One of my absolute favorite things about Collider Ladies Night, is getting to revisit old gigs and discuss what a filmmaker learned from the experience. And boy did Emily Mortimer have a story to tell during that part of the conversation! She was on the show promoting her phenomenal new film Relic, but in revisiting her filmography, we had to hit one of her very first big budget productions, The Ghost and the Darkness.
In the movie, Tom Wilkinson’s Sir Robert Beaumont needs help in order to complete his railroad in Africa on time, so he calls in Val Kilmer’s John Henry Patterson. He’s an accomplished engineer so expects to get the job done, but then Patterson realizes that his team is at great risk of being attacked by lions.
During our full Ladies Night conversation, Mortimer mentioned being a bit shy when she was first starting out. I asked if she could remember a question she was too afraid to ask earlier on in her career and a story from The Ghost and the Darkness is the first that came to mind. Here’s what she said:
“One of the first jobs I ever had which was before Lovely and Amazing, which was a jump, but it was a big movie. It was a big movie called The Ghost and the Darkness, and it was a big Hollywood thing. But I had a small part. I was Val Kilmer’s wife but I got eaten by a lion very early on in the proceedings. [Laughs] But I remember my first day on that job; I was in Africa and it was all about man-eating lions in Africa, and I’d arrived and I had walked onto this set full of thousands of extras and I had to be standing there with my sort of baby and having come to meet Val Kilmer, and it was quite overwhelming. And I remember the director coming up to me after my first take and saying, ‘That was really good. You did really well. Well done. But you’ve got a slightly sleepy left eye. So could you just try and open it a little bit?’ [Laughs] And I was like, ‘Okay, yeah, sure. Definitely. Of course. No, no, no. Absolutely. I know really well, yeah, completely. Yeah, I do. I know. I do have slightly weird eyes.’And so he went off and I was left there thinking, ‘Wait. I don’t know how to open my sleepy eye! I don’t know how to do that so I’m gonna hafta maybe close the other eye a little bit to make it …’ And then they were saying, ‘Turn over! Rolling! Rolling! Turn over,’ and all these thousands of extras, and all I was doing was trying to make my eye the same size, and you look at the shot and you know; ‘what is that woman doing?’”
It’s been a while since I had a laugh like that during an interview, but there is great value to this experience for Mortimer. She further explained:
“But I think I learned really early on from that that you just sort of don’t pay attention to shit like that. Either don’t pay attention to it or say, ‘That’s not gonna work.’ You have to sort of not be too obliging and people completely are able to handle it, you know? However shy you are, however nice you are, don’t prioritize pleasing people over what happens between action and cut, you know? You just have to be in that moment, in that world and not thinking about anything to do with your tiny eyes or your evening mouth or anything.”
If you’d like to hear even more about Mortimer’s filmography, keep an eye out for her full episode of Ladies Night dropping later this week. She discussed why Lovely and Amazing was such a pivotal experience, working with Wes Craven, working with Martin Scorsese, making Relic with director Natalie Erika James, and more!