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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Actresses > Feature Interviews F to J > Marcia Gay Harden

 

Marcia Gay Harden stars as Barbara Sabich on the TNT Mystery Movie 'Scott Turow's Innocent.'

Marcia Gay Harden

Is Not That Innocent

by Jay S. Jacobs

 
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 28, 2011. 

For years now, Marcia Gay Harden has been one of the finest actresses on stage, screen and TV.  Yet, despite the fact that she has a face that everyone knows, somehow she has never completely become a household name.   

Still, she plugs away, having become one of the most-respected character actresses in film Ė including winning a best supporting actress Oscar in Pollock and roles in films like Millerís Crossing, Into the Wild and Whip It.  Harden has also done fine work on television Ė her guest appearance on Homicide: Life of the Street was one of the most devastating performances ever caught on the small screen.  Not only that, but on Broadway she ended up winning the Best Actress Tony in 2009 for God of Carnage. 

Hardenís latest role is playing the complicated, disturbed Barbara Sabich in Scott Turowís Innocent, which will be the first chapter of TNTís new Mystery Movie Night, in which the cable network offers two hour movie versions of popular suspense novels The TV movie Ė like the book Ė is a sequel to the classic murder mystery Presumed Innocent, which ended with the nasty surprise that Barbara was responsible for the murder of her husband Rustyís lover.  In Innocent, her character is Ė if possible Ė even more complex.  She is dead in bed as the film begins and the audience must look back to see how exactly she died.  Once again, Rusty is on trial for the death, and once more a complex court proceeding must determine his guilt or innocence.

A couple of weeks before Scott Turowís Innocent premiered the TNT Mystery Movie Night, Harden was nice enough to talk with us and a few other websites about the movie. 

Were you familiar with, or had you read any of Scott Turowís books beforehand?  One L is pretty popular. 

I had read [Presumed] Innocent previously and another one that Iím spacing on the name of, but I remember reading [Presumed] Innocent and then later seeing it.  I always try to read the literature first before I see the piece, so I have my own ideas. [I was] really excited by his writing and by the rhythm of his writing.  The rhythm of his mystery in a way that it just seems to crescendo or, like ďBolero,Ē you could say it crescendos the more information you have. But then as you're solving it, it deals like pick-up sticks where you try to carefully extract one stick without unbalancing the others.  Thatís what the characters seem to be doing, but the audience is involved in the ascension, different from the game that the characters are doing. So to pick up with this one in part two, it was very exciting to see where they had come because now each pick up stick is bent and twisted and full of the life theyíve lived for 20 years and another crime is committed. 

Mariana Klaveno, Bill Pullman and Marcia Gay Harden star in the TNT Mystery Movie 'Scott Turow's Innocent.'How do you connect with the character?  Is there something about her that you felt a familiarity to or something that really touched on you with this character? 

Well I felt that his writing, Scott Turowís writing allowed for a great exploration into the mental illness that she suffered and the repression that she lived through and also Rusty, her husband, lived through.  He had repressed her crime from [Presumed] Innocent, part one for now 20 years. Her behavior doesnít become erratic again until sheís revisited by the same event, by an infidelity and then lack of a distorted reality in the home as created by his lies and cheating. She responds with the typical behaviors of her bipolarness which was really interesting study for me. You can look at women likeÖ letís say Jean Harris [a school mistress who became infamous when she was convicted for the 1980 killing of Scarsdale Diet Doctor Herman Tarnower] or the astronaut whose name I canít remember, this perfectly seemingly normal person who traveled in diapers. 

Oh yes, that lady. 

Right, what was her name? 

I canít remember her name, but I know exactly whom you're talking about. [It was Lisa Nowak, a former NASA astronaut who in 2007 drove overnight from Houston to Orlando in an attempt to kidnap a romantic rival in a love triangle. Nowak has since denied early reports that she wore diapers so she would not have to stop to go to the bathroom.] 

Right, so there's this propensity it seems toward erraticness.  There's a great brilliance in both Jean Harris, the astronaut, and Barbara.  Scott [Turow] has Barbara as a math expert, a statistician and computer expert. So sheís a person like many in society who suffer from mental illness, but at this point, sheís now on medication. Yet, what are the behaviors that again create her erraticness? It seems that in all of these cases, [it is] when they discover the reality that theyíve been living in they discover is not a real reality. I found that a fascinating journey of discovery: to understand what affect that has on people, on women, on people who live with a betrayal.  Whether itís in a business or in a home, to expect sanity is a very tall order I think.  It doesnít forgive it, but itís odd to expect someone to behave in a certain way when they're actually experiencing some of the most devastating moments of their life. 

