Emily Mortimer: The Q Interview

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The Independent Culture

The daughter of Rumpole creator Sir John Mortimer, Emily, 31, studied at Oxford, where she was spotted acting in a student play. She has enjoyed Hollywood success, but her latest films are British - Young Adam and Bright Young Things. She lives with her actor husband Alessandro Nivola in LA and London. Shortly after this interview, they had a son - as yet unnamed but described by his grandfather as "very elegant".

How is married life treating you?

I like being married. Very conventionally, I got pregnant on my wedding night. That's quite unracy isn't it? But that's how it happened, and I've suddenly got these really grown-up bosoms which I'm having to adapt my whole personality around.

Your parents must be happy.

My mum has always been very damning about my mothering potential actually. She said I'd leave my baby on the tube or something. Then somebody said, "Emily, leave her baby on a tube? Surely you mean in a taxi?" But I think she's come round a bit now.

Where's home at the moment?

I don't really know where I live - that's a traumatic section of my life. We've just bought a house in Echo Park, east LA, and I guess for the time being we're going to be there, but I've still got my place in London. I create spurious excuses for coming home all the time, and I work here as much as I can. My parents are here too, and I'm still pathetically close to them.

Filming Young Adam, were you nervous about the sex scene where you're covered in tomato ketchup, ink and custard?

I didn't really think about it until it happened. And actually it was quite enjoyable. Acting can be much more exposing with your clothes on - if you're in a comedy and you're not funny, or if you're meant to be in love and it just looks cheesy.

What did your parents think of the x-rated condiment scene?

They're irritatingly unshockable. My dad spent a lot of his life defending pornographic films in censorship cases so he's got a hard skin when it comes to that sort of stuff. He used to take his glasses off at the worst bits, so it just became a kind of pink blur. But he didn't take his glasses off at all during Young Adam, so he obviously wasn't that shocked.

Is there a big rivalry with other actresses?

Sometimes. There are normally one or two you're always up against, and sometimes you get the job, and sometimes they do. You can allow yourself to get irritated by anybody in that situation, but generally you have to avoid the neuroses, because that way madness lies. My dad wrote a short story once called "The Other Girl" based on me always coming home from auditions and saying: "It was down to me and one other girl, and the other girl got it." It was a ghost story about this "other girl", a sort of phantom who was haunting an actress. Now there are a few "other girls" but I'm not telling you who they are.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

My dad's advice was to always avoid the temptation of doing anything heroic, because it'll only get you into serious trouble. And my mother told me never to shave my legs because if you do it only grows back thick and hairy and horrible.

You once played an answerphone message from Bruce Willis back to your friends so many times the tape wore out. Do you still get starstruck?

Definitely a tiny bit - there's always the first 10 minutes where you can't quite believe who you're with. It reminds me of how I used to feel at sixth form dances: suddenly being with guys from the boys' school and not knowing where to put yourself. You're terrified of opening your mouth because you know something stupid is going to come out.

Anyone in particular?

I was very starstruck by Samuel L Jackson on The 51st State. For the first three weeks of filming he'd come into the make-up truck and I wanted desperately to make friends with him, but I didn't really know how. I knew he liked golf but I couldn't really make any conversation about that, apart from saying "Seve Ballesteros is great" or something and then getting completely lost. Finally, I asked him about his laptop computer, and he showed me how to work it. After that we bonded.

No on-set dramas?

Oh yes! Once I was in a lift with him for this scene. I had my gun up against his neck, and he was about a millimetre away from my nose. It was all very cool - I was head to toe in leather, with so much make-up I could hardly open my eyes. The director shouted "cut" but Sam just kept staring at me. I was thinking, "Is this some kind of game: a test I'm supposed to pass?" He was just being cheeky, but nobody knew quite what to do. I thought I'd laugh to break the moment. But as I went to laugh, not one but two of these enormous bubbles of snot came out of my nostrils. They practically pinged against his nose, and he just sort of grimaced and walked off.

Do you read your interviews in the press?

No. I feel slightly sick at the thought of reading about myself sounding off about something. Doing press is like eating a McDonald's: while it's going on it's vaguely enjoyable - you're seduced by your own vanity and taking yourself rather seriously - but immediately afterwards you feel sick. It's almost as if you can't believe you've just talked about yourself for such a long time, and it's all such a lot of nonsense. And half the time you feel as if you're regurgitating stuff you've said before.

So, tell me something you haven't said before?

Err, I can play "Love Me Do" on the mouth organ. An ex-boyfriend taught me that: it's my hidden talent.

Are you getting recognised more often now?

No, I've only ever been recognised twice - once by a kid and once by a man at a rave.

'Bright Young Things' and 'Young Adam' are on general release