In the wrenching movie Reservation Road, a hit-and-run accident leaves a happy couple (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) bereft of a son. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, which is why Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino admits she was relieved when she found out she would not be playing the grieving mother, but rather the ex-wife of the cowardly hit-and-runner. Having just given birth to her second child, Johnny, she wasn’t quite ready to jump into the role of a mother in mourning.
Sorvino’s father is actor Paul Sorvino, but she was spared the life of a child actor when her parents refused to let her go that route. Instead, she went on to attend Harvard, where she majored in East Asian Studies. But the acting bug eventually bit and in 1996 she won an Oscar for her role as a prostitute in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite, though many also know her fondly as Romy to Lisa Kudrow’s Michele in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.
The forty-year-old actress has two children with husband Christopher Backus – Johnny (one) and Mattea (almost three). Babble spoke with Sorvino about her killer mom instincts and the headache of navigating preschool philosophies. – Mina Hochberg
What appealed to you about this movie?
There was something really very trenchant about its understanding of human behavior and its evenhandedness about people. It wasn’t heroizing some and demonizing others.
Were there moments that particularly evoked a lot of emotion for you?
The greatest emotional scenes I connected to were the ones where the parents lost the child, because I had just had my second baby a few months before I read the script and loved my children so intensely that obviously the suggestion of losing a child is just unbelievably difficult. Which is why I was somewhat relieved when I met with Terry [George, the director] and he told me that the other three actors were already in place and the role I was being considered for was Ruth. That was kind of good for the place I am in my life – I was just too happy and fresh with the emotions of new babies to start putting myself in a place to lose them.
What did you think of Joaquin’s character and his obsession with eye-for-an-eye justice?
It’s not the right way, but it’s the human way. You always think, “I don’t know if I could ever kill someone,” but as soon as you have a child you’re like, “If someone came into my home and was threatening my children I would have no compunction with killing somebody who threatened them.” Maybe I couldn’t kill somebody to defend myself. Children? No questions asked. You come near their crib, you’re dead.
Did doing this film make you even more neurotic about leaving your kids unattended?
Yeah, well, I don’t leave them unattended. They’re always attended. I hired two sitters, one for each one. I don’t trust one person who’s not my husband or myself or my mother-in-law to watch them. I would never drop them off at day care and I would never put them in a situation where someone I didn’t know had control over them. It’s this terrible fear that somebody could hurt them, especially with all the horrible, horrible stuff out there about child abuse and molestation.
Elle Fanning started acting at age three. Did working with her make you think about how you would feel if your own kids wanted to act?
Elle really impressed me as a young lady. Whatever her parents are doing it’s the right thing for her because she seems happy and doesn’t seem to have lost her childhood to this business. I don’t think, though, that I will let my children do anything more than maybe a cameo on something that we’re doing, so that when we see the movie they could be like, “There’s me, Mommy!” Because children have to work like the adults. They have shorter time frames, but they’re performing a job and they have to meet the expectations of a whole movie studio. And that’s a lot to put on a little head.
When I was a kid you didn’t even think about the philosophy of the preschool. We just went to the local church preschool near my house.You play a music teacher. Do you plan to send your kids to music lessons?
They already go to this little [class] in the city. It starts off with puppets and then it goes to the kids all having individual maracas or xylophones. Then they have one major instrument per week that the teacher goes around and plays for each one of them. And then they start introducing concepts like forte and piano and notes and rests, but they weave it in so seamlessly with all this fun singing and dancing that the kids love it.
How has having kids affected your movie choices?
I find I’m much more selective about the quality of the work. I just want it to be important, good work. And I want it to be a short time frame because I hate being away from home at all. Even on a day level I get sad.
Have you maybe avoided roles that are intense or psychologically draining?
I don’t know that that has yet happened. I turned down opportunities that were huge time commitments because I just knew I wasn’t gonna be a happy person doing it. Even if it was a good career move or a good money situation, this time is never gonna come again with my kids. I don’t wanna rob them of me and I don’t wanna rob me of them because sooner than you know it they’ll be in school and they won’t even wanna be around me.
This is looking way down the road, but having gone to Harvard yourself, do you think you’ll encourage your kids to go to an academically rigorous university?
I think it’s gonna be up to them. I’m still trying to figure out which preschool philosophy I adhere to. There’s Montessori, there’s Waldorf, there’s academic, there’s Bank [Street] school, just in New York City alone. When I was a kid you didn’t even think about the philosophy of the preschool. We just went to the local church preschool near my house. I almost feel like throwing my hands up and walking away from that whole system. But it depends on what their particular proclivities are. I loved academia. I love studying and writing and reading. I was that geeky kid, so if they’re like that I would certainly encourage the path that I took because Harvard was probably the four most fun, exhilarating years of my life, only topped by the last four since I’ve had [my kids].