Emily Mortimer is fast becoming a familiar face in films on both side of the pond, perpetually demonstrating her remarkable range from the subtle and more repressed character in Match Point, to physical comedy in the new Pink Panther, in which she comically stumbles in and out of the arms of Steve Martin. As she was about to head to Vancouver to continue shooting her latest film with Ryan Reynolds, the beautiful Brit sat down for this exclusive [and only] online interview with Paul Fischer.
Question: Now the last time we spoke, and I first broached the subject of Pink Panther to you, I kind of pre-empted it with a bit of a cynicism.
Mortimer: You were a bit cynical. I do remember, Paul.
Question: But what struck me was that – because you said you’d never done this kind of comedy before – when you take a film like this, is there a cynical part of you that says I should do this because it’s going to give me a boost in my career. Did any of that come into play? Did your agent say, you know, you need to do a big movie like that?
Mortimer: I’m sure that is a consideration, and not even a kind of a tacit one, I’m sure on the one, I must have had a conversation where they’d be like ‘this would be a good thing for you to do’ and I’m like, yes, I completely acknowledge that. BUT what was great for me was that for one of those useful things to do it was first of all with just some of the greatest talents alive today, with Steve and Kevin and Beyonce. I mean they’re incredibly talented, amazing people who I admire and second of all it was pretty good, and pretty funny. I also liked the character immediately just reading the script. I was familiar with her somehow and I thought she was sweet and so it wasn’t like sort of one of those things of holding your nose and jumping off a high building and hoping for the best, but it felt much more like, well, this is probably a useful thing to do but how lucky that it also happens to be something that I’m not going to be hiding from people in supermarkets hoping that they haven’t seen it.
Question: What do you think Steve and Shawn saw in you that made them believe that you could do this?
Mortimer: I don’t know. I know that Shawn was definitely not the person that suggested me initially. It was Ilene Starger the casting agent who I definitely owe a big bottle of champagne to who suggested me, and then Alessandro [Nivola] did a video of me at home saying the lines and Shawn said it was completely unfunny and like sort of watching someone do bad Chekhov or something. (Laughter)
Mortimer: But something in it intrigued him and he flew me over and I did the Sumo scene, and Steve actually was in that audition. I remember coming out of that audition feeling completely physically exhausted. It was like I felt often at the end of the scenes in the movie actually – making the movie. I think it was the first scene and then it was the Heimlich maneuver thing, and there he was lifting me off the ground giving me the Heimlich maneuver and I’d only just met the guy. I just went for it. I don’t know why or what happened, I think it was just partly like I’ve flown all this way and there’s Steve Martin, I can’t not go over… I’ve got to just try my hardest somehow and so I just committed. I can remember feeling like out of breath and sweating and exhausted by the end of it, and I thought, well, I fucking better have got that because I really tried hard, and I really went for it and, I’m going to feel so foolish if I didn’t – and I did. It was something about being in a room with Steve and him doing the scene with him that kind of gave me confidence and made me feel like I just had to come up with it somehow.
Question: Now most of your physical comedy is with him, but you do have a solo comic moment where you moan and groan.
Mortimer: I did.
Question: How terrifying was it for you to do that, because that’s the only time where it’s asked of you to carry a comic scene? Was that a challenge, and did you ask advice from Steve as to how to pull that off?
Mortimer: No, I didn’t. I mean It was all pretty instinctive really. I didn’t think too much about it, which is probably in the end a good thing, although I thought enough about all of it to be scared, but I didn’t think enough about it in a kind of practical way. I didn’t sort of think I’m so scared I must go and do some research into how to do physical comedy, and look at Charlie Chaplin films or something. I didn’t do any of that, but I just let myself go. I’m not a very sort of proud person naturally and I certainly find it easier to sort of play the fool than to kind of be cool or something.
Question: Having done this movie – is there a part of you that appreciates pure comedy on a different level than you might have prior to doing it?
Mortimer: Yes. Hugely. I mean I just think that what Steve does and what Kevin does are a real art. I mean I think they’re both very wonderful actors who are gifted naturally and very good at kind of letting themselves be vulnerable and that that is just a gift and you’re born with it somehow. But there are also technically brilliant actors and I think Steve is a technically brilliant performer. It’s just a real skill and he just is a past master at it and it’s mysterious to me. And so I’m definitely very fascinated by it and am basically deeply impressed by it.
Question: Now also the last time we met you hadn’t met Ryan Reynolds with whom you’re currently working.
Mortimer: Yes, I adore Ryan Reynolds. I’m totally taken by him. I really think he’s the sweetest guy and a very, very intelligent man, and also a fucking brilliant actor. We’ve just rehearsed so far and on the read-through, but I’m convinced that he’s got a huge career. I think he’s really got great breadth and range as an actor. And this film is not a serious film, but it’s a much more serious film than what people are used to seeing him in, and so I think it’s going to take people by surprise and really impress them what he’s done in this movie.
Question: What drew you to Chaos Theory?
Mortimer: You know, it feels a bit sort of Billy Wilder-esque, like one of those brilliant old films like The Apartment or something. I like the tone of it in that it’s got an unusual tone, and not one that you find in most films nowadays. It’s very hard to pull off and I’m not sure that we’ll be able to do it, but if we do it I think it could be really cool. It requires the skill of a kind of comic timing, but at the same time you have to be emotionally present and real and there are a quite a lot of kind of intense feelings going on – like there are in many Billy Wilder movies, where people are really feeling things, they are feelings that one can completely relate to watching them, and the stakes are really quite high. But at the same time the acting has to go a certain speed and pace otherwise the scene just becomes melodramatic and it’s not a drama but basically a comedy.
Question: Is it a studio movie?
Mortimer: It’s a Warner Independent movie. Directed by the guy that did Pretty Persuasion, Marcos Siega.
Question: Do you aspire for a kind of a mainstream Hollywood career or are you just a go-with-the-flow actress…
Mortimer: I think I’m a go-with-the-flow actress. I think that there’s a danger in having too many rules for oneself as an any-person, you know, especially an artist. But, um… or especially an actor. I mean maybe you can really kind of put yourself up shit creek if you have rules for yourself as to what’s kind of your style or what’s cool or what’s interesting. I go from one thing to the next just thinking what’s going to feel different and odd and, as I said, what’s going to make me feel a bit scared. So I feel like just whatever’s going to make me feel most sort of scared at that present time is, is what I kind of tend to gravitate towards.
Question: After that movie are you taking a break?
Mortimer: No, I’m doing another one, this really dark kind of anti-comedy with Luke Wilson and me and I play the love interest in it and I play this just livid, furious, foul-mouthed, angry, angry girl…
Question: Foul mouthed?
Mortimer: Foul mouthed, yeah. It’s all ‘fucking cunt’ and ‘fucking this and that’ And he’s got me pregnant. And Zooey Deschanel’s in it and Jennifer Coolidge is in it – you know, who I love – and Lily Tomlin. It’s a great cast. So that’s what I’m doing…
Question: Where do you shoot that?
Question: Does it have a title?
Mortimer: Barry Munday.
Question: Have you ever done a play that was written by your father? Have you been in any of your dad’s plays?
Mortimer: No, I haven’t.
Question: Do you want to do that?
Mortimer: I would love to, yeah. And in fact he’s got a play coming up in London in the summer and you know, I think there is a part for me in it but it’s not a big part, it’s a little part. The, the main parts are sort of a man and an older woman, but I keep thinking maybe I should just go and do that; it’d be so great, you know, to spend some time with him and be in something that he’s written.