Beautiful 34-year old Radha Mitchell has reason to blush when we meet to discuss her latest, and most controversial film to date, Feast of Love. For the first time in her career, she bears more than just her soul as she portrays a realtor who has a passionate, intensely sexual affair with a married man.
“And I probably won’t again. That is probably it, so you’d better go see this one,” Mitchell says, laughingly. Feast of Love explores sex, love and relationships among a myriad of individually complex characters. Directed by Oscar winner Robert Benton, Mitchell’s character is not the most likeable woman she has ever played on screen, and was drawn to her fascinating ambiguity. “I like characters that aren’t instantly likeable, and the challenges of this was how do you make this somewhat sympathetic or how can people relate to the character, without toning it down and turning it into something else completely,” Mitchell explains, as we chat in a Beverly Hills hotel room.
“There are only so many scenes in which to do it, so there was often discussion around ‘Is that too much?’ ‘Is that not enough?’ you know, between me and the director and even the producers at times. But I always felt that she needed to have a hard edge, to be tough and a little cool, because that was kind of who she was, and yet you had to sort of understand why she was that way.” Mitchell feels that “some of the most deeply romantic people become incredibly cynical if they’re unfulfilled in their love. So she has this cynicism and as the story goes on, I guess she finds a way to open her own heart and that’s a kind of difficult bizarre journey, but it works.”
Mitchell says she was drawn to “the complexity of it. I liked the fact that she was confused about what she was trying to create. Love is often described as something so simple and so easy to understand and often it’s not. I liked that she was confused in her love and that there was this intense compulsion with some person, that you wouldn’t probably find many times in your life and yet it was an unattainable experience, so she had to make this compromise of being with somebody who’s safer. Sometimes you have to make mistakes in order to understand that they are mistakes. So I like that lack of clarity and the different layers to her.” Despite what she goes through and her initial lack of sympathy, the actress says there were aspects of the character that she could relate to. “I can definitely relate to her emotional intensity, and on a deep, emotional level I understood it.”
While Hollywood rarely explores love and relationships in a frank and mature fashion, it is this maturity and honesty that appealed to Mitchell. “The movie examines the love of two people that are incredibly innocent and haven’t had any bad things happen to them and then the love of two people who are in their thirties and there’s all these sort of social complexities to it, ideas about where you should be in your life or what’s moral and what’s immoral and so forth.” As for the film’s copious amount of explicit nudity, Mitchell concedes thinking long and hard before agreeing to do a film, which involved full frontal nudity. “It’s certainly confronting to play out but the sensibility, and it’s more European than it is American,” she says, referring to a pivotal moment involving a bitter argument that takes plays in the nude. “It’s not so puritanical and people do get naked in the bedroom together and that’s kind of how it is. So if the story is going to be real it’s going to be a reality of two people having a fight, in the nude, as you would, in life. People behave that way, so there’s a naturalism to that but then, to play out that naturalism, granted the convention of our society, in front of a bunch of crew members is something else.”
Despite an Oscar winning director at the helm, Mitchell did have her reservations. “Normally in these things there’s some sort of statement in the contract like ‘You will show this much of your boob’ or whatever. It’s very specific, whereas in this they just said ‘Are you comfortable with this or not, because if you’re not, don’t worry about the film’. So you had to sort of sit there and think about, ‘Am I comfortable with that?’ ‘Am I not comfortable?’ ‘How do I feel about that?’ Obviously I was comfortable with it enough to agree to it and then the experience of it I found quite liberating in a way,” Mitchell concedes. But she also doubts she would do such explicit nudity again. “I wouldn’t want to make a career out of that because it could be misinterpreted and perceived in a different light to what my intent was. Therefore it wouldn’t be something I would constantly do, not because it was such a bad experience, it’s just not an agenda that I want to create.”
Radha’s career continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Both American and Australian audiences will next see the actress in the latest chiller by Australia’s Greg Mclean [Wolf Creek]. For Mitchell, who lives in Los Angeles, making Rogue in Australia’s Northern Territory was great, she says. “It was like this young director who I think is very talented, and it was like him and a bunch of his friends making this movie that he’d written and he had wanted to direct for a long time.” But it was a genre, she adds, “I was a little hesitant about initially, but there’s something about him particularly as a director. I think you’ll see a lot of his work in the future. He’s just I think very, very talented.”
Mitchell is currently shooting Henry Poole is Here, with Luke Wilson and Adrianna Barraza “and the Children of Huang Shi coming out soon. That was a movie with Yun-Fat Chow and Jonathan Rhys Myers, shot in China.” Then, coming out soon here is PU-239 “which a friend of mine, Scott Z. Burns, directed. He’s actually quite an interesting guy who produced Inconvenient Truth and was one of the writers of the latest Bourne film. This is movie that he wrote and directed, which is coming out as an HBO film in November.”
From the time Mitchell segued into Hollywood, with the diverse likes of High Art, Pitch Black, Melinda and Melinda, Neverland, and Man on Fire, Mitchell has tried to find a variety of films and characters to satisfy her needs.
She remains constantly challenged by what Hollywood has to offer, and admits that she goes through phases of being ambitious “and phases of letting up and not being ambitious. I have cycles of energy for that and whether I’m ambitious in the film industry, I might be sort of focussing on a different part of my life and so forth.” Asked if she fights for things, the actress admits “Not of late. I’ve had things offered to me that I thought were interesting and wanted to do, so if it was something I really want to do I would, but not to create some kind of celebrity persona just because it’s something that I’m connected to.” Mitchell has always kept a low profile, rarely discusses her private life and tries to keep a low profile in this celebrity-obsessed culture, “almost by choice but also by default, because it’s not something I’m naturally searching for.”