(interview with English actress Catherine McCormack)(Interview)
English actress Catherine McCormack is at the heart of a paradox. Aside from Braveheart (1995), in which she was memorable in a pivotal if ornamental role, she hasn't appeared in a good film. Yet, in her thoughtful way, she has been extraordinary in each screen outing. She spun gold from dross in February's Dangerous Beauty, and this month she stars, alongside Rachel Weisz and Anna Friel, as one of three English women laboring on a farm during World War II, in The Land Girls. David Leland's movie - itself labored - is about the accelerated pace of wartime romances, but McCormack has no truck with the love-among-the-haystacks atmosphere. She fills the screen with her private conflicts - gazing raptly at the cantankerous farmer's beloved meadow one moment, angrily churning it into mud the next. As with Dangerous Beauty, she rises way above the material, leaving us with the impression of a woman ruefully attuned to life's unfairness yet responsible enough to deal with it. The thrill of watching McCormack is to be found in the subtlety with which she deals with extreme circumstances, investing both the outlandish and the humdrum with poetry.
GRAHAM FULLER: Where are you from?
CATHERINE McCORMACK: A very small town called Alton, in Hampshire. Oh, it's an exciting place. Life is centered around the cinema, where the disco and the bingo go on. Nothing else happens there.
GF: What made you start acting?
CM: I don't know. I wanted to do so many things when I was younger, but they all went by the wayside. I didn't know if I had any talent for acting, and it didn't come out of a huge passion; that came later. I just fell into it, and by the time I went to a little drama school near Oxford, I knew it was what 1 wanted to do with my life.
GF: You made an immediate impression on me as the neurotic student in your first film, Loaded .
CM: Oh, you got to see that, did you? I know it flashed through New York for about a week.
GF: And then you were Mel Gibson's bride in Braveheart. Did playing that part come easily to you?
CM: No, it was a huge leap. Being unemployed as long as I had been before that, I couldn't help working on my paranoia. It was linked to going to auditions for different parts and not getting them. I found it difficult not to take the rejection personally, but when I got Braveheart I was terrified. I quickly realized, though, that everyone's terrified of whatever they're doing in their careers, no matter how long they've been doing it. So I settled down quite quickly.
GF: Then came Dangerous Beauty, your first chance to show some feminine guile.
CM: It intrigued me to play a woman who not only manipulates men but has to manipulate her own feelings because she can't have the man she loves. She has to put up this facade of confidence and power when she's around him, but inside she feels helpless because she has nowhere to channel emotions that can't be anything but what they are.
GF: Did playing a prostitute - albeit a sixteenth-century Venetian courtesan - get to you after a while?
CM: No. I'm not an actor who takes things home with me at all. I loved playing someone who didn't feel she had to cut off her sexuality in order to come across as an intelligent human being, which a lot of women feel they have to do even now. But all those high heels - I couldn't wait to get them off.
GF: Does acting set you free?
CM: It does a bit. I find I can be more uninhibited than I am the rest of the time, because I usually care so much about what people think. I'm trying to shake that off, and I think I'm learning to, through the job.
GF: OK, The Land Girls: You went from bodices to jodhpurs and farm boots.
CM: Yeah, we had two weeks of rehearsals, mucking out sheds, pulling cow's udders, and doing all sorts of strange things I hope I'll never do again, though I'm actually quite good at plowing now. I play the most moralistic of the three land girls, this young middle-class woman who's escaped from her regimented home life to go work in the fields. Her fiance's a naval officer who's away fighting, and she's desperately aware that a very staid life is planned out in front of her, even though it doesn't turn out quite like that. It all revolves around the young farmer's boy, whom all three land girls have a thing with - and with whom my character falls in love, even though he's everything she disapproves of. It's an old cliche - but it's not done in a cliched way.
GF: Are you getting calls to come to America now?
CM: Not really. I've got an American agent who keeps saying, "Come over, do the rounds, meet people." I did that once and I hated it. I'm not much good at presenting myself when there's nothing to present myself for.
GF: You sound very grounded, not like someone who's even contemplating notions of stardom.
CM: [laughs] No, no, no. I mean, no. There you go. That's a big no, I think. There were four no's there.
GF: Has the movie career complicated your life?
CM: No, I'm the same old hermit who sits at home reading and watching endless videos. Really, I'm quite unwild and boring. There's no major angle on me. But if it sounds like I'm complaining, I should shut the fuck up, because I'm extremely lucky.
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