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Home    Review Archives    Posters    Interview Archives    History of Cranky

Minnie Driver

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With a series of good supporting roles in films like Big Night, Sleepers and Grosse Pointe Blank, many of us were lulled into the belief that Minnie Driver was a promising American actress. That all changed with her role in last years Good Will Hunting, when we all discovered that she was much more than a "good" actress, and that she was not American at all.

This writer can look over Minnie Driver's work and make all the statements he wants to about how she has managed never to duplicate a role or character type in any of her performances, but there's one thing that makes an immediate impression when you meet her face to face. Minnie Driver has the most incredibly bright brown eyes I've ever seen. They're all the more so, due to Ms. Driver's excitement about The Governess, a role that's been at the front of her mind since she first saw the script two years ago.

Set in 19th century England, Driver plays Rosina Da Silva, a Jewish woman whose father's death forces her into the unlikely role of Christian governess to a death-obsessed 9-year old. Besides the religious masquerade, her character finds love in the arms of her bigoted employer, played by The Full Monty's Tom Wilkinson, and must fend off the obsessive son who has learned her secret. It sounds like a soap opera, but under the guidance of writer/director Sandra Goldbacher, The Governess delivers a solid story with a classic look.

CrankyCritic.com talked with Minnie Driver in New York, and began our conversation about her determination to get this movie made . . .

Minnie Driver: The Governess was almost the most complete script I've ever read. It was this incredible piece of writing. It was like reading a book. Sandra's prose of her stage directions was just so glorious. She's an incredible writer. She should be writing novels as well.

CrankyCritic: Sandra began this script by writing your character's "diary".
Minnie: I never saw it. I think the whole diary aspect was Sandra's take on this thing. When I came on board I imagined that she felt that I had to create it for myself, but it was almost like she knew me. The way this character had been created; it felt like she knew who I was. Emotionally, somehow.

CrankyCritic: Is this the first time you've worked on a crew with this many women involved?
Minnie: Yes and it was an exceptional experience. That's not to say that working with men isn't. It was just completely different.

CrankyCritic: There's also a strong sexual element to the film. Would a male director have been able to draw that out of you?
Minnie: It's so funny. It wasn't until I saw that film that I realized that my breasts are in this film. How extraordinary, because I don't remember it having been a big deal. It had so much to do with photography (Wilkinson's character is a photographer --ed.); what is the shape that I'm creating if I have this corset on and I have one breast out. (The scene) is terribly serious and more about her perception of the image Rosina's creating rather than me doing my striptease. Rosina doesn't really know the power of the nudity. She's discovering it. And as such, maybe it was because there was a woman there, it was all very organic.

CrankyCritic: There was a very artistic nude photograph of your behind...
Minnie: I've got to say that was not me; the bottom, the naked thing. That was a body double and I'm furious because my bottom's a lot nicer than hers. I'm never ever going to do that again.

CrankyCritic: Did they shoot that afterwards?
Minnie: No, we were shooting something else. I think I might have been really resistant at the time to doing it and thought 'yes we'll just get some fantastic model whose got a far nicer bottom than I have'. And it's guaranteed the minute you do that, the minute you get into that kind of vanity it's going to come back to haunt you. Because she didn't have as nice a bottom as I did, I think.

CrankyCritic: Shall we post that on the Internet that it isn't your bottom?
Minnie: Yes, would you please do that? <laughing> God how fantastic! I'm so glad that I told you 'cuz I was ready to go into every cinema and announce "I'd just like to say that in the nude scene with the bottom it is not Minnie Driver's bottom" and then run out.

CrankyCritic: Anti-Semitism is a strong part of the background of this story...
Minnie: Absolutely. I mean you'd be surprised at how insulated one is from religious persecution as it goes on today. I was going to synagogue in London and hearing people's stories and I couldn't believe that they've gone through this. I felt ignorant. But I don't any more. I think that this film is fantastically accurate and enormously respectful and a very beautiful exposure of what is a very secret culture. The Sephardi culture isn't as prevalent as the Ashkenazi, they're a far smaller tribe of people. There's something secretive and wonderful about being allowed into that and learning about that. And I still have these wonderful tapes that Sandra made me of Sephardi music which I play all the time. I still dance around; its wonderful to learn something new. To be involved in someone else's culture.

