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In America, In Character 

Samantha Morton respects her roles

By Samantha Morton's own admission, it may be time to lighten up already.

After all, it's been several years since the 26-year-old British actress first made her mark in frilly, fanciful BBC mini-series like Emma or Tom Jones. And, following her radiant Oscar-nominated turn as Sean Penn's mute love interest in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Morton seems to have specialized in delving into many a dark place -- as a doomed heroin junkie in the indie drama Jesus' Son, as an amoral vagabond in the little-seen Morvern Callar, or, most prominently, as a tortured psychic in the Cruise/Spielberg blockbuster Minority Report.

While hardly a romp, the beautifully realized In America (now playing in Charlotte) definitely qualifies as a step in the right direction. Directed and co-written by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot), it's the lyrical and heartfelt semi-autobiographical story of an anguished Irish couple that emigrates to New York in the early 1980s to raise two adolescent daughters and work through their grief over the recent death of a young son. Despite the potentially oppressive premise, the film is ultimately uplifting, with warmth and spirit to spare. Morton discussed the movie during a recent interview with CL.

Creative Loafing: Talk about going from one extreme to the other. Is it true you had only a few days off between finishing up this huge Hollywood production (Minority Report) and then starting work on this low-budget little indie project?

Samantha Morton: Well, we had to wait a couple of weeks for my hair to grow out, at least a little bit, but yeah, that was essentially how it happened. Another actress (Kate Winslet) dropped out at the last minute, and by that time my schedule had suddenly opened up, so it seemed to be very fortuitous timing.

As a mother yourself, did you relate to the maternal aspects to this character?

Sure, but I don't think it's an exclusivity thing, or that you have to be a mother to feel that. It's more universal than that.

You don't feel like you need to relate or identify with a character in order to play it?

No, you just have to respect it.

Do you learn something from each role you play?

I try to, but it's often not in the moment, but in retrospect, when you look back on something and make some sort of realization.

Given the intensity of your work in your last few films, do you have any burning desire to do a breezy romantic comedy? And how hard is it to convince people you're capable of that, when you're primarily known for serious dramas?

It's true that part of my desire to do In America was getting to play somebody who was more together, compared to the other characters people have seen me do. Of course, I'd absolutely love to do a romantic comedy, but you're right. So much of what you seem to be offered is based on what people have already seen from you. I think it gets down to imagination, and just putting it out there. I know a lot of people in this business can be cynical about the studio system, or cynical about this or that, but I have a lot of faith in people. I don't tend to get upset if something doesn't happen, because I feel it wasn't meant to be.

What memories do you have about going to the Oscars?

Oh, God, I remember I was having a bit of a conundrum. I almost couldn't get in because I lost my ticket. Nobody recognized me, of course. Why would they? I kept telling them my name had to be on one of their lists somewhere. Part of the problem was I ended up without a proper top to wear. Are you sure you want to hear this? I'd just had my daughter and I was still breast-feeding. My boobs were huge, frankly, and on the ride over they started leaking. In a pinch, all I could get my hands on in the back of the limo was this Sex Pistols/God Save the Queen T-shirt I'd worn on my flight over from England. So there I was, wearing a T-shirt with this beautiful suit. I don't have my own stylist or publicist or anything like that, so I was sitting in the audience thinking to myself, "I can't believe I'm here at the Oscars wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt. No wonder I nearly didn't get in!"

Did you meet anyone that night who really impressed you?

Not really. I mean, I don't mean to be disrespectful. I have respect for them, but it doesn't mean I was star-struck. I'd probably be more nervous if I walked into a room and Patti Smith was sitting there. I'd probably just faint. I did get to meet Michael Stipe, who produced one of the movies that year [Being John Malkovich], so that was pretty cool. It's funny. Maybe it's because everyone there is part of the same industry, you know? I mean, if you're an accountant and you go to a convention with a bunch of other accountants, you're probably not going to be very nervous being around a lot of people who essentially do the same kind of work you do.

You've worked with Tom Cruise, and you're getting ready to co-star with Johnny Depp (in The Libertine). Do you aspire to that level of stardom or clout, or do you prefer maintaining a certain anonymity?

I don't really analyze it. I have respect for what I do, but I think you have to take it day by day or job by job, thinking very carefully about what's required of you before you agree to do something. For people like Tom and Johnny, it's happened over many, many years. They're brilliant actors, and along the way they've also become these huge movie stars, but they're still brilliant actors, you know? It just so happens millions of people enjoy watching them. If that were to happen to me, I don't know how I'd react, frankly.

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