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Bev Cohn: Mira Sorvino

EDITORíS NOTE: The following interview originally appeared in the May 13th and 20th editions of the Santa Monica Mirror and the edited version is being reprinted as a courtesy of that publication.

A Moment With Mira Sorvino
By Beverly Cohn

Mira Sorvino

ira Sorvino is “Paulie’s” daughter, one of Hollywood’s most famous “Mafioso” actors, Paul Sorvino. The acting apple doesn’t fall from the tree as Mira has carved out a successful, “non-Italiano” career, beginning with her award-winning role in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite for which she won an Oscar. Harvard educated, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Asian studies, she is Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations to combat human trafficking. Her latest film, Multiple Sarcasms, which co-stars Timothy Hutton, Dana Delany, Mario Van Peebles, and Stockard Channing, is the story of Hutton’s character Gabriel, who is in the throes of a severe mid-life crisis, and it’s effect on family and friends. The following interview has been edited for print purposes.

Q: What’s the first thing you look for in a script and what attracted you to Multiple Sarcasms?

Sorvino: I have to like the character. I’ve never played a character I didn’t like and if I don’t like her, I alter things about her until I do. I really liked Cari (character in the film) and saw a chance to be spontaneous and fun and outspoken and honest.

Mira Sorvino with Timothy Hutton in an outdoor scene in Multiple Sarcasms

Q: What was the hardest scene between you and Timothy?

Sorvino: The scene where he shows up drunk at my home to declare his love was very emotional. She considers herself to be best friend to he, his wife, and daughter. She doesn’t consider him romantically so when he drops this bombshell on her in the middle of the night, it’s very painful and makes her angry because he’s betrayed the unwritten rule of their friendship.

kitchen scene in Multiple Sarcasms
A dramatic confrotnation between Timothy Hutton and Mira Sorvino.

Q: Do you think platonic relationships ultimately work?

Sorvino: I think they work for a while as long as you’re single but I think it’s very difficult. Eventually one of you is going to have feelings and once they’re expressed, it messes up the friendship. I’ve had male friends in the past, but now my husband is my best friend. I think I would go crazy with jealousy if my husband had a best female friend because I want to be that girl.

Mira Sorvino with husband Cristopher Backhus
Mira Sorvino and husband Cristopher Backhus

Q: What’s the biggest challenge in juggling your career with three children and a husband?

Sorvino: Trying not to do damage to my family while still having some kind of career. I don’t aspire to a giant career right now because I don’t want to take the time away from the kids. When I was busiest, I worked all year long with only three weeks off. I’d been going from one country to another living in hotel rooms and I’m not willing to do that now. Kudos to those women who can pull it off, but I don’t want an army of nannies raising my kids. I don’t even have a full-time nanny right now. I should because I need one for moments like this. I had to call my trusted babysitter to watch the baby for three days and hoped that she’s available. My baby is playing in a park right now and we’ll rendezvous later for breast-feeding. It’s any working mother’s dilemma because it’s not possible to have it all because something will suffer – either your work or your children.

Q: What was it like in your childhood?

Sorvino: My mom was a stay-at-home mom who made these fantastic birthday parties, did creative things, taught us acting, and did volunteer work, all of which adds to my guilt. I sometimes think I should give it all up and be with them all the time. On the other side of the coin is my mother-in-law who was a Marine Corps Full Bird Colonel. She says that I shouldn’t have guilt and that I should work and the kids just have to get used to it.

Q: Do you think your famous dad had the same conflicts as you do?

Sorvino: Dad had more of the traditional male perspective in that it’s the man’s job to earn money for the family. After uprooting us for one semester to go to school in California, which I hated, my parents made a decision when I was in second grade that my mom would stay home in New Jersey while he went away to work on films and television shows because it was too disruptive to our schooling to take us with him. But when he was home, he was a great father and super involved in our lives. In retrospect, I actually question that decision because eventually my parents broke up and I feel that the time apart drove a wedge between them. It’s a hard call. Do you uproot everyone to keep the family together or do you go away for long stretches of time?

Mira Sorvino and family
Mira and her family

Q: What are your fears around your children?

Sorvino: I love my kids so much and I see them suffer when I go walk away and put them in someone else’s care. Also, I grapple with this feeling of loss because time is passing and they’re getting older and one day they’re going to be gone and they’re never going to call me or write. (laughs) But this is life. It moves at a breakneck pace and you just have to go along with it and treasure what you have in the moment.

Q: What makes being a mother so special for you?

