Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Opposite of Losing: An Interview with Mena Suvari 07.01.00

Twenty-one-year old Mena Suvari made her first film appearance three-years-ago in Gregg Araki’s Nowhere and has since become one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood. She drew critical acclaim for her performance in Slums of Beverly Hills with Alan Arkin and Marisa Tomei, but splashed commercially with 1999’s summer sleeper hit American Pie, which likewise launched the careers of Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth and Chris Klein.

In 1999, Suvari also starred as the teenage object of Kevin Spacey’s lurid attention in American Beauty, for which she earned a Blockbuster Movie Award nomination, a British Academy Award and, with the cast, a Screen Actors Guild award for Best Ensemble.

With Loser, Suvari returns to lighter material, a college-age romantic comedy directed by teen-movie maven Amy Heckerling, starring American Pie co-star Jason Biggs.

Recently, Suvari and I met to discuss the meaning of being a loser, a celebrity and a fashion plate.

What makes someone a “loser?”
What? Oh. That’s not nice! I’m not like that. I don’t judge. If I do, I keep it to myself.

Well, okay, what were you like in high school?
High school… for me, I guess it was just a little different in that I moved around a lot in my life and, usually, you tend to form the relationships you have in high school in middle school. I didn’t really have that until I moved out to LA when I was fifteen from South Carolina and so I had my freshman and sophomore years at one high school and I graduated from another. It was about academics for me and really just graduating and making it through.

Did you ever feel like a loser?
No, but one example, when we had the earthquake out here, I was teased if my chickens got loose because I had lived in South Carolina. Just because I had the word South associated with Carolina. It’s just the way that kids are and so I didn’t have that many friends, no. I had like one or two friends and I didn’t go to prom. Like I said it was just very much about graduating.

Where are those chicken teasers at now?
Who knows? I don’t know, I just… that’s not nice. I don’t know. I mean, I haven’t seen anybody from high school.

How about college?
Didn’t go to college. Haven’t gone yet.

Do you feel you’re graduating from high school roles?
I have with Loser and I’m going to be working with Peter Hyams on his new film D’artagnan, with Justin Chambers playing D’artagnan, and it’s a Three Musketeers period piece, 18th century, so that’s not school-oriented in anyway. So, I’m really excited to do that. I play a French girl. I’ll be going over the beginning of August. I know that Justin’s been training for a couple of months. He’s got a lot of stunts. We’ve got Catherine Deneuve playing the Queen.

You’re currently gracing maybe a dozen magazine covers. Does that get weird for you.
It’s not what makes me happy at the end of the day. No, I mean, it’s all just extra for me. I got a great agent, and he just does such a wonderful job, and if all of this can help me get some great roles, that’s great, but it’s never been about, “I want that award!” or you know, “I’m a celebrity!” It’s never been like that, and I never wanted any of that. I just wanted to work hard and have fun. It’s a great feeling when you work on something and you get to see it in the end.

I try not to think about too much of the craziness so I don’t have to get grounded. (laughs) You know what I mean? I try not to get out there. You know, because with all of the magazines and the press and the fans, it’s so funny when I say that word, I don’t know why, but sometimes I really don’t feel like who I’m supposed to be, so I don’t think about that, too much. All of it is just really nice and I hope that they go see the movie, you know? But I can’t think about that too much. I just hope that this press leads to roles that I’m happy with.

Are you starting to get recognized on the street?
It depends on where you go. That’s one thing that’s really weird. When I was shooting this up in Toronto, freezing cold, I had like three coats on, gloves, a scarf, a head scarf covering my hair, my hair up, glasses on, and I’m still recognized. I don’t understand it at all. So I don’t know what I have to do. Very surreal. It totally is. Because, like I said, I on’t feel like what I’m supposed to be. Like, I’m Mena, you know? I don’t know. So it’s just I can’t take it too seriously. Just have fun with it.

Do you feel like you’re part of the Young Hollywood community?
Yeah, kind of. I don’t know. It’s kind of like with the Vanity Fair “Young Hollywood issue,” we all kind of crossed each others’ paths in ways. I feel like I couldn’t have come into this business at any better time.

Can you watch yourself in a film you’ve been in and still enjoy the entire experience?
Oh, of course, I appreciate the film. If I’m watching myself I see it as a third person. I really don’t identify that’s me. I look at so many other things, because I’m very interested in other things other than acting. I love photography, the whole set up and design of shots. I’m looking at that too. I’ve seen American Beauty like nine times. One time, I just looked at the continuity. Another time I just listened to the music. I look at things other than my performance.

With all this exposure and all these magazine covers, do you have to constantly be aware of fashion?
I don’t know. I change all the time. I mean I like fashion. No. (giggle) I love anything oriented with that. Now I’m sort of all about vintage couture. But I don’t think I ever really had any drastic change.

Okay, how do you keep in shape?
Everyone asks me these questions, and I’m, “uh, no.” (Drinks a milkshake) I drink milkshakes! Chocolate milkshakes, that’s my training! No. Oh, man, uh, I like sports, yeah. I gotta keep active, healthy, yeah. Hiking and things like that. Horseback riding. But, uh, I love shopping. That’s my exercise. You gotta open the door, carry the baaaags. I’m kidding. I’m really bad. Anyway. Back to the movies! I’m at a fashion conference now.

Okay, back to the movies. What can you say about the new cheerleading movie you’re in, Sugar and Spice?
Sugar and Spice is just a complete comedy to the core. It’s about six girls who are the A-squad cheerleaders and our captain played by Marley Shelton gets pregnant, so we devise this heist. We rob this bank to help her out. It’s just really uppitty, fast-paced, cutesy. Whenever we’re not wearing our cheerleader uniforms, we are wearing our own signature colors that represent our personalities. I’m black-and-blue; my name’s Kansas: I’m like the tough girl. Marley Shelton, who’s pregnant, her color is pink; she’s very sweet. Rachel Blanchard is in it, and she plays Hannah and she’s purple.

I don’t think people expected you to be this gregarious considering the geek you played in American Pie…
Geek? She’s a sweet choirgirl…with a movie like American Pie there’s not too much to get. There aren’t too many layers to get into. Duh! Whereas like Angela in American Beauty, you could really get into the depths of the character, but Heather was like a cute girl.

Who is the favorite character you’ve played?
Well, I really bring a part of myself in every character I play, so there’s a little bit of me in everybody. And you have to find out what part it is.

Live Virgin is coming to DVD soon as well. That’s something you shot years ago…
I didn’t know anything about that, and that’s really weird. I did that years ago and now it’s coming out. But now I heard that they changed it to American Virgin! Is this true? Is this true? I’ll be so upset. I’m gonna kill myself tonight. God, I can’t believe it. But I had a lot of fun on that. It was an independent film, a French production. I was like the live virgin. It was a chance to play the lead. And you know Bob, Robert Loggia played my father and Bob Hoskins was in it, Sally Kellerman. It was just a lot of fun. It’s really not as raunchy as you might think.

Finally, is there any actress you try to emulate?
I like being me and I think that, I know that, I have a lot of growing to do and a lot of learning to do and I just want to focus on just working really hard, but yet see what comes my way. I admire a lot of other people, but I like being myself.

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