Maria Bello has established herself as a very intriguing leading actress, taking on a variety of roles in projects all across the board. She can next be seen in the indie drama Beautiful Boy, about a married couple (Bello and Michael Sheen) on the verge of separation who, after a shocking act of violence committed by their son (Kyle Gallner), are united in their grief. In the fall, she will be playing Detective Jane Timoney in the NBC crime drama Prime Suspect, a re-imagining of the British television hit (starring Helen Mirren) about a tough-as-nails detective who doesn’t know when to quit. On September 23rd, the John Singleton action thriller Abduction starring Taylor Lautner will hit theaters, in which she plays a bad-ass with an amazing fight scene.
At the press day for Beautiful Boy, actress Maria Bello did this exclusive interview with Collider, where she talked about choosing roles very instinctually, how she was drawn to exploring the levels of grief for this role, how much she enjoyed collaborating with co-star Michael Sheen, and that she thinks this is ultimately a hopeful film. She also talked about why she wanted to get involved with another television series with Prime Suspect, working with Peter Berg, who directed the pilot, and how she wants to use every facet of herself in her work and life. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
MARIA BELLO: I’m really instinctual when it comes to choosing roles. I read this a year before it actually got made, and just knew immediately that I wanted to do it. It was so well written and had a depth of emotion and understanding of the human condition that you rarely see.
What really drew you to this project?
BELLO: I got this script, probably a year before we made the movie, and just had a gut feeling. It was so well written that I really wanted and needed to do it to explore that. I like the idea of the levels of grief, which I studied a bit before we did the movie. Usually, a parent who loses a child goes through those levels of grief over years. We had to smash it into a week or two weeks of their lives, and had to make sure we weren’t at the same level, in every single scene. Usually, a parent would just be in shock or grief for those two weeks, but I had to make it a little bit more interesting.
Did you have to find ways to emotionally get in touch with this kind of a situation?
BELLO: No. I worked with an incredible actor – Michael Sheen – who’s a genius, and we just played together. It was like two children discovering things and being curious, and out of that, reacting to another actor, out of knowing who the character is. The emotion just is in your body. It happens organically. The emotional part of it was exhausting, going home at the end of the night. But, I have a 10-year-old son and there was homework and cooking dinner, so I had to let it go.
BELLO: Yeah, because people don’t really deal with grief in movies. We see so many people shot up, but you never see the aftermath. So, this movie isn’t about the shooting or the shooter. It’s about these two disparate people who don’t know each other anymore and don’t know themselves anymore. Through this tragedy, they begin to be honest with each other again, and with themselves.
Did you do any kind of research into what it’s like for people to go through an experience like this?
BELLO: No, I didn’t. I read books on the various stages of grief because I realized that throughout the movie, which only takes place within two weeks, I had to play the gamut of going through the grief process. It usually takes years for a person who loses a child to deal with rage, denial, frustration, sadness and anger. I had to bring them to the character and learn how to play with all of those.
Being a parent, what was it like to put yourself in the skin of somebody going through what these parents go through? Do you draw on your own emotions, or is that a dangerous thing to do, in this case?
BELLO: When I had my son, it was the worst day and the best day of my life because I realized that I will never love someone so much, but I will never be able to keep him from the lessons that he’s meant to learn, in this lifetime. I couldn’t put myself in that situation and think about my son dying. That’s just too much to bear, for any parent to hold onto that, for weeks at a time. So, I drew on other stuff, really. Michael and I knew our characters and trusted each other enough to act off each other and find that emotion together. And, I think that has a lot to do with a script and how well it’s written, and how much it captures the emotion and takes you organically into those feelings. (Director) Shawn Ku also really trusted us to find it.
BELLO: What’s interesting is that a week before we started shooting, Susan Klebold came out with her first interview ever in O Magazine and talked about it. She talked about how, with an angsty teenager, it’s easy to miss. Most of the teenagers I know are angsty and hate their parents and have issues, and I can understand that it would be difficult to know that your kid is going to go on a shooting spree.
What was Shawn Ku like, as a director? Was he really open to letting you guys do what you needed to do to get to the place you needed to be?
