Tough Like Maria

A Conversation with Maria Bello, Sunday, February 12, 3 p.m., Metro Theatre

First thing you should know is that Maria Bello is not a Thai boxer. “I can’t believe that story is still going around. A long time ago I was doing this TV series called Mr. & Mrs. Smith and I did some training, but the story obviously stuck.”

Nonetheless, Maria Bello, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, is no willowy wraith either. “When I talk about A History of Violence,” said the former Pennsylvania-and-Jersey girl who played Viggo Mortensen’s sexy yet maternal wife Edie Stall, “I like to talk about Viggo and David [Cronenberg, the director]. I like these people who inspire me. Like Oliver Stone, whom I’m working with now on this untitled 9/11 film. I like to talk about ideas, I like to collaborate on ideas. But then what I really like are directors who have a strong vision, who make me jump through hoops but later feel glad that I did. A director with a strong arm and with strong vision—focused. I don’t like to work for pussy directors. Can I say that? Can you print that?” she laughed.

Bello will be here from her adopted Venice, California-area home, riding the crest of two waves, both directed by non-p-word directors. “I think a lot of people are going to be amazed at Jason Reitman,” she said via telephone last week, talking about the son of Montecito Pictures’ Ivan Reitman, who directed Thank You for Smoking, the festival closer starring Bello, among others. “He knew exactly what he wanted, even though he’s not very experienced. He had a very strong vision. I think there are people who will be very proud up there. And the film is so funny and charming and it has a great political edge, which we need nowadays. We need to be able to laugh at our foibles,” she said.

Maria Elaina Bello was born in 1967 in Pennsylvania. Raised in a Polish-Italian Catholic family, she came to acting late in her college years, attending Villanova University, majoring in political science, until she took an acting class and succumbed to the bug. Her most famous roles up to last year were Dr. Anna Del Amico in ER and Natalie in the William H. Macy film The Cooler. She’s somewhat comfortable talking about acting, but she’s not glib about technique. “I can tell them that, like life, it’s more about the journey than the destination. But at the same time if I hear Jodie Foster talking I would listen. There’s always something you can learn about acting. And it’s all just about the work.”

Bello’s particularly proud of her performance in History, lighting up when asked about the scene in the hospital where she throws up discovering the truth about her husband. “Every time I read that in the script I felt like throwing up. So I called David late one night.” She asked if there was a bathroom near on the set and he said, “No, but we’ll build one.” The truth is she actually did vomit when they shot that riveting scene. Overtly grateful not to be asked about the torrid sex scenes, she did laugh when asked about famously watching the film with her father. He sat through the sex scenes. “He was fine—he told me, ‘You were good,’” she said. “And then I walk into the room nude and he said, ‘Oh my God!’”

She’s very busy now with Oliver Stone and has two films poised for release, Flicka and The Sisters, which is based loosely on Chekhov’s Three Sisters. She has a screenplay, a female Indiana Jones role she would like to do. But most of all, she wants to kick a bit of Hollywood behind. “I’d really like to do a romantic comedy, but a strong one. You know, like Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Adam’s Rib. Not the kind they are doing today with pining, victim-y women and hot men. I’d like to do something real,” she said.

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