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INT: Radha Mitchell

MELINDA AND MELINDA couldn't have been the easiest acting gig for Radha Mitchell. For one, she's on screen almost the entire movie. And Woody Allen is notoriously tough on his actresses. And she has to play the same character two different ways. In an American accent. And one side of this character is chronically depressed and on the verge of suicide. But it's all in a day's work for this actress whose name you might not recognize but whose face and work (PITCH BLACK, MAN ON FIRE, PHONE BOOTH) you definitely do. I got a chance to interview her in New York recently and we talked about Woody, Will Ferrell and masturbating monkeys...among other things.

So you actually got this part without actually auditioning for Woody Allen? No, we hadn't met. He'd seen a movie that I'd made called TEN TINY LOVE STORIES, which is really just a series of monologues where ten different women talk about love. And something about that seemed relevant... I was quite happy to go along with that! Do you have problems switching back and forth between your natural Australian accent and the American accent you use in the film? I rely on dialogue coaches and tapes. When I first got to the States, I had to pretend I was American, so I would do all my meetings with my faux American accent and try to get by. But now I can admit I use a dialect coach. For this movie, it was pretty low budget, so I didn't have a dialect coach. But this woman in LA, Joyce Ellis, I recorded all my scenes with her and she'd just read them straight. It's a good way to drum it into your head and learn your lines as well. Is perfecting that accent difficult to do? I think it's something that you're always conscious of. And what's good, when you start working with accents, is you can alter them slightly. I did this part in MAN ON FIRE which was slightly Texan, so it's not just an accent. You can add bits and pieces to it, which is always fun, and helps you define a character.

Which storyline in MELINDA do you prefer - the comedy or the tragedy? I liked preparing for the tragic one, because there were lots of things to think about. But in execution I preferred the other one, because it was with Will Ferrell, it was a comedy and it was light in a way. Do you think it's true that any situation be comic or tragic? Any situation today could be a tragedy or a comedy, it just depends on the mood that you're in when you're experiencing it, and the mood of the storyteller who is telling it. And we'd sort of vaguely discussed what was going on, there's a lot of rehearsal in a Woody Allen film, and we met and spoke about what we were going to do, and we spoke about hairstyles. You know, the characters should be similar, and they should look different, but one shouldn't be disguised from the other, so don't wear a wig. And I thought about that, and that was telling in relation to what the movie was trying to say. It's the same person, it's just her attitude that creates two different stories, and it's her attitude that's creates all the mannerisms that create her character, her ideas of life, and that's what drives her to destruction and the other Melinda has a lighter sense of being and ends up getting it on with Will Ferrell (laughs)! Since you were one of the few actors to read the entire script, did the other actors have any idea what was going on in the other storyline? Well since a lot of the other actors hadn't read the story so they...just knew their storyline. It was interesting to actually know what was happening through out the thing, and it was funny because initially they wanted to know what was going on, what happens to my character and so on, but I think people like not knowing, because it's an unusual experience to be in a movie and not know what it's about, and it's kind of more like life...you don't know what I'm going to do next, I don't know what you're going to do next. Did you slip them any information? I told them if they wanted to know. I wasn't supposed to... but they didn't really want to know. They would just joke about how much they wanted to know then come back and tell me they didn't really want to know. And it was a bit intimidating, especially if you're playing two characters, you want to know what's going on and have control. It's an interesting experience... Not having control over it, I would recommend it actually.

Do you seek out diverse parts, or have you just been lucky? I think I've just been lucky. The things I've said no to, that I don't want to do, it's generally because they're not good movies. You don't want to be involved in a movie you don't like. That the roles are dissimilar, that's luck. How was it working with Will Ferrell? I was really impressed by Will Ferrell. He has very little ego about himself, and he was just very sweet and a good person, and that comes across in watching him. Was there a lot of ad-lib and improv on the film, especially in scenes with Will? We all expected to ad-lib a lot more than we did, and we didn't ad-lib at all. At least I didn't. So it was a little bit of stuff, with the dentist, that we sort of made up on the day, but that was the only thing that I noticed was not in the script, I think that's because Woody would say, just say it however you want and then he'd say, is that how you're going to say it? It's a style of speech that just doesn't come out of your mouth naturally, it's written in a particular way, and particular words are used. I got like one word it, augmented cleavage, but that was the only word that went in there. In general it was pretty much how it was in the script. What's next for you? MOZART AND THE WHALE. In that movie I'm playing opposite Josh Hartnett, and we're both playing people who are autistic or who have mild versions of autism, and it's a love story/romance. It's about communication, people who are autistic have trouble reading each other's feelings and emotions and its sort of two people struggling to be in a relationship granted they have that handicap... My character was able to communicate with monkeys, so we had this animal brought in. when a monkey's in captivity, they're really disgusting, they just masturbate and that's what this monkey did all day long! And I had to act opposite him! It was really disgusting, but funny...so that was that story.

What would you say is your favorite Woody Allen film? I would say...BULLETS OVER BROADWAY. Something I really appreciate about his films is that he's introduced all these interesting actresses to us. I enjoyed watching Mia Farrow in his films and you don't see as much of her work in other people's movies. And then, of course, Judy Davis. There are so many interesting people who have come out of his films, I think that's what makes them special. He was describing them as having different flavors but being similar dishes, you know he says, "if you like Chinese food you like Chinese food," and I guess I do. But BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, and I liked ALICE. Do you get to watch a lot of movies or are you too busy? I went through a phase of not wanting to watch any movies at all, and lately give got back into watching films, I think because I meet people that make them all the time, and I feel like if I've seen their movie I know more about them, and it's a better discussion to have. And in doing that I rekindled my love of movies. Did you and the rest of the cast get together before shooting to bond a little bit? I don't think we were supposed to have any communication, but Chewie (Chewitel Ejiofor) had called everybody. He'd just come in from London and wanted to make some friends I guess (laughs). He rang everybody and we all met for brunch and we all went uptown to some café and had brunch, and as the day went on we went further and further downtown until we ended up at some weird club in Alphabet City at 3am, and I went home at a certain point, but they continued to stay out. Was Woody happy about that? I think he didn't mind that we were going to do that, but he didn't encourage it. And I think that's part of his thing, to keep people uneasy, not know each other too well, and you definitely get a sense of that when you watch his films, everyone's uneasy, uncomfortable. But I'm glad that we did that. After this experience would you want to work on another Woody Allen film? Definitely. I think his films are really engaging, and they leave you with something to say, something you want to talk about. I'd like to be involved in more movies like that.
Source: JoBlo.com

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