Maria Bello feels Prisoners' angst
TORONTO—When Prisoners hits cinemas this Friday (September 20), the Denis Villeneuve–directed crime thriller promises to make parents everywhere squirm in their seats. Centred on the disappearance of two small girls and the police hunt that follows, the film is a true thriller that covers very real topics, something that Maria Bello, who plays Grace, the mother of one of the children, readily acknowledges.
“If I have to think about my own child—or any child—disappearing, it’s the worst thing that could happen to a family,” Bello tells the Georgia Straight in a hotel room during the Toronto International Film Festival. “The grief that I would have as a mother is translated into my character. Dropping to my knees and not being able to get up, I can imagine that. It’s just such a horrible thing to imagine, and my heart goes out to all those people that are suffering from that, because this happens in real life. We’ve seen it lately with Amanda Berry and that whole situation. It’s quite devastating.”
With its serious subject matter and an all-star cast that features Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, and Paul Dano, in addition to Hugh Jackman as Bello’s guilt-stricken husband, it’s no wonder that the film has gotten early Oscar buzz. Bello reports that it was an easy cast to get along with. “As soon as I met Hugh, there was an instant connection and a familial feeling,” she says. “When you see that opening scene—and I’ve been friends with Viola and Terrence for years—where we’re all just hanging out for Thanksgiving, that was all so real. We were just all very comfortable with each other.”
Not surprisingly, it was these early scenes, which take place before the children are abducted, that had the most enjoyable atmosphere. “The day I remember the most is when we were all stuffed up in this little tiny house and the girls were running around talking and laughing constantly, and we’re saying,‘You’ve gotta get off the sugar!’ ” Bello recounts with a laugh. “I order pizza and a couple bottles of wine, and we’re all just sitting there; Terrence is playing the trumpet—it was just like this real family fun gathering.”
Once the plot got going, however, it was time to get serious. Bello—who has some pivotal scenes with Gyllenhaal’s desperate Det. Loki as well as Jackman—dove into the character of Grace, who deals with the pain of losing her daughter by overdosing on her meds. Even going up against the incredible intensity that the two men bring to their respective roles, it’s obvious that the veteran actor wasn’t intimidated.
“No, it was exciting to play off that,” she says, “to have to ground myself and have to stay in my own character’s view at the time and not get wrapped up in that. There was one particular scene when I first am talking to Jake and Hugh walks down and they cut to a shot of me just being shocked, so I pick up and I feel things that are going on. But as the film progresses, of course, I’m so drugged out that I don’t feel anything except my own pain. I don’t even see my husband’s pain. I just blame him.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Bello has played beside some big names, appearing as Nicolas Cage’s wife in World Trade Center three years after breaking out with a Golden Globe nomination for her work opposite William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin in 2003’s The Cooler. Another Globe nom came in 2005 with A History of Violence, a film that earned universal acclaim and one that featured Bello as a woman who struggles to adapt to the actions of her husband, played by Viggo Mortensen—a character development not too distant from that of Prisoners’ Grace. The difference is in the fast-paced nature of the newer movie.
“We had time to breathe there with our relationship in History,” she says. “You get to see our relationship, which, you know, was sexy and funny and familial. In this one, you don’t get time to establish any of that. You get right into the heart and the meat of the story.”
So was it difficult for Bello, a real-life mother, to watch the film? “No. I didn’t think of it from the viewpoint of a real-life mother. I certainly thought about that when I was doing the role,” she answers, thoughtfully. “It was really difficult for me to watch some of the violence, which was odd, because I watched a movie the other night with my child about a good guy who shoots 6,000 bad guys. But you never see the ramifications of that on someone’s soul. And that’s so easy to watch.
“And then you watch something like this and it brings up so many questions, and it’s disturbing in that way.”