The return of Samantha Morton

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She hasn’t been on our screens for a while, but now Samantha Morton is back with a superb Iraq War film. Tom Huddleston meets her

Samantha Morton has been in hiding. Since 2009, when she shot military drama ‘The Messenger’, which finally hits our screens this week, and directed her devastating debut, ‘The Unloved’, the Oscar-winning, 34-year-old British star of ‘Sweet and Lowdown’ and ‘Minority Report’ has been lying low, enjoying life as a mother and planning her comeback. But with roles in two of 2012’s biggest films, David Cronenberg’s ‘Cosmopolis’ and sci-fi epic ‘John Carter of Mars’, she won’t be able to stay in the shadows much longer.

Where have you been the past couple of years?
‘Well, I’ve had a baby. I’d worked solidly for years and I was tired. “The Unloved” really took it out of me, and you can’t do both – make movies and deal with a family. Butmy daughter’s at nursery now so I feel a bit less guilty.’

Why do you think ‘The Messenger’ ended up sitting on the shelf for two years?
‘It was very well received in America, so I don’t know. In America, it came out at the same time as “The Hurt Locker”, which may have been a bit of an overload. But this is a very different movie. It’s not just a guy’s film, it does have a very feminine side to it. It reminds me of “The Last Detail”, and you don’t really see men like that on screen any more, so vulnerable.’

The Messenger’ is quite an unusual film. Did the end result match your expectations?
‘I don’t really have any expectations, other than I want the director to make the film they want to make. That’s due to experience: you think you’re part of a great film, and then the director’s on the phone crying because the producer won’t let him do this or that. But it was all there on the page, Oren [Moverman, writer-director] writes very atmospherically, his attention to atmosphere and nuance is really brilliant. And he writes incredibly well for women.’

Is there something special about working with first-time directors?
‘It’s a risk, isn’t it? I’ve been on sets since I was 11 or 12 and I’ve been lucky enough to be in constant work. But sometimes a first-time director can be a little bit meek with the crew. But they’ve got their vision and I like to be able to support people through that. It doesn’t matter to me that they’ve not done anything before, as long as they know their story.’

Has directing your own film changed your perspective?
‘Definitely. It strengthened my opinions of writer-directors. I don’t mean to be rude, but a lot of the time when you’re working with a director that isn’t a writer, they can be more like stage managers. There’s a brilliant cinematographer, they’ve got a top-drawer editor. But “The Unloved” took up three years of my life, so I understood the amount of work that goes into a film for someone like Lynne Ramsey, Woody Allen or Charlie Kaufman. I had no idea.’

You’re a political person, and this is a film which deals with powerful ideas about the role of the military. Was that appealing to you?
‘Well, obviously I’m against the war on Iraq. But I just think the way militaries are run needs modernising in regards to who is allowed to become a soldier. The screening process needs to be radically changed. It’s like going into a prison and thinking: God, this was designed in the nineteenth century. We’re in a very different place now.’

Did you talk politics on set?
‘No, that’s my business, that’s my personal view. I’m not even saying the film is anti-war, but I certainly came away from it thinking: Look what we’re doing, look what’s happening to people. And the thing is, I love America. As a kid I dreamed about living there, being there. Just because I might not agree with their policies doesn’t mean I don’t love the country.’

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Did you have to avoid getting into political conversations, or do you just wade in?
‘I don’t really avoid anything, me! But I think everyone has a right to an opinion. And I love listening, I can change as well. My opinions have changed dramatically now I’m older, with the birth of my children. You always grow up, don’t you?’

You seem, more than most actors, to make only the projects you honestly care about…
‘Well, I wouldn’t be involved in something I didn’t want to do, would I? It’s me! But it’s tricky. I’ve been offered things in the past, I’ve read it and gone, “I don’t get it!” Then it comes out and it’s really good. I’ll go and see it and I’ll be like, “It’s a fucking comedy! Why didn’t you tell me it’s a comedy? That’s why I didn’t get it, nobody said, there was no cover letter with it! I’d have done it if I’d known…”’

You haven’t done much comedy, have you?
‘Not yet. Hey, comedy directors out there, give me a go! The Farrelly brothers said in an interview that they’d like to work with Samantha Morton. So bring it on! I love “Dumb and Dumber”!’

And can you tell me anything about ‘Cosmopolis’, which you’re shooting soon with David Cronenberg?
‘No! I’m just excited. And I’m a huge fan so when I spoke to David I was just talking about his film “The Brood” which is one of my favourites. I just think he’s amazing. I’ll have to calm down before I go on set!’

Read our review of 'The Messenger' here

Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston



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