Whether she’s acting in film or television, modeling for Lancome cosmetics or using her celebrity to bring awareness to a variety of causes, Mena Suvari has always been able to grab our attention. She’s come a long way from her career-making role in the film American Beauty and has since starred in films like The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh and Day of the Dead and also on television where she played Lauren Ambrose‘s girlfriend in the acclaimed HBO drama Six Feet Under.
In the new erotically charged indie film Hemingway’s Garden of Eden, Suvari plays Catherine, an heiress who quickly meets and marries a writer (played by Jack Huston). Upon growing bored with life and her marriage, she invites the beautiful Marita (Caterina Morino) into their lives and their bed. Do things go well from that point on? You’ll have to watch the movie and find out.
AfterEllen.com asked Suvari about making the movie and how she approached nudity, love scenes with another woman and the age-old question of love.
AfterEllen.com: When doing a period piece like Hemingway’s Garden of Eden, is your preparation radically different from a role in a contemporary film?
Mena Suvari: I always try to immerse myself completely into what i do and it was very important to me that Catherine was portrayed as close as possible to the original story of the book. Therefore, I studied the book through in and through out as well as read it several times to be able to fully grasp Catherine and her struggles. We were also given a huge package full of information on the time period, including the politics, dress, and even specific language of the time. We then spent a great deal of time discussing every aspect of the script in reference to the book to make sure we were all fully prepared.
AE: Catherine is someone who is so comfortable with her sexuality and even toying with gender roles (such as when she tells David in bed that he’s the girl and she’s the boy). Is she ahead of her time?
MS: I believe that Catherine suffers from a great deal of insecurity and spent most of her life struggling with her inner desires of “being a boy” and of what she was expected to do. I think she finds a sort of solace in the beginning of her relationship with David and feels comfortable to embark on her transformation, yet unaware of where it will eventually lead her. She’s a woman who is strong in her character and individualistic. She dresses in fisherman’s shirts, wears shorts, and travels alone, which are all definitely aspects of a woman ahead of her time.
AE: Do you see the affair with Marita as more about control than actually being about sexuality? Or maybe it’s a little bit of both? (Or am I totally off base?)
MS: I think that Catherine is looking for a new way to live her life and make herself happy. I believe she enjoys taunting David with this new desire of having another woman and thinks that in some respect she might garner more affection/acceptance from him, but i do think that the majority of choices Catherine makes are for the sole purpose of making sense out of her own internal chaos. She enjoys experimenting with the feeling of being the “man” in the relationship, but at the same time is trying to also be the “good,” productive, “perfect” wife.
AE: Is it easier or more difficult to do a love scene with another woman as opposed to with a man?
MS: I think that all love scenes are a bit awkward to shoot regardless of the sex.
AE: The sets and costumes are fantastic. How much did that help you get into the role of Catherine?
MS: Oh, a great deal! I was thankful to be working in such a picturesque location and have the opportunity to work with such an amazing costumer, Alexandra Byrne. I am a huge lover of all things fashion and I felt like a kid in a candy store! There was one particular scene where Catherine meets Colonel Philip Boyle (played by Richard E. Grant) and she is wearing a peacock blue chiffon gown. The fabric was an original of the house of Chanel from the 1920s/’30s and was made into the style of dress that i wore. It was absolute magic for me! I am a HUGE fan of the 1920s/’30s and so it was a dream fro me to be transported back into that time.
AE: Catherine frowns upon David’s reviews of his work. Is it merely that she’s threatened that David will lose interest in her?
MS: I think that based upon her insecurities, she’s not able to support her husbands’ success. It definitely threatens her. Yet, I don’t believe Catherine puts much thought into her husband losing interest in her. I think that what she finds comfort in, is knowing that she is able to manipulate David in the ways that she wants.
AE: David calls Catherine “devil” almost like a pet name yet she isn’t exactly an angel at times. Do you think it’s wrong or accurate to think of her as more bad than good?
MS: After Catherine plays her first role-reversal game with David she asks him is they’ve “gone to the devil” because, I believe, that she wants reassurance for herself. Again, I feel that a lot of the choices that Catherine makes stem from her insecurities and her somewhat spontaneous nature. I don’t believe that it’s a negative or mean-spirited place she comes from. Therefore, I hope that people are able to identify with that and not just see her as “bad.” There’s a tornado of emotion swirling around within Catherine and I feel she’s been trying all her life to make sense of it all.
AE: Do you personally think it’s possible to be in love with two people at the same time? David says no in the film but —
MS: I think that being in love with more than one person is definitely possible, it’s just a question of whether or not the person acts on those desires and how far they go with expressing that love. Although, being in relationships in general are always a bit of a challenge. Many times people act based on what they are taught and what society accepts/demands as normal and don’t always behave as they themselves would wish.
AE: You’ve appeared nude before in films before. Does it get easier the more you do it or is it always awkward?
MS: They’re always a bit uncomfortable for everyone, I believe. But you make sure to communicate the type of environment you prefer to work in and remain professional.
AE: Because Garden of Eden is said to be semi-autobiographical, did you do any research into Hemingway’s life or did you stick to the script?
MS: I mainly stuck to the study of the book as well as the script, but also read up on the time period and Hemingway himself throughout the packet we were given from our director, John Irvin.
AE: What did you find in Catherine that you could relate to?
MS: I felt that could relate to the inner struggles of growing up as a woman who is, to a certain extent, expected to look, act, and behave a certain way and always feeling a bit different from that; feeling as a woman who wanted to live her life her own way and make her own decisions.
Hemingway’s Garden of Eden opens in select theaters today.