Usually, actors spend weeks, even months, developing a character. But when Academy Award-winning actress Marisa Tomei took a part in the independent film In the Bedroom, she found herself working on a slightly shorter schedule.
Instead of the usual preparation time, Tomei told The Hatchet during a phone interview, first-time writer/director Todd Field “gave me three days notice to get up to Maine and create this character.”
For In the Bedroom, a drama that tells of a well-to-do Maine couple’s response to the murder of their college-age son. Tomei plays Natalie Strout, a divorced mother of two, who shared an intimate relationship with the deceased young man and finds herself indirectly responsible for his death.
Tomei feared that such an intense part required more preparation than time allowed, but she came to an agreement with Field.
“Before I got there, in those three days, he found a woman who had a part-time job, who had a couple of kids, who had been divorced, who was of the same social strata (as the character), who was willing to talk to me and share her life with me.”
Part of Tomei’s willingness to take such a leap of faith came from her trust in Field’s guidance.
“To be an actor you are incredibly vulnerable and you are opening yourself up, and it does take a little bit of extra care in communicating with us,” said Tomei. “Sometimes people would rather just focus on camerawork and that can be disheartening.”
In the past year Tomei has worked with two other actor/directors, Tony Goldwyn on Someone Like You and Fisher Stevens on Just a Kiss. Although the films were of different genres (comedy and drama), Tomei found a heartening similarity in their styles.
“They have an inherent sense of respect for actors and care for them,” she said. “They were all really good actors themselves so it’s like having a partner to build a character with. I really felt like (Field) was there building that character.”
In the end, short notice had little effect on her performance. Tomei even found it refreshing to drop the usual preparation and said she preferred an off-the-cuff manner when it came to acting out the toughest scenes.
“It’s better, for the really emotional ones, not to think about it anyway, you just get there,” Tomei said. “If the scene is well constructed, meaning that the dialogue is true and the emotional reality is honest, you can just kind of go into it and let it hit you and react. That was the case mostly in this one.”
This article appeared in the December 10, 2001 issue of the Hatchet.