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Interview with Marcia Gay Harden, co-star of The Dead Girl

Marcia Gay Harden co-stars in The Dead Girl as Melora, a mother who reacts to the recent murder of her daughter, Krista (Brittany Murphy). Directed by Karen Moncrieff. Mary Beth Hurt has acted in films such as American Dreams, Bad News Bears, Mona Lisa Smile to Mystic River, Gaudi Afternoon and Pollock. Her upcoming films include The Hoax and The Invisible. I had the privilege to interview her.

First Look Pictures will release The Dead Girl on December 29th, 2006 at the Angelika Film Center.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What attracted you to the script?

MGH: The great title. Any script that anybody wants to send me, I’m always thrilled about seeing what they’re doing. But, usually, I say, “What is it?” and they give me the briefest description of that part and I say, “Who is it?”, meaning, “Who’s directing?” and then I say, “Where is it?” because then I have to start negotiating family and how long it is and, someplace in there, “Who’s in it?” I ask if it’s expansive enough and they say, “Well, you’ve done it before,” or “Well, you can do it with your eyes closed,” or “Well, it’s a challenge. Read it and let us know”. In this case, I had read it, loved the format, loved the way it was told in a sort of a flash back. I liked the fact that it was low budget and the director was just asking for a week from each of us.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you get into character?

MGH: It’s different for every character. [I] open my imagination to what it’s like to be other people [and] observe other people. I would play [off] of that with someone and it would go in the back of my mind. Then, [I] unzip that part of me that’s universal and emotional and allow those things that are [me] to filter into the character until [I] have this suit that’s very difficult to describe. You can’t say when this thing stops and this thing ends—it just becomes something new.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you perceive your character, Melora?

MGH: With the [movie’s] title, people think, “Oh, it’s as if all the women have something dead inside of them”. But, with this character, there’s an awakening and it happens onscreen that she has a release and is able to reach out despite the fact that it’s going to throw her life into a topsy-turvy place to bring this child in. I think that tragedy like that has to be so [full of impact] that it opens the possibility of a door for change. Yet, I also do believe that we are who we are. [Assuming] is who she is, there will be things that she brings into her life that will be the same, but she won’t be bringing this person into the home and that will be an area—the area of sexual abuse— that she’s going to be hyper-aware for and maybe even overprotective. It’s a fact of life that we have to protect our children from violence and danger and perversion and it makes me very sad.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What distinguishes director Karen Moncrieff from other directors?

MGH: The fact that she was breastfeeding in the car in between “Action” and “Cut”—I’m serious.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Did you get a chance to meet Brittany Murphy during the shoot? MGH: Brittany [Murphy] came one day on set while I was there. She’s so sweet and out there and excited. I didn’t actually see her working; I just saw her in character.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you ever plan on directing a film?

MGH: I have not had a story that really grabbed me by the ear. I want to.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about the scarcity of good roles for older actors?

MGH: I always knew that, so, when I was in my thirties [and] entering the business, I knew that’s what it was going to be. It’s not like the glass was shattered for me. So, [I] look where [I] can and [I] pay the rent where [I] can—it’s not a shocker; it’s a fact. What I’m grateful is [that] there are these stories from Karen [Moncrieff] and there are these opportunities to work like this with great actresses in small chunks of time.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you want audiences to take away from watching The Dead Girl?

MGH: I always hope that people walk away with some kind of hope and understanding of humanity. In every film that I do, if I can be a character that anybody can relate to, maybe they’ll understand something about the human experience—that’s what a storyteller tries to do.

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