Emily Mortimer about Caine, Scorsese and Londons violent streets
Emily Mortimer is one of the busiest British Actresses these days. She started her film career working on small projects like “Young Adam” and “Bright Young Things” and filling small roles in blockbusters such as “The 51st State” and “Elizabeth”, but in 2005 she leapt to prominence when she took a major role in Woody Allen‘s “Match point“, where she played the sweet daughter of an English aristocrat. Since then she’s divided her work between major Hollywood films, including Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller “Shutter Island,” where she plays a mental patient, and independent pictures, such as the upcoming City Island.
met Emily Mortimer at the Four Season Hotel in Beverly Hills. She was dressed elegantly, her long shiny hair straddled her shoulders, her jovial face exuded warmth and her big blue eyes glinted with intelligence. Emily is not glamorous, but endowed with pure beauty. She speaks calmly yet she brims with vibrant energy and infinite charm.
We are used to seeing Emily Mortimer playing sweet, innocent and girly characters, but in the vigilante drama, Harry Brown, we see her inhabiting the character of a police detective who battles violent teenagers in the unruly streets of east London.
The film, directed by first timer, Daniel Barber, follows an aging war veteran (Sir Michael Caine), as he turns vigilante, killing and torturing teen gang members, who murdered his best friend. Inspector Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer) is assigned to investigate the killings.
Emily Mortimer embraced and relished the opportunity to do something that she hadn’t done before.
“It’s to do things or just try to do things that are different from the last and try to not bore myself or anyone else in the process and not to try to do the same thing twice,” she said. “I think that I’m best when I’m out of my comfort zone.”
Although Mortimer found the script gripping and interesting she was nervous about it, because it sounded too familiar.
“You switch on the telly and there are a thirty channels of TV showing cop dramas. I was nervous that there was a potential for it to fall into a clichÃ©.”
But watching Daniel Barber’s Oscar-nominated short film “The Tonto Woman” helped to alleviate her concerns.
“It was very epic and had an odd sort of western vibe to it and intense scenes between characters and it was beautifully shot.” She enthused. “The way the characters interacted in that film was striking and unusual.”
So she was excited to meet Daniel Barber, who was planning to use the western as a model for approaching the movie.
“I knew from talking to him that he had an auteur take on the whole thing and he was going to elevate it to something that would be more epic and strange and fatalistic and kinda badass than what we’re used to seeing on the telly. I suddenly realized, ‘Yeah, that’s true and he’s the vigilante. This is kind of cool and interesting’. He talked about how he was going to shoot certain scenes with me in them and use the camera from down below, looking up which I think is called a cowboy shot; anyway, all that kind of stuff which seemed really exciting,” she said.
Daniel Barber didn’t talk to Emily Mortimer about how he was going to portray the violence in the movie. In fact, she was taken aback by its gruesome brutality and found it difficult to watch.
“It is unseemly what goes on and it’s hard to stomach and it’s hard to accept what people do to each other. It’s horrifying,” she stressed. “I think that it’s good that it’s portrayed in all its ugliness. The film certainly doesn’t glamorise violence. It’s as difficult and uncomfortable to watch as it should be, I think.”
Emily spent some time with a female detective in east London before embarking on the project.
“It was really interesting. First of all, practically what ended up in the movie that I got from her was a lot of those interview scenes where we’re interviewing the lads and trying to get confessions out of them.”
In the movie, as in reality, the gang members close ranks and refuse to collaborate with the police investigators. To every question asked, they reply “No comment.” Emily Mortimer was fascinated as she watched detectives interviewing those gangsters.
“It’s real psychological games that get played out in those rooms but you’re up against these gangs and it’s impossible to break through.” She said. “Once you get them to talk you’re onto something but they’re just so good at it and they know that all the others are doing the same thing. It’s watertight. We ended up improvising those scenes in the end and a lot of the dialogue in them comes from having spent time with this lady and the way I talk to them and try to get confessions out of them was directly lifted from spending time with her.”
But what truly excited Emily Mortimer about this project was the opportunity to act opposite the screen legend, Sir Michael Caine, who charmed her with his wit, inspired her with professionalism and delighted her with his humour.
“He was so great,” she smiled. “He’s definitely not method, thank God. He is the most expert professional dude I’ve ever really worked with, but he’s been in it for such a long time and so he knows what he’s doing. He turns up and is completely prepared. He delivers an amazing performance and there’s no nonsense, no complaining or high maintenance silliness going on. He doesn’t fart around. He gets on with it and then goes home. In the meantime, he’ll have a joke and a laugh and a cup of tea. He’s also got a twinkle in his eye and he’s a terrible giggle, which is fatal for me. I loved him!”
It’s quite admirable to have such stars committing themselves to work on such an independent project with a meagre budget, an uncertain outcome and a first-time director. Actually, Emily Mortimer found it all exciting.
“It’s so different doing a film like this which doesn’t have a lot of money and it’s incredibly light schedule and so you’re working in this really intense way in a few weeks and it’s done. It just feels more chaotic somehow but in a good way. It’s kind of a miracle that it all comes off and you’re not sure until the day before you start shooting or even while you’re shooting whether or not it’s all going to work out or whether the money is going to fall apart,” she added.
Emily Mortimer couldn’t resist comparing this with her contrasting experience on Scorsese’s film “Shutter Island,” where there was more time for everything and the chaos factor was infinitely reduced.
“You walk onto a Scorsese set and it’s just silent and everything is this well oiled machine and you could hear a pin drop. It’s kind of old school and classy as hell,” she enthused. “But the amazing thing about someone like Scorsese is that he has the enthusiasm for what he does which is the same enthusiasm as a first time director like Daniel. The level of passion and enthusiasm that both have is the same.”
Later, Mortimer revealed to me that she would love to go to Cannes Film Festival. “You better get a role in a Woody Allen’s film then, ” I joked. “You’re right,” she giggled. “I was there with ‘Match Point’.”
My encounter with Emily Mortimer was brief but long enough to make a good impression on me. I was truly charmed and delighted by this down-to-earth, lovely actress.