Samantha Morton: In Person

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Mike Mcloughlin/EIFF

Samantha Morton is never quite as you expect her to be. An eclectic career and fearsome intensity of performance make it hard to pin down her own personality while you’re watching her films. And yet she was unmistakeable when she took the stage at the Edinburgh International Film Festival to discuss her films with Hannah McGill.

Morton took some umbrage at the notion that she was best known for “the shouty parts.” But every time a film clip was shown, the vividness that’s created that impression was right there on screen: wide-eyed openness wrapped around inflammable material that could go off any second, and might take your head off along the way.

“I’ve always enjoyed the acting process, but not all the peripheral stuff,” she said. “I’m sure I was a nightmare when I first started. I had no training and didn’t know how to deal with slipping in and out of a character. I’d see other actresses doing exercises and voice work and breathing, and say ‘What are you doing?’ ”

As befits someone tempted out of semi-retirement by Woody Allen, her relationship with directors is key. She’s full of praise for “wonderful directors like Ken Loach who take an interest in their actors beyond the film set, in what they’re doing, what they’re learning about. Which is unlike most of them and most American directors.” One U.S. director served her well and gave her a high Hollywood profile in Minority Report, a choice she described as not so unlikely having been a keen sci-fi reader as a child. Plus: “Well, it was Spielberg. He is rather wonderful.”

Morton is a serious person with strong convictions, but when asked whether she’d like to try a comedy the answer was an anecdote delivered with sweet comic timing. “I’d love to do a comedy. In fact I thought I just had. A script came (Expired), written by a lady writer-director with not many credits (Cecilia Miniucchi), about a meter maid. I read it and just really laughed. Then while filming it I mentioned to her that it was really funny, and she said (Morton, who’s a master of accents, slips into disgruntled Italian to much audience laughter): ‘Is not a comedy. Is not. Happen to a friend of mine.’ So when you see it just remember: I thought I was in a comedy.”

Morton turns out to have lots of juicy anecdotes. Like the epic with no director: River Queen, a project started by New Zealander Vincent Ward. “We were two million dollars over budget – after two weeks. Ward was fired, but we just carried on, mostly being directed by the DP Alun Bollinger.” Will it ever be released? “No. I don’t think so.” In fact the film’s out on Region 4 DVD and sounds worth a look for the oddity value alone.

She was famously replaced on The Brothers Grimm by the producers, and a much-reported Harvey Weinstein insult which Morton says she discovered while flicking through a making-of book in London surely caused this most empathetic actress great annoyance. She now shrugs it off – just about. “I only hope my brother never meets him.”

The lost opportunity causes her no regrets. Morton doesn’t seem to go in for them. “If I thought that was it, that I’d never get the chance to work with Terry (Gilliam) that would be awful. But we got on so well and worked so hard, we will definitely work together at some time.”

The way she says it leaves no room for doubt on the subject. She says everything like that.

© 2007 Tim Hayes. All rights reserved.

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