, there was a lot to draw on there. That thing which has made me laugh so much was when I met with the costume designer, looking at all of these clothes that you sort of, they look from a distance to be just some sort of very drab old bit of sacking, and then you get closer and it’s like three thousand dollars, some sort of Indian spun silk from somewhere or another, totally sexless clothes that they buy in these boutiques in Park Slope for just thousands, so that made me laugh and I totally recognized that. But that’s not me and none of those opinions are me, really. I’m allergic to, I have a thing about, my dad always used to say there’s loads of people who have domino opinions where if you know what they think about one thing, you know what they think about everything. Liz and her husband are those types of people. You know what they think about eating sugar, and therefore you know what they think about everything, from politics to the clothes they wear to everything.
So I like to think, I hope I’m not one of those types, but I definitely, what I loved about her and what reminded me of myself was this thing about a woman who’s in that moment of just having had a baby where you’ve completely forgotten who you are and you don’t exist for a second, you’ve put everything into this baby and then there’s a moment where you’re expected to kind of come back to life, come back to earth, and you’re so confused because you look totally different from how you used to look, you feel totally different from how you used to feel. Your brain is half dead because you have sleep deprivation and also the sort of hormones and things that have made it impossible for you to function other than keeping this baby alive. So it’s a very vulnerable moment in a woman’s life and I was going through it myself when I did the movie, so that was, I felt very fond of her for that reason. Also I love the gap between the kind of image she’s trying to portray to the world, which is this sort of hippie earth-mother type who’s got it all sorted and all her thoughts in a row, and then the actual fact which is this complete neurotic, fucked up mess who doesn’t know which way is up.
Yeah, we would talk about that quite a bit, me and Jesse, what her life was like before and I think we thought that she’d done a degree in, god what was he saying, this would resonate with you but I can’t remember the university. It’s not Sarah Lawrence, is it? Or something? She was an academic, you know, she was somebody with a brain, not a stupid person, but has just totally lost her confidence. A combination of being with a man that she’s frightened of and having given up her life to sort of be this Brooklyn mother, I just totally, I really felt that that was important to feel, that it wasn’t that she was a weak person, she’s just totally lost her confidence. I really can relate to that, I think there’s something about having babies that makes women feel that way about themselves. It takes a quite a lot of effort to come back from it.
One of the things I kind of got about the character is between the three sisters, she really does seem to be the one that’s willing to take care of Ned and feels the closest to him. I’m curious, why do you think that is?
Well I think she and Ned have a special little bond, but maybe that’s just because I felt I had a special little bond with Paul. I felt that they, that basically they’re both hippies, although she’s a sort of fake hippie I think. But she’s a caring little soul, but she’s just all confused. We felt that they just had little understanding. She wanted so desperately to be able to help him but she’s at a moment in her life where she can’t help herself let alone anyone else.
You mentioned the connection with Paul, I mean, this cast, just in general, is outstanding. It’s really an incredible, I’m curious, how did that translate behind the scenes on the set?
Oh, well, they were all really funny. Also just a really unpretentious lot of people, just really down to earth. Kind, proper, decent people, from Zoe, to Paul, to Liz, to Rashida, just such sweet, nice, decent human beings. It was such a treat. I look back on it now, just doing the press for it, and it makes me want to cry. There aren’t, at the time you don’t really appreciate it but there aren’t really enough people in the world like that and sets like that are very rare. The producer was this guy Anthony Bregman who produced Lovely and Amazing, who’s an amazing producer and also an amazing person. Lovely and Amazing was that way too, just a set where everybody from the runners to the ADs to the costume to the makeup, they’re all good people and they all love movies and they’re really good at their jobs. But these things are mutually exclusive, you can be good at your job and be a good person, and it makes filmmaking seem like a decent and noble profession, but it’s rare. So I really felt that the whole vibe was one that was incredibly welcoming and sweet and also professional.
I know Jesse through my manager, who’s his manager and Paul’s manager, and a manager extraordinaire. And she is, I think they were at Harvard together, her and Jesse, so they’ve known each other all their lives. She introduced me to him years ago when we were living in LA, and we went out to dinner with Jesse and his wife Sara, and then when we moved to New York, I got on with him so well immediately, and then when we got to New York, I spent most of my time with them as friends.
Had you ever talked about doing a project together?
Not really, no. It wasn’t something that we kind of discussed very much, but we just long have liked each other.
What was he like as a director? Does he allow kind of a lot of freedom for improvisation?
Yes. It was very easy. He was very on, it wasn’t structured in a restricted way. It was just, start doing a scene and he would always have good ideas about it but he wasn’t, he would wait to see what we would do and then he would kind of guide us after that, but it was very symbiotic and kind. I do think that Jesse is an auteur in the sense that there’s a real individual essence to his movie that, it’s kind of disguised a little bit by the fact that he’s such a sweet guy and he doesn’t have, he doesn’t promote himself in that way, but to me he’s the real deal. There’s a, you know, there’s a forgiving quality to the movie that also, it gets in quite deep and it asks some questions about what it is to be alive, and it’s people’s everyday confusion and chaos and suffering, and then seen through the lens of this kind of hapless character. But there’s an optimism to it and a sweet, gentleness to it and a forgivingness to it that I think is very delicate and rare, I don’t think it’s a usual thing.
I really do. I’m an optimist by nature, myself I think. I have a propensity to work my way up into circles and worry, I’m a worrier unlike Ned. I’m always sort of anticipating life being difficult, but on a basic level, that’s sort of on the surface, on a basic level, I’m optimistic in the sense that I think it’s all going to be alright in the end. You have to have faith in, you have to have faith, to me, you have to have faith in the goodness of people and that that’s, I think there’s a choice between believing in people not being all that great, and people being great, and I would rather be in them being great. You might as well. And put my faith in that rather than putting my faith in the cynical beliefs that everyone is selfish and horrible and mean. I hope that, I think that audiences will really love the movie for that reason. There’s a character that’s requiring us to put our faith in people and to trust that everything’s going to be all right. That’s such a nice feeling, especially in these days.
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