CrankyCritic: Speaking as someone who is Jewish to someone who is not, you certainly nailed the customs of the Tribe.
Minnie: It's one of my beliefs about acting, especially as an English person coming to play Americans often. If you're going to be convincing, your knowledge and respect of the culture that you are trying to pass yourself off as should be thorough. If you're going to say a prayer in a different language you must understand the rhythms. You must understand why you use that prayer at that particular time, what it means. You have to have a reference in context. You can't just show up and learn the words phonetically. It has to have gone in deeper. That's where the respect comes. But as an actor I was fascinated. I come from a really strange amalgam of, you know, European -- Irish, French, Italian, Scottish -- nothing particular. I love the structure of cultures. It feels very comforting and wonderful to sort of immerse yourself and really have some knowledge of it. It was great. It was like carrying on studying.

CrankyCritic: What kind of connections did you make with Rosina?
Minnie: You know, when I first saw the film I was so shocked at how young she was. I hadn't remember her being that young and I suddenly realized why that was. It's because with her, this is a series of doing things for the first time. She's dealing with the death of a parent. She's choosing to become somebody else. She's falling n love for the first time. She's having sex for the first time. She's feeling all of these things for the first time and I remembered that.
        I went back and read my diaries when I was 17, 18 and just beginning to experience these kind of new things. There's an enormous power in that that's unconscious. You just do something. You don't think of the ramifications. You don't think of what's gonna happen next week as a result of the actions you take today. And while it can get you into a lot of trouble, acting like that, acting purely from your heart, I recognize that in her.

CrankyCritic: This is the first film you've made in Britain since moving to America. Have you gotten a lot of flak from other English actors about moving here?
Minnie: From the press I've had a lot of trouble. The British press would really like to put me in the Tower of London. There's a whole sense of treason, about 'wasn't England good enough for you? You had to go to the States to go and pass yourself off as an American to have a career,' and it's like well, in one sense, yeah. That's where the opportunity was, and I want to work, so what was I going to do? Ultimately your work speaks for you. If I was making really bad films than they'd probably love it. I think it's because the films are good that it's far more newsworthy and they can have a bigger chip on their shoulder. Even saying stuff like this makes the British press really angry 'cuz you're admitting that you're aware of it.

CrankyCritic: You're also managing to find movie roles where no two characters you've played are alike...
Minnie: We're so infinitely varied as people, especially if you have a propensity for imagining how differently a person could react... I remember an exercise we had at drama school, They'd give you a phrase, like saying 'I love you' and you'd have to try to create how different characters would say these words and with a different kind of intention. I mean there's a thousand million zillion ways and meanings.

CrankyCritic: Do you consciously watch people to pick up habits and "actor things"?
Minnie: It's not even a conscious thing. You tend to see people doing things that are very normal in a different way that will catch your attention. I don't sort of stalk the streets looking for characters but you certainly get a sense that people are freaks. Everyone is a freak if you watch someone for long enough <g>. However normal, whatever that means, they looked at first glance, if you follow them around for a full day you'd probably think they were a psycho by the end of it. If I had someone follow me around, they would. Just being aware of that means you'll pick upon stuff that people do.

CrankyCritic: Was there a moment or a performance that put this all in perspective for you; that acting is what you wanted to do for a living?
Minnie: I guess it was two things. It was seeing Judi Dench play Cleopatra and it was Helen Mirren in pretty much everything she's ever done. More specifically Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice, I think. I had never seen that kind of acting on stage previously and I, I was really quite young when I saw that and thought 'my god I can be up there too!' I couldn't believe the breadth of that character. I remember thinking "Oh my God! Women are allowed to do that too!" I'd only seen men do it -- seeing Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront was kind of "well, that's a man. He's allowed to do that." It was incredible. But it wasn't very personal. Seeing a woman do that, a young woman, was a huge moment in my life.

CrankyCritic: You've done some singing in the past, and you're set to do a voice in Disney's upcoming Tarzan animated flick. Will you be serenading us in that, too?
Minnie: No. In fact hardly any of us sing in it. I think Glenn Close sings a lullaby. Phil Collins is singing most of the music himself. It's not really a break-into-song musical. I'm writing music for the movie that me and my sister just produced, called At Satchem Farm. I'm writing the title track and about three other songs in that. I do want to do music for films.

CrankyCritic: And At Satchem Farm is about...?
Minnie: It's about people who are all doing the wrong things with their lives and the one person who's trying to set them straight. It's very funny and it's very true.

 

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