BELLO: He was wonderful, and I think he’s such a brilliant director. It turns out that he and I studied with the same acting teacher, years ago and not at the same time, but we have the same language. So, he was able to direct me in a way that I loved.
BELLO: Yeah, we talked about it before we started filming. We got to know each other and talked about our lives and who these characters were, but we never officially rehearsed. We just got to the set and decided to play. There are some people you just automatically have a connection with and it’s just immediate. He and I had that.
Did you spend any time with the actor who played your son (Kyle Gallner)?
BELLO: No, we didn’t. We met him, and I think he’s really wonderful, but we liked the idea that he was solitary, away and having his own experience, and we were so far away from him.
How was it to work with Alan Tudyk and Moon Bloodgood?
BELLO: They were wonderful, as well. Moon is funny and beautiful. She’s an awesome girl. We got to be friends on that movie. I thought she was a really strong, really lovely woman. They were really good actors.
Do you worry at all about the bleakness of a subject like this attracting audiences to see the film?
BELLO: When I read it, I actually thought it was a beautiful story. There is hope in it, about people getting to be honest with themselves, and coming back together again, and learning who they are and their partner is again. I think there are some glimmers of hope and beauty in it.
BELLO: Prime Suspect really affected my life, when Helen Mirren did it for the BBC. It’s such an iconic character. She’s such a strong, empowered woman. When I read the script, I said no to it for a couple of years. And then, Alex Cunningham wrote the new version and it was so good and so different from the British version. Yeah, she’s a strong, empowered woman, but it takes place in New York City and there’s a real sense of humor about it. It’s a different show, but still has that strong woman who is a good role model for other women.
What makes it different from other crime shows?
BELLO: What I really like is that it’s not a straight procedural. I would not want to do a straight procedural. I would be bored. This is about this character and the characters around her. You will definitely see a lot of cases, but you’ll also see her going home, her boyfriend, her father, her love life and her craziness. You’ll get to see all of her life. It’s about the character.
Do you have to approach a role like this by putting what Helen Mirren did out of your head and not worrying about the pre-conceived notions that people might have?
BELLO: I’m sure some people will be snobby about it and compare it. I could never do what she did. She’s such an unbelievable actress, and one of my role models. But, I can do something different.
Was it important for you to have the action, the drama and the comedy, when this is a show you could be doing for a number of year?
BELLO: Yes. It could go for years and years and years, which I think it will, and I’m hoping it will. So, it had to be a character that I would be excited about exploring.
BELLO: Yeah. That’s a good question. Alex Cunningham is such a good writer that she found a good balance within the script. You can be feminine and strong, at the same time. You can be a bad-ass and, at the same time, have a vulnerableness when you’re hysterically crying, like most of us girls. You can have a good sense of fashion. You don’t need to dress like one of the boys. She put that all in there, with the great, dark sense of humor, which I love. All the cops I’ve met really have that dark sense of humor.
What does someone like Peter Berg bring to a project like this?
BELLO: He’s the best! Peter Berg is so fun. He’s such a wonderful director ‘cause he loves to play. He just wings the camera around and he’s so quick and really collaborative. He just says, “Come to the set to play. Give us your ideas. Just go.” He really likes actors and trusts actors. He’s wonderful. I’m so happy that he’s my producer and he’s going to direct some episodes. I think we’re a good team. He’s totally normal and funny. He’s a really good man.
What was it about Abduction that appealed to you, and who do you play in the film?
BELLO: I love John Singleton. He’s a wonderful director and a friend, and we’ve always wanted to work together. I loved it. I got to be this bad-ass and have this amazing fight scene, and work with Taylor [Lautner] and Jason Isaacs. We had a blast.
What inspired you to want to be an actor, and are you still as inspired now?
BELLO: I just want to use all of myself, for the rest of my life, in every facet of my life, as long as I live. I just want to put everything out there. Acting and emotionally expressing myself, seeing the world, doing the other work that I do in Haiti, and being a mom are just all very exciting to me. I’m a real curious person. I don’t usually do projects that I’m not excited about, but I have sometimes, and then that’s a real drag.