Bill Pullman and Marcia Gay Harden star in the TNT Mystery Movie 'Scott Turow's Innocent.'There's a lot of mystery surrounding your character.  She seems kind of unpredictable.  How did you prepare for the role? 

I studied.  I did research.  Sheís unpredictable in that she has a mental illness.  There's a lot written about borderline and bipolar and posttraumatic stress and all of those.  Sheís unpredictable in that way.  In fact, with her medication, sheís very predictable.  No judgment on whether the life or the marriage is what it should be, but she seems to be contained.  This event throws her off balance.  In the telling of the story, you jump back and forth in flashbacks and [screenwriter/director] Mike [Robe] has put the anger of the night of the death at the very beginning.  I hope that people were able to understand that is what she had come to.  But the other behaviors Ė having dinner parties, making lunches, sending her kid off on the bicycle Ė [were] hovering yes, overbearing possibly, but not crazy. 

You said that you were familiar with the novel prior to working on the film.  How do you feel that Mike Robeís screenplay works off the novel? 

Very well.  In the novel, they give you the perspective of is it two or three different people telling the story? You canít do that unless you sort of do a French Lieutenantís Woman on it.  I feel like he did it very well given that there are certain ways of telling the story that canít mimic the book.  You get Rustyís perspective much more Ė where the book gives you the mistressí perspective and the sonís perspective.  I thought it was super interesting that you donít get Barbaraís perspective, because if you think that Barbara killed herself, the only way you would know for sure is if you get her perspective.  So in the book, I thought thatís interesting Scott Turow didnít give you the one.  Sheís the only one who can tell you if she did it or not.  I thought that was interesting and at the end of the day, I was not necessarily convinced.  I didnít need to be convinced that the story ended as both Scott and the director tell you it did, because you donít know unless she tells you that it did. 

Bill Pullman, Alfred Molina and Marcia Gay Harden star in the TNT Mystery Movie 'Scott Turow's Innocent.'Now you touched on what I was about to ask you, but I interviewed Scott Turow last year when the book came out and he said between the two books, he didnít really see Barbara so much as the villain but more as sort of a tragic character, almost noble in a strange way.  How did you see her when you were preparing for her and some of the acts that she did? 

Itís interesting that you say between the two as well because when Scott came to set, he said that heís often thought about writing a [story about] in-between Barbara Ė during the middle of this and this 20 years.  If you accepted the first one has ended with her bludgeoning somebody, then in the middle of this life, you have 20 years of Rusty, her husband, and her covering her own violent crime.  Then you pick up with them again where sheís seemingly doing well.  Sheís on medication.  Things are going along fine, if not a little bit coolly.  The story begins to be told again because sheís revisited with the same incident that has created extraordinarily erratic behavior Ė which is his infidelity.  So for me to have sympathy for her Ė or not even sympathy, but letís say empathy Ė I did a lot of research and a lot of reading.  A lot of those books that talk about what is the devastation?  What are the biochemical propensities of being borderline?   What would be expected?  What is it like to experience, to have your reality robbed from you?  What can that do?  Why is that called crazy-making behavior?  Literally cheating is called crazy-making behavior at home, because itís not truthful.  Truth balances people.  Your reality is what you think it is and untruth imbalances you.  So I was certainly able to look at her and understand her behaviors enough to not judge her, because thatís always the death of an actor, when you start judging well they shouldnít have done this and they shouldnít have done that, they shouldíve handled it this way.  You have to just go what are the circumstances?  What are the realities?  What is the research and so thatís what I did.  When I was playing her, I just felt like she was such an incredible vessel in a way of pain.  She had a lot of pain and certainly guilt, but I certainly didnít feel like she was a villain.  I felt like what her biochemical makeup is in conjunction with what her environment is Ė which was an untruthful, cheating and environment of infidelity Ė created erratic behavior. 

There is another very acclaimed performance of the same character in the past.  Did you watch what Bonnie Bedelia did with the same character in the original movie or was that something you wanted to avoid so as not to influence your take on it? 

I had seen it years and years ago when it first came out and so I didnít feel the need to revisit that beautiful performance.  What I did was revisit the book and revisit the characterís behavior so I could remind myself of 20 years ago.  What were her desires, what were her needs, what was her jealousy and her rage?  What did that look like? 

