Toronto–As a new mother, Mira Sorvino was glad she didn't play the starring role in Reservation Road.
Sorvino plays Ruth, the ex-wife of a lawyer (Mark Ruffalo) who accidentally kills a child in a hit-and-run, and Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly play the couple devastated by the loss of their son. The movie (which opens in Vancouver on Friday [October 26]) was cowritten and directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda).
"I was actually kind of relieved when I met with Terry and he told me that it was Ruth that he wanted me for, and that Jennifer was already cast to play the mother role”¦I wasn't up for playing the loss of a son just after giving birth to one three months earlier," Sorvino says.
"Jennifer is a smart and lovely lady, and I felt for her having to play that role. I felt that she was really going through it on the day and was very drawn and haunted-looking. And I felt that that must have been really something difficult, personally, to undergo”¦in a human way."
Sitting in a hotel bedroom on the night of the movie's world premiere at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, Sorvino says that as a new parent it was impossible not to be affected by the script, which was based on the novel by John Burnham Schwartz, who cowrote the screenplay. "It definitely made me understand the power of the story," she says. "I have two kids who are under three, and just the worst thing that could befall a parent would be the loss of a child."
What impressed her about the story was the way it explores every character in the tragedy: "I think it just was a very sensitive, interesting, thought-provoking presentation of a situation that could have easily been turned into fodder for a genre-ish revenge movie."
To help humanize the killer, Sorvino worked with Ruffalo to create a history behind the bitterness in their on-screen scenes. "Mark and I had a very nice rapport and built a back story for ourselves and had a kind of a closeness that was explosive as kind of the main vibe for the relationship."
Being a new mother also changed Sorvino's approach to working. "I've definitely turned down things recently that were going to be large, time-consuming things," she says. "I can't stomach the thought of spending half a year not with my kids. They're with me; they're on the set, but it's not the same. And they're just so little. Maybe when they're in school I'll have more tolerance for heavy-duty”¦workloads."
Sorvino is certainly familiar with an actor's life from a child's perspective. Her father, Paul Sorvino (Law and Order), is a veteran character actor, and Sorvino fell in love with acting in elementary school. "I think it was in third grade doing a show called Mystery of the Missing Caps and Puncs or Capitalizations and Punctuations. It was a grade-school play. I played the nerdy teacher named Miss Big Brain. I had a grey wig and crazy big black glasses and an orange polyester dress, and my dad coached me on that. And that was my first foray into learning how to act in the Stanislavsky technique."
Asked if it was scary for her teachers when her dad came backstage after the show, Sorvino laughs. "It was pretty terrifying for me, because all the other parents would come backstage and be like, 'Honey, you were wonderful.' And my dad would come back and say, 'Honey, that was terrific, I've just got three little notes.' And then he would talk to me for two hours straight about everything that was wrong with it."
Sorvino says she didn't mind the notes. "I got my best lessons that way”¦If I were a doctor's kid, they wouldn't admire a botched suturing job."
Although Sorvino's parents encouraged her, they weren't interested in letting her act for a living. "I was actually offered a television series when I was eight, and I was not allowed to take it, which I'm very glad about. They didn't want me to be a child actor."
The former Miss Big Brain was allowed to get serious at 16 after a talent scout came to her school looking for girls who could act and ride horseback for the movie Sylvester. "I didn't get the part, but it ended up starting me in the business. I got a manager.”¦So, at that point, my parents were like, 'Well, if you really want to try this you can.”¦But you have to go to college.'"