NEW YORK — New York-- "Skee-ora. See-ora. Skiroka. Scorsese. Somebody came up to me the other day and said, 'You're Annabella Scorsese!' "
The name may not come easily, but the face is certainly familiar.
Annabella Sciorra (that's Shee-ora) is blessed with the dark, intelligent looks that make audiences take her seriously and make them very upset when she's not treated properly on screen.
That seems to happen rather often these days.
Earlier this year, in "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," Ms. Sciorra played a young mother sexually abused by a gynecologist and then victimized by a crazed nanny who first swipes her asthma medicine and then attempts to swipe her husband and baby.
Now, in "Whispers in the Dark," which opened here last weekend, she plays a psychiatrist who loses patients to violent death at an alarming rate. She also finds herself gagged and bound by ropes while a fellow who clearly needed more therapy threatens to decorate her bare back with a lit cigarette.
The scene took a whole day to shoot. "I spent 12 hours tied up," she says. "I was so p off."
Audiences get hot and bothered when Ms. Sciorra is in jeopardy because of the credibility she brings to her roles. She looks like somebody's pretty sister, like a real person rather than a centerfold.
Therefore, it was a shock, after first seeing her without makeup and in a simple white shirt chatting casually with journalists, to watch her later sweep into a hotel suite in an ankle-length black lace dress coyly unbuttoned, black curls frothing down her back, and enough makeup for a Cosmo cover girl.
Ms. Sciorra, just escaped from a TV interview, looked like somebody else: a sexy, glamorous movie star.
"It makes me nervous to be dressed like this," she admits.
Ms. Sciorra declines to disclose her age but is reported to be about 25.
She also refuses to talk about her personal life except to say that she makes her home in New York because, well, that's her home, where her family and friends are. Then her "Whispers" co-star, Jamey Sheridan, spills the beans when he mentions Ms. Sciorra's Australian husband.
Finally, when a cheeky male reporter asks her about her sexual fantasies, she shoots back sharply, "None of your business."
She's not afraid to speak up.
She may be vulnerable on screen, but Ms. Sciorra knows how to look after herself in public. She's not at all shy about discussing her ethnicity, which helped her snare her first movie role. Her father, she says, came to America from the Abruzzo region of Italy. Ms. Sciorra played a young Italian-American woman in "True Love" and then again in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever."
Asked about reports that she and Mr. Lee had problems working together, Ms. Sciorra praises the director but adds, "I think he's very young, and he's not entirely comfortable around women."
Ms. Sciorra attracts directors for the same reason she appeals to audiences.
"There's a glamour about her that comes from a different source than most of the glamour we see in Hollywood," says Christopher Crowe, writer-director of "Whispers in the Dark." "There's something both vulnerable and strong about her."
Martin Bregman, the movie's producer, says, "What makes her tick from my perspective is that she's very accessible. You believe her if she's cast properly."
Ms. Sciorra shrugs off talk about her image and her appeal. "I don't think very much about that," she says. "I think it's somebody else's job to decide what my image is."
Her job is acting. "I want to express myself," she says, "to feel that what I feel is real. My joy, my pain, my anger."
Says co-star Sheridan, "She's very subterranean. Her work comes from way down inside. She doesn't worry at all about what it looks like on the surface."
Ms. Sciorra always wanted to act, even before she began acting classes as a 13-year-old growing up in Connecticut. And she's always loved movies, ever since she was a kid.
"I watched movies all day long on Saturdays with my best friend Tamara. And we would sit and cry. We'd get all ready with our box of tissues and we'd sit and cry together. We loved doing that."
Ms. Sciorra says she still loves to cry at movies. "I love to see movies that make me feel anything. I love to sit at a movie theater with all these strangers and cry or laugh or scream or whatever. I think it's just amazing."
And although Tamara lives on Long Island now, they still get to movies together, Ms. Sciorra says .
Unlike many actors, Ms. Sciorra watches her own movies, including the earliest ones. "I learn from my mistakes," she says. "I watched 'True Love' last week. It's a really good film. But it was my first time on a movie set, and I didn't have a great consciousness about the camera."
Though she has been playing women abused and in danger most recently, Ms. Sciorra is delighted with the way her career is going. She sees the roles of the young mother in "Cradle" and the psychiatrist in "Whispers" as exciting opportunities for a performer. "I think I've been really lucky," she says. "I don't feel the need to complain at the moment."
Nor likely in the near future. Ms. Sciorra's next picture is "Mr. Wonderful," directed by the hot young British director, Anthony Minghella, who made "Truly, Madly, Deeply." "Mr. Wonderful" also stars William Hurt, Mary-Louise Parker and Matt Dillon. "Matt and I are divorced, but we're still in love," Ms. Sciorra explains, "and I'm having an affair."
Besides making Tamara cry, "Mr. Wonderful" could well be the movie that makes Ms. Sciorra a name everybody gets right.