Bill Pullman and Marcia Gay Harden star in the TNT Mystery Movie 'Scott Turow's Innocent.'When you get a script like this or any other script, is writing the only thing that you look for when you decide whether you're going to accept it or not? 

Itís as random as what clothing do I put on in the morning.  Really it is.  Itís based on what my needs are for the week, for the month, for the year, what Iím feeling like on the day.  What is the story trying to say?  What does the character say?  What does it pay?  Where does it shoot?  Can I still make the kidsí Christmas play if I do this and how can I work it out?  It is very random. 

What other projects do you have coming up? 

I just did a week on Body of Proof with Dana Delaney.  Yesterday, I shot on a beautiful little independent film called The Summer of Wine and Roses playing an acting teacher.  It was so much fun.  I believe there's a film called If I Were You thatís coming out that I did and another one.  There's just a couple of films coming out, but itís been a period of some change.  Weíve moved out to California and there are some family needs Iím taking care of so I canít give you laundry list of big films, but soon enough. 

Sounds like you're keeping really busy.  Is it ever difficult to balance everything? 

I am.  Is it difficult?  Yes, the balls drop.  Like with everybody, the balls drop all the time.  Youíre juggling, juggling, somebody throws you a new one, and you throw it in and dang it, another one dropped. If it werenít for the good friendship of many other moms that I know, I would say that the balls would be scattered all over.  But as Hillary [Clinton] said, it takes a village and Iím so grateful for the village that I have Ė the friends that are there that pick up a ball and juggle it themselves and throw it back in.  Women and friendships and moms are really strong community.  Itís a strong chain and Iím lucky for that. 

Between the mental illness and the state of the marriage, Barbara seems like quite a demanding character to portray.  What would you say was most challenging for you about the role and working on this project in particular? 

I think to be subtle with the repression and the things that were occurring in the life.  The barbs that donít seem like barbs that sheís receiving and the barbs that may not seem like barbs that sheís giving.  To let that create a history of disconnect for her and her husband, that leads to her really erratic behavior surrounding her jealousy and her rage.  And sheís right to feel so.  Sheís justifiably enraged.  It was her particular behavior [which] is, I suppose considered erratic, but I donít know what sanity around those discoveries would look like either.  I suppose to not judge her would be the short answer. 

Bill Pullman, Marcia Gay Harden and Mariana Klaveno star in the TNT Mystery Movie 'Scott Turow's Innocent.'Can you tell us a bit about the atmosphere on set?  Itís a pretty serious movie, but the cast is amazing. 

It was, to be almost mundane with the word: it was so much fun.  Alfred Molina just is full of banter and wit and humor and keeps you laughing.  Bill Pullman is just a charming, gorgeous gentleman and Richard Schiff, all straight down the line, the young actors, everybody, there was just a great camaraderie.  Itís always lovely as an actor when you jump into that environment.  Everyoneís there, in and out, in and out.  You may not have scenes together, but when you're on set together, its instant familiarity, some spurred by years of knowing each otherís work or having worked together.  The actor jumps in with both feet on action and you cross all kinds of boundaries and borders on action.  That allows for, on cut, bonding and it was really lovely. 

You had mentioned some of the things you had coming up, obviously a couple of years ago; you won a Tony for God of Carnage.  You said that youíve been doing a lot of moving around, but are you going to be doing any other theatre in the future?  Also have you heard anything about the new Carnage movie or seen it? 

The new Carnage movie came out already so itís out there for anyone to see.  Itís a different cast than ours was.  Itís different, Polanski directing.  I think itís probably a very different experience than the play.  I have not seen it yet, but I would like to.  There was some talk about taking Carnage to yet one more wonderful location, but thatís not been confirmed yet so weíll see.  If it happens, Iím with it.  I love it.  It was so much fun to do that play and there's always the possibility of other things on Broadway, but doing theatre is reallyÖ do you have kids? 

No I donít. 

Itís so hard with children.  You're free when they're in school.  You're working and they're out of school and on the weekends.  I have three kids.  I have twins that are seven and a 13 year old daughter.  I just found it to be almost untenable with the homework demands and the school demands and the needs of the child.  So I did it for quite a while and I would do it briefly again, but I think another long run like that, Iím going to have to wait a little bit to really examine that.

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 Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 28, 2011.