Thursday, March 12, 2009
Talking about the reaction to The Cooler, William H. Macy said the darkly comedic thriller generated differing responses at American and European film festivals. Across the Atlantic, festival attendees launched into discussions about The Cooler’s script and its plethora of interesting characters; American audiences talked about how great his co-star Maria Bello looked in her nude scenes.
In The Cooler, Macy stars as the unfortunately named Bernie Lootz, a schmuck with a contagious case of bad luck who is employed at an old-school casino run by Shelly Kaplow (a wonderfully sleazy Alec Baldwin) to ice the action when the casino’s customers get on a roll. Lootz’s run of misfortune ends when he starts hooking up with a hot cocktail waitress, Natalie Belisario (Bello). While there’s no doubt that the scenes in which Bello’s character seduces Lootz are titillating, her performance in the film reveals more than the dice tattooed on the backside of her body: Bello, who nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for the performance, imbues her character with an appealing mix of sex appeal, vulnerability and toughness.
From her home in Venice Beach, Bello, who got her first big break on the 1996 TV series Mr. & Mrs. Smith, says The Cooler—which she’ll introduce to local audiences March 26—was the first film she made after having a son. As an actress, she applied her newfound emotional depth to the role.
She knew she wanted to be in The Cooler the first time she read the script. “It was beautifully written,” she says. “As soon as I read my character, I had a voice. The character fit me like a glove.”
Even though Bello has been in almost 30 movies, from Flicka to Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, she says The Cooler was one her most memorable moviemaking experiences. “It was the most fun set ever,” she says. “Even the vulnerable naked scenes we did, it was all fun.”
The actress cites a get-together she and Macy threw after the last day of shooting The Cooler. Since the film’s cast and crew had already been treated to seeing their backsides while filming, the two had a “Show Us Your Ass Party,” where anyone who wanted to have a drink first had to take a picture of their bare bottom in a photo booth that Macy and Bello had set up.
In 2006, Bello was nominated for another Golden Globe—this time for her portrayal of Edie Stall in director David Cronenberg’s haunting A History of Violence. Edie’s husband Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) foils a robbery attempt at his café and kills both criminals with an explosion of violence. News coverage causes a man with a scarred face to come to the Stall’s small Midwestern town and accuse Tom of being the man responsible for his disfigured appearance.
Bello’s intense performance—Edie becomes alternately turned on and repulsed by Tom’s recently revealed violent tendencies—documents her character’s growing suspicions that the man she married might have a different identity.
Bello says that though filming A History of Violence was demanding, co-star Mortensen used humor to puncture the emotionally charged atmosphere on the set. “Viggo carried around a plastic fish, a trout,” she says. “We would be doing a scene, and I’d look around and see it placed somewhere.”
Bello dreamed of getting into politics before her last year at Villanova. “I took an acting class. I loved it, and I knew it was what I had to do,” she says.
These days, Bello has returned to her first love: political activism. In April, she stumped for the Obama campaign in her hometown of Norristown, Pa. A member of the Save Darfur Coalition, she recently gave a speech at the Holocaust Museum about ending violence against women. The busy actress, who is also producing a drama for HBO, is even planning on going back to school to get a master’s in human rights.
“It’s funny,” she says, “my life kind of came full circle.”
Maria Bello introduces The Cooler and takes questions from the audience after the film. 7:30pm Thursday, March 26, at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $15. 372-3800, www.goldenstatetheatre.com/filmfestival.