Emily Mortimer is only in the anthology film “Rio, I Love You” for about five minutes, but for her it’s about quality, not quantity. The English actress pops up in one of a handful of shorts set in the Brazilian metropolis, playing a snappy wife to an older, wheelchair-bound man (Basil Hoffman). For her it was a chance to be directed by one of the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers: Italy’s Paolo Sorrentino, whose “The Great Beauty” won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2014.
You were also in “Paris, Je T’aime,” another city movie by the same producers. In fact, your segment was directed by the late Wes Craven, who had previously cast you in “Scream 3.”
Wes Craven gave me my first job in Hollywood. I was visiting my boyfriend in L.A. and got sent along to auditions for “Scream 3.” I went knowing I wasn’t going to get the job. But I met him and we got along so well that he gave me the job. He was so lovely. I had just gone on holiday and two weeks later I was running around a house in the Hollywood Hills being chased by a man with a Scream mask on. I was so sad when he died.
You’ve worked with a lot of great directors. How did you wind up working for Sorrentino?
I had met Paolo for another movie he had done in America. I didn’t get the job, but he and I had a very nice chat. I was a huge, huge fan of his from “Il Divo” and I had really sort of busted all over him. I guess he remembered my adoration. I just gravitate towards those auteur filmmakers who are brave enough to put the weird s— that goes on in the brain on film — or digital, which it is now. I like helping them tell their story, being a puppet in their little puppet theater. That’s my idea of heaven.
Giving yourself over to a director also presumably means losing some kind of control.
I don’t mind losing control like that as long as I trust the person who’s the puppeteer. I get a weird thrill out of it. There’s nothing worse than putting yourself in the hands of someone you don’t trust, who’s not necessarily going to make a good film. The best directors make you understand the world you’re in. If you’re in a Woody Allen film you kind of know what the world is anyway, because you’ve seen a lot of Woody Allen films. On a Scorsese film [Ed. She was in his “Shelter Island”] he’ll show you three or four movies he shows everyone, and immediately you understand the world. It’s a brilliant trick, but that’s all it is.
With Woody Allen, a lot of actors who’ve worked with him talk about how he tells you almost nothing. You just have to trust that what you’re doing is good. How was making “Match Point”?
The same. But he’s so nice and affable. It’s not that he’s intimidating. He’s very sweet and easy to talk to — long as you don’t talk about the film itself. [Laughs] You can have a great conversation about where to get good curry or about blues music or whatever. When it comes to, “What the f— am I meant to be doing in this scene?” It’s off-limits, which is quite good, in a way. At the time I was so desperately anxious about it. I kept thinking, “I’m going to be the worst performer in the whole Woody Allen canon. This is going to be a great Woody Allen film and I’m going to be the only s— person in it.” I remember he kept saying, “You do know I know what I’m doing, right?” When I watched the film I was like, “Oh my god, he’s right.” I realized in retrospect what was brilliant about his technique was it teaches you to be in the moment. You have to be able to react to the other actors rather than do some jazz you rehearsed beforehand or repeat the same thing every time. It’s kind of exhilarating — but frightening at the time.
Had you been to Rio before?
I’d been there once before — again for a short amount of time. It was before my first theater job. I’d gone down to the Amazon on a boat taking medical supplies to far-off villages. It was a non-profit organization. I didn’t realize it was a Christian organization — not that that was a bad thing. There were prayer meetings every night. We had the most incredible experience, swimming in the Amazon and seeing piranha fish and going to villages. But by the time we got to Rio and two days before we went home, my friend who was on the trip with me got blind drunk for two days. We’d been so worthy for this trip on this Christian boat. Rio was just a haze of drunkenness for me. I don’t remember anything, apart from standing on the floor in some nightclub.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge