By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
Cobie Smulders first connected with audiences when she appeared as sexy news anchor Robin Scherbatsky on the long running CBS comedy “How I Met Your Mother.”
The French-Canadian actress then became a pop culture icon when she joined the “Avengers” cast in 2012 as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, working closely with the secret government organization’s leader Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson). She subsequently has reprised the smart and fully capable agent in “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” released in May. She can’t say yet whether she will be reprising the Maria Hill role in upcoming “Avengers” installments, and sweetly deflects the question when asked.
In “Unexpected,” she stars as an inner city schoolteacher who discovers she is pregnant and must come to terms with her situation. Directed and co-written by Kris Swanberg and Megan Mercier, the drama is based on Swanberg’s personal experience. The film also stars Anders Holm, Elizabeth McGovern and Gail Bean.
Samantha (Smulders) finds out she is pregnant just as her job is being eliminated at an urban Chicago high school. Though she is in a loving relationship with boyfriend John (Anders), the two hadn’t quite planned on this happy accident. They quickly get hitched at city hall, which doesn’t sit well with Sam’s traditional mother (McGovern). Meanwhile at the school where Sam teachers, a young student (Bean) learns that she also is pregnant. The teen is dealing with a whole different set of challenges and obstacles, including whether she’ll be able to go to college. The two women soon find a common bond as they navigate the choppy waters of first-time pregnancy while continuing to pursue their dreams. The film is opening simultaneously in theaters and On Demand.
A mother of two, including a newborn daughter, Smulders is married to “Saturday Night Live” cast member Taran Killam. They live in New York where his TV show is shot.
Dressed in a summery blue and white print dress for an interview, Smulders hobbles into the room on crutches. The injury to her right leg wasn’t dramatic or heroic, she explains, but rather a simple mishap at home when she was playing with her children.
“I’ve got to come up with something more interesting than ‘I fell down,’” the brunette beauty says in a charming way.
Q: You have an exciting story to go with this?
Smulders: No. It’s super mundane. It’s super dumb. I was in my apartment in New York playing with my kid and I just fell one way and my leg went the other way, and I just cracked it in half.
Q: Your character in this film faces some daunting questions that other expectant moms face. Do you stay home? Do you continue working and hire childcare? How long do you stay home?
Smulders: I think it’s different for everybody. I met with Kris and we talked about it. I like to think that a stay-at-home-mom is a working mom. Staying at home with your kids is probably one of the hardest jobs, emotionally, physically and mentally. We had a lot to talk about from that perspective and really bonded through that. I feel very jealous towards women who can say, “I’m going to stay home and be a mom.” I wish that is what fulfilled me but I like to work and I have to have something for myself. And that comes with it’s own feelings of guilt.
Q: How has the transition been from being a working mom of one to a working mom of two?
Smulders: I feel like I haven’t quite figured that out yet. My kids have a big age difference (six years), so it’s been manageable. I don’t know how women do it that have three kids under three. That’s insane to me.
Q: Were you able to draw on your own pregnancy for this role?
Smulders: I was pregnant (with my second child) during this movie. I was in my last trimester.
Q: So you didn’t have to use a fake belly in this?
Smulders: Sometimes it’s a fake one; sometimes it’s me. We had to do a bit of a dance with the belly because in the morning we’d be shooting a scene where I was three weeks pregnant and then after lunch we’d be shooting a scene where I was supposed to be six months pregnant. So we had some prosthetics, some cotton bellies. We had a great wardrobe team helping with that. But sometimes we got to use my real belly. I really didn’t start showing until the very end of the film.
Q: You were on “How I Met Your Mother” when you were pregnant with your first child. Did you have to change your schedule as a result?
Smulders: It worked out well. I had my first when I was not working so I was able to take some time off. It worked out really brilliantly; I didn’t have to carry too many handbags.
Q: Now that you’re a mom, has it changed what roles you take?
Smulders: It has to be something I’m really passionate about because now I know if I’m taking time away from my family, and then it has to be something that I really want to do. When I was younger, it was such a hustle. I was hustling, hustling, hustling. Now, I choose projects based on what I want to do, then I figure a way to do it.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
Smulders: I really liked working with Elizabeth McGovern (who plays my mom). I love the dinner scene where me and John (Anders Holm) tell her we’re married. It’s hard to choose which Gail (Bean) scene I love her in this film and it was so much fun doing scenes with her. I loved the scene where she finds out she can’t get into the college I want her to get into because it was such a raw, emotional scene. I remember we used to do a belly bump before each scene, so that was fun.
I also just enjoyed playing a teacher at this (real) high school. We used actual students from that school and other schools nearby. They were all so well behaved. They recently had a screening for the students who were in the film so I think it was really cool for them to see it.
Q: You’re character is 30 years old. She holds a master’s degree and she’s very smart, and yet when she suspects she’s pregnant, she still has to turn to the Internet to check out the symptoms.
Smulders: I think she’s searching for a shred of hope that she’s not pregnant. She’s trying to find reasons that this could not be happen. One of the things I love about this film is that you see these two women who are in their different worlds: Samantha is a teacher and she’s in charge, she’s got her education and a solid relationship with her boyfriend, and it seems likes she’s go everything together. And then there’s this young girl in high school and she can’t get into college, her future is compromised because of her pregnancy, and yet the she’s also the one who has it together the most emotionally. So I think there’s something so interesting about that dynamic where the teacher has to learn something from the student in how to accept this new part of her life.
Q: What are you working on now?
Smulders: Well, I’m waiting for my leg to heal. I’ve got to come up with a better story. I’ve got a couple more weeks (with the brace) and then we’ll see. I don’t have anything in the works as of yet.
Q: Are you going to be in Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War?”
Smulders: I can’t talk about that. I just know what I hear from (the press).
Q: Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Nick Fury, said he won’t be in that movie.
Smulders: I heard that he said that.
Q: Since your husband is a cast member on “SNL,” would you like to host that show?
Smulders: Sure! I’m available. The idea (of doing a live TV show) terrifies me but I think it would be fun to do it, especially with Taran on the show.
Q: Her pregnancy really becomes real for Samantha when she sees the ultrasound of the baby for the first time. Could you relate to that?
Smulders: Yeah, and I love that Kris worked that into the movie because (the ultrasound) is your first sense of tangibility when you get pregnant. Because you don’t really feel pregnant until you feel the baby move inside you. There’s that show, “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.” I don’t know how that’s possible but I guess it works out that way for some people. When you go for the ultrasound, it’s the first time you get to see inside your body, and whenever you do that, with whatever you’re dealing with, it’s such an amazing scientific feat that you’re able to see. Like getting the x-rays and MRIs on my leg, I’m like, “So that’s what my bones look like!”
Q: What has motherhood taught you about yourself?
Smulders: That I’m not as patient as I thought I was. I always wanted to be a mom but I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what that job entailed. I think that being a mom has made me a better person. I’m much more patient and much more chill than I was before.
Q: What do you do for yourself?
Smulders: I love scuba diving. Under the sea is my calm, happy place. But you can’t just pick up and go scuba diving. Plus, the water is really cold off the coast here and moreso in New York. But I really like to hang out with friends and chillin’.