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Dark characters are nothing new to Samantha Morton

By Samantha Morton's own admission, it may be time to lighten up already. After all, it has been several years since the 26-year-old British actress first made her mark in frilly, fanciful BBC mini-series like "Emma" or "Tom Jones." And, following her radiant Oscar-nominated turn as Sean Penn's mute love interest in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown (1999), Morton seems to have specialized in delving into many a dark place, indeed -- as a doomed heroin junkie or as an amoral vagabond in the indie dramas Jesus' Son and Morvern Callar, or most prominently as a tortured psychic in the Cruise/Spielberg blockbuster Minority Report.

While hardly a romp, the beautifully realized In America (opening Dec. 12) definitely qualifies as a step in the right direction. Directed and co-written by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot), it's the lyrical and heartfelt semi-autobiographical story of an anguished Irish couple that emigrate to New York in the early 1980s to raise two adolescent daughters and work through their grief over the recent death of a young son. Despite the potentially oppressive premise, the film is ultimately uplifting, with warmth and spirit to spare.

Creative Loafing: This is a very emotional film. When you see it, are you able to respond on that level, or does having worked on all the minute details make you sort of detached from it?

No, because you never really know what film you're in until you see the finished product. For me, it's always a massive surprise to see how all the pieces finally fit together. It's like, unless you're a cinematographer, you don't know what kind of lens or filter or lighting is going into each and every shot. We all get on with it and collaborate together. You do your bit, but at the end of the day, after the music guy and the editor and the costumer all do their bits, only then can you see a film for what it truly is.

You aren't exactly playing a historical figure in In America, but you're not playing a totally fictitious character, either. What were some of the added responsibilities of playing someone who's based on the wife of the director?

Fear, and thinking to myself, "Eek!" There are added responsibilities, but early on I told Jim what impressions I got when I first read the script. I didn't want to be weighed down with that responsibility, so I wanted to take everything about the character directly from the script, as I would with any other character.

What memories do you have about going to the Oscars?

Oh, God, I remember I was having a bit of a conundrum. I almost couldn't get in because I lost my ticket. Nobody recognized me, of course. Why would they? I kept telling them my name had to be on one of their lists somewhere. Part of the problem was I ended up without a proper top to wear. Are you sure you want to hear this? I'd just had my daughter and I was still breast-feeding. My boobs were huge, frankly, and on the ride over they started leaking. In a pinch, all I could get my hands on in the back of the limo was this Sex Pistols/God Save the Queen T-shirt I'd worn on my flight over from England. So there I was, wearing a T-shirt with this beautiful suit. I don't have my own stylist or publicist or anything like that, so I was sitting in the audience thinking to myself, "I can't believe I'm here at the Oscars wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt. No wonder I nearly didn't get it!"

Did you meet anyone that night who really impressed you?

Not really. I mean, I don't mean to be disrespectful. I have respect for them, but it doesn't mean I was star-struck. I'd probably be more nervous if I walked into a room and Patti Smith was sitting there. I'd probably just faint. I did get to meet Michael Stipe, who produced one of the movies that year [Being John Malkovich], so that was pretty cool. It's funny. Maybe it's because everyone there is part of the same industry, you know? I mean, if you're an accountant and you go to a convention with a bunch of other accountants, you're probably not going to be very nervous being around a lot of people who essentially do the same kind of work you do.

bert.osborne@creativeloafing.com

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