Mortimer shows her maternal side in `Dear Frankie'

In new movie, she has son with hearing impairment


On Screen / DVD/Video

April 14, 2005|By Philip Wuntch | Philip Wuntch,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

Growing up with a famous dad, Emily Mortimer knows the heat of the spotlight well.

The star of Dear Frankie, she is the daughter of crusading British barrister Sir John Mortimer, author of the Rumpole series. One of his major triumphs was defending the British people's right to read D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

"He's never been shocked at anything I've done," Mortimer says over the phone. "My whole family's basically unshockable."

Mortimer did a flamboyant nude scene adorned with custard in Young Adam and played a wildly insecure actress in Lovely & Amazing. And in Dear Frankie, she's getting the strongest reviews of her career as the resolute, working-class mother of a hearing-impaired 9-year-old son.

Married to actor Alessandro Nivola, she is the mother of 17-month-old Sam, with whom she was pregnant while filming Dear Frankie.

"I'd never been a mother before making the movie," she says. "I have strong maternal feelings for my sister Rosie, who's quite a bit younger. But nothing prepares you for motherhood.

"It's something you can't imagine until it happens. You can imagine robbing a bank if you're playing a bank robber. You can even imagine hating someone enough to commit murder. Still, being pregnant at the time helped me in the role. I was getting that protective feeling."

She researched the role by attending classes at a school for the deaf, and she had a tutor on the set at all times. She also rehearsed with Jack McElhone, who plays her son.

"Jack had earplugs in at all times. And I had to discipline myself to look right at him so he could give the impression that he was reading my lips. It was wonderful to be forced to be that direct. It's funny how seldom we look someone straight in the eye when we talk. We get self-conscious, as if we're afraid of revealing too much about ourselves. In Dear Frankie, no one felt self-conscious. None of us had any secrets from anyone else."

Now living in Los Angeles, Mortimer recently returned from filming Woody Allen's Match Point in London. Allen and Scarlett Johansson also star.

"The whole experience was wonderful, but you know Woody doesn't like us to talk about the movie in advance," she says. "All I'll say is that it's more a drama than a comedy, and that Woody got a kick out of being in London."

And after he sees Dear Frankie, he'll probably get a kick out of having Mortimer in his cast.

For film events, see Page 36.

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