By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Academy Award winning actress Marisa Tomei has always played it close to the vest when it comes to speaking publicly about herself and her work. In the age of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the 49-year-old actress has managed to keep a fairly low profile.
That Tomei flies under the radar while so many celebrities elect to provide perhaps too much information (a la Gwyneth Paltrow and her advocacy of steam douching) is arguably admirable. Certainly, tabloids occasionally splash surreptitiously snapped photos of her with a male acquaintance walking down the street and suggest she is dating or getting married, but they are few and far between. After winning the Academy Award for her supporting performance in “My Cousin Vinny,” she subsequently has been nominated twice more for her roles in “In the Bedroom” and “The Wrestler.”
The advantage for the legions of Tomei’s fans is that she retains a modicum of mystery, which allows her to pour herself into characters that seem real and believable.
Following a successful Broadway run last year in the critically acclaimed “The Realistic Joneses,” the Brooklyn born beauty has a string of small, independent films rolling out in theaters and online in quick succession. The Ira Sachs drama “Love is Strange,” the comedy “ Loitering with Intent,” the inspiring drama “Spare Parts” and heartwarming rom-com “Rewrite.” [private]
In “Rewrite,”she plays a single mom who enrolls in a screenwriting course taught by a once-renowned Hollywood writer (played by Grant), who has accepted the teaching gig in a small New York college town because he can’t catch a break following a few unsuccessful scripts. Hoping to coast through the course, Grant’s Keith Michaels discovers he actually can teach, thanks to some friendly guidance from Tomei’s character. The rom-com, from “Miss Congeniality” and “Music & Lyrics” helmer Marc Lawrence, opens in theaters, Friday Feb. 13 and is available the same day on VOD. The film also stars Oscar nominee J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Chris Elliott and Bella Heathcote.
Speaking by phone from Pittsburgh where Tomei currently is filming the upcoming holiday comedy “Let It Snow,” she discussed her recent work, co-starring with Hugh Grant in “Rewrite” and more.
Q: You’ve been a busy actress with lots of films coming out recently? What do you attribute this to? Do you feel you’ve been working a lot more lately?
Tomei: No, they are all just getting released at the same time. The work was spread out over a long time.
Q: In “Rewrite,” I liked your character Holly. She’s a single mom holding down two jobs, but she’s gone back to college to fulfill a dream to be a screenwriter. Did her strength appeal to you?
Tomei: It wasn’t that so much. I was kind of more into the part that she was going to school, and had something to say, and was trying to hook back into a dream, a need, really, that she had to express herself. And (her screenplay) was something that she had kind of put aside. She seemed to have a real curiosity and vibrancy about life that hadn’t waned in her. I was mostly curious about her process and how she was going to interact with the other students.
Q: She’s the oldest student in the class but that doesn’t seem to faze her.
Tomei: It takes *****, doesn’t it?
Q: This is the first time you’ve worked with Hugh Grant, isn’t it?
Tomei: Yeah, I’d never worked with him. I’ve adored him from afar.
Q: Both of you have done your share of rom-coms. This one is very smart, and you’re characters behave like adults. Well, maybe his character is a little immature.
Tomei: Yeah, I think he’s immature, at least in the beginning of the movie.
Q: What was it like working with a veteran comedic actor?
Tomei: It’s the best that there is. Working with simply the best at what he does. There was no way I wasn’t going to do this movie. When they offered it to me, I was so excited because he’s just the bee’s knees. He has so much craft. Of course, it looks effortless, but he’s a master. It’s like working with Fred Astaire. It’s just pure elegance and being able to fall into the arms of the most incredible partner you’d want.
Q: The film is set in Binghamton, New York. Marc Lawrence, was familiar with this area, right?
Tomei: Yeah, he went to school there and he met his wife there so it was a very special place for him. So he knew the highlights and he knew the drawbacks, like the overcast weather that we talk about a lot in the movie.
Q: Your character and Hugh’s character debate the question about whether writing is something you have to be born with or if it is something you can learn. What are your thoughts on it?
Tomei: I think it’s something you have to be born with and then you can cultivate it. It’s like timing. You either have it or you don’t.
Q: There was a sweet dance number with you and the girls that play your daughters. Was that choreographed?
Tomei: Yeah, we had somebody come in and choreograph it because we all had to be on the same page—the kids and I. But it was easy and fun.
Q: We need to see you do more dancing in movies?
Tomei: I’d love to because I enjoy it.
Q: Your character, Holly, finds her inspiration from people who have established themselves later in life. Have you known people who are late bloomers?
Tomei: I keep hoping I’m still a late bloomer and that I have a lot more up my sleeve. I did have an astrologer tell me that once so who knows.
Q: You achieved a lot of success when you were quite young.
Tomei: Yeah, but I was told I was a late-bloomer, so who knows what ahead on my dance card.
Q: Is there something you haven’t done that you haven’t yet explored, whether it’s in the arts or somewhere else?
Tomei: I don’t know. I’m just joking, but I am curious about what that possibly would be or will be. I have really great admiration and awe for people who change their careers later in life or start life again. It takes so much to change the patterns we’ve had ingrained in us. It’s an enormous task; it’s a rebirth. I think it’s marvelous. I think the Native Americans say you’re not really an adult until you’re like 45, or something like that.
Q: Good to know.
Tomei: It kind of makes sense, though. It’s kind of like, “Now, I feel grown up. Kinda, sorta.”
Q: What do you look for in a script these days?
Tomei: With this movie I just got lucky that Marc Lawrence called me and asked me to do it. It’s just what comes along and what I get to pick from. With plays, I plan well in advance, because you have to commit to a very definite time frame. Other than that, with films it’s really the luck of whatever is around.
Q: As a native New Yorker, this was pretty close to home for you, right?
Tomei: Yeah, I grew up there and I lived there for a really long time. I don’t live there now but I love being there so it was really easy.
Q: What are you doing in Pittsburgh?
Tomei: I’m working on a movie with Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Olivia Wilde and some other amazing actors called “Let It Snow.” It’s a dysfunctional family and it takes place over the holidays.
Q: What is your character like?
Tomei: It’s hard to talk about her because I’m trying to figure it out. It’s always kind of weird to talk about a film when you’re in the middle of it. All I can say is Diane and I play sisters.
Q: How do you like Pittsburgh?
Tomei: I love it, actually. Delicious food.
Q: Were you affected by the recent snowstorms?
Tomei: Yeah. We got the snow and the ice and all of it. We’re mostly shooting indoors, blessedly.
Q: Do you plan to do more plays or more producing soon?
Tomei: I hope to do another play very soon—some little off-Broadway thing would be great. That’s my next wish on my wish list. [/private]