In a quiet corner table in a Toronto restaurant, Emily Mortimer may be forgiven for thinking that her latest film is a tad bizarre, at least on paper. In Lars and the Real Girl, she plays the sister-in-law of the troubled Lars [Ryan Gosling] who finally brings a girl home. The trouble is, the ‘girl’ in question is a doll. Yet Mortimer, who has many scenes in which she is required to interact with the doll, says that on paper, the piece “was more stronger—-with the bond that she had with Lars.
A tricky piece to pull off, but one that works with surprising humanity, Mortimer feels that “there was a real connection there and as we made the movie I think it became more and more clear that he had to feel very isolated.” The film does explore the fragility of human connection, and the relationship between Mortimer’s pregnant character and Gosling’s isolated Lars, becomes a dominant theme throughout the film. “Even though I was trying to connect with him, I wasn’t really managing it, so there was something about the relationship between my character and his as a read that was very strong and attractive,” the British actress explains.
“Then that sort of toned down a little bit and what was interesting when I was playing it was the feeling of being a kind of interested bystander in a family, which is the role you play as an in-law. So I’m in that position, in my own life, I think both inside a family kind of dynamic but at the same time sort of removed from it, so you see very clearly all the critical things about the way people get on, but also the complications, problems and misunderstandings that have been sort of going on festering for years. It’s really frustrating at times and strange because it seems so easy to fix it, but actually it’s hard. People have to fix these things for themselves and very often they never do and sometimes they do and sometimes they take something as bizarre as a sex doll arriving into the scene to shake things up. But that’s what became more and more the sort of way into it for me as we were shooting it was that feeling desperately wanting to make things all right between everybody, especially when you’re pregnant, looking to bring a baby into the world you want it to be a nice place.”
Mortimer concedes that she drew on her own maternalism to play the character. “I felt like it was definitely that feeling of sort of wanting to make things right somehow and wanting to get to the bottom of things, like there’s real sort of clarity and fearlessness I found being pregnant, which is immediately muddy.” In Lars and the Real Girl, Mortimer’s interaction with the doll was, she said, quite a unique experience. “You would have thought that there would be something ridiculous about it but there isn’t. It was rather serious, because anybody that doesn’t speak is immediately mysterious and rather interesting. I wish I could learn more from that, I speak far too much and she gave a very subtle performance,” she says, laughingly. “People keep making the mistake of referring to her as a blow up doll and she’s not blow up at all, but very heavy and full of matter and very kind of solid and skin, so she’s definitely something to be reckoned with and she kind of made my shy.”
The 35-year old Mortimer is married to actor Alessandro Nivaola and the couple has a four year old son, Sam. The actress says she is starting to learn how to balance career and motherhood, conceding that she has to start re-prioritising. “I had a year where I didn’t really worry and just did job after job after job under the assumption that Sam was young enough to kind of be my hostage and I could take him wherever I went and he’d just come everywhere. But it was hard, even though he managed it really great and with humour like he does everything but I felt like he loves his house and to him it has a mysterious quality because he’s never there so when he’s there he’s just so into his toys and all that so I felt like it’s almost like sort of an alcoholic, that you have to reach rock bottom just as far as getting yourself so sick of working.” The couple now lives in Brooklyn these days, and having worked incessantly over the past year, Mortimer says she]s over the gruelling schedule she keeps. “I really would like to spend some time at home but I’m sure I’ll get panicked about that soon enough but it takes time to work out the balance of these things”
When we spoke Mortimer was almost through shooting the sequel to The Pink Panther, despite the reviews received by the original. “Yes I’m helping pay off the mortgage but it’s got a fantastic cast in it: Alfred Molina, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Irons, someone said Judy Dench is doing a cameo in it, Jean Reno, John Cleese, so it’s cool.” Mortimer thinks “it’s funnier than the first one and the more I see Steve do it the more I really feel like it’s a part that he was always meant to play. I think he’s brilliant and I think that the more he does it, the less sort of reverential people are going to be about the first one and realise that this is something that he really should be doing. It’s great to have that sort of physical comedy in a movie by someone like him. There are very few people that can pull it off and I think he can.”
Beyond that, Mortimer says, in between focusing on motherhood, she hopes to return to the stage. “Jez Butterworth has written a brilliant play and I could be doing that at the Atlantic Theatre in January, but we’ll see.”