Sorvino: Gosh, having my own kids who call me mommy. My son comes up to me several times a day and says ‘Mommy, I love you.’ My daughter attacks me with kisses. It melts my heart. I think it really worked out well for me that I had the big career first and could move into this second phase of my life, which I really enjoy.

Q: Could you talk about your work as a human rights activist?

Sorvino: I was Amnesty International's campaign spokesperson to “Stop Violence Against Women” for over two years and on the subject of trafficking, I am Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime ((UNODC).

Mira Sorvino at the UN
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime head Antonio Maria Costa listens as Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino talks about human trafficking at the United Nations following her appointment as Goodwill Ambassador to UNODC.
Photo: Monica Graff.

Q: What’s been your experience?

Sorvino: I just came back from Mexico for the kick-off the U.N.’s worldwide campaign to combat trafficking. The goal is to raise awareness and to get countries to commit to fighting this trafficking within their borders.**

Q: Can you talk about that trip?

Sorvino: It was a fascinating trip and I did a lot of public speaking. It’s a country where not much is known about trafficking, so I felt like I was able to be informative. The most important thing for me, by far, was going to go to a shelter for recently liberated girls, and I mean girls. I’ve met trafficking victims before, but they were all past 30. These were teenagers and children. I met a little girl who was eight years old who had been sold into a brothel when she was four. She was walking around with a big smile on her face showing everyone her arithmetic homework. When I saw her I thought ‘Oh God, please tell me she’s the daughter of someone here.’ She was a victim, just like all the other girls, but we should call them survivors. I felt like I wanted to adopt her, but I can’t adopt people everyone who is needy. I just wanted to save her and protect her for the rest of her life so she would never undergo anything like what had happened to her. There is only one shelter in Mexico for girls like this and I got to meet thirty lucky survivors, but there are hundreds of thousands of girls exactly like them all over Mexico.

Q: What were you feeling during that visit?

Sorvino: Seeing a child like that and hearing some of the other stories, was a life-changing experience. They were horrendous and so graphic that I would not want to repeat them here. If any one of you heard these stories, you would be sick to your stomach. It affected me for two weeks and I had difficulty sleeping. We don’t have that sort of “cotton-picking slavery” anymore because enough of the population didn’t want to tolerate it, and hence the Civil War. It’s unbelievable that we’re living in a world today that puts up with this form of slavery.

Q: Do you have stats?

Sorvino: At least two million people a year are trafficked internationally, with hundreds of thousands of under-aged kids trafficked internally in the U.S. They are usually American citizens who are being used as child sex slaves and for worldwide pornography, 50% of which is produced here in the U.S. There needs to be much more of a firm commitment from every country, including our own, to explore every avenue to crack open the trafficking cases and to make it unprofitable for traffickers to operate in the trade of humans because for them it’s a business, and is the third largest profitable criminal activity, after drugs and arms. If it becomes too difficult for them to operate, if they’re indicted and imprisoned often enough, they’ll stop. But right now, it’s extremely easy and profitable for them to continue.

Q: How many cases are prosecuted in the U.S.?

Sorvino: We have only a 1% solve rate and have about same number of trafficking cases as murder cases. Can you imagine if we only solved 1% of the murder cases? So it means that we have intensify our efforts and raise public awareness, train the police, get the judiciary to be very well informed, and encourage everyone to become a watcher. It’s very subterranean and hard to find, but it’s always concerned citizens who call in with tips that break cases.

Q: How much of your time to you commit to this?

Sorvino: It takes a lot of my time, but I’m very serious about this and feel a personal responsibility, which is why I do lot of research and write my own speeches. I don’t want to be just another “talking head.” Back in college I wrote my thesis on the racial conflict in China so I really learned about prejudice and about ethnic conflict and the abuse of human rights, so I was prepared for that life. However, then I became an actress but now I’m getting to put that training into good use. It’s like I have a parallel life – I have my actress life and my advocacy work.

Q: Why are men attracted to these little girls?

Sorvino: The sexual drive in men is so strong that unless they are educated correctly throughout their formative years, once they are focused on a certain kind of sex object that they find stimulating, that’s going to continue to be stimulating for them. Every culture has always put a prize on virginity and youthful beauty so a child who hasn’t been “spoiled” by other people will always be more ideal to the “John” who wants to have something special. But, men need to be educated to the terrible sorrow that behavior is creating because many times the buyer of commercial sex is not really thinking about the individual, but just view it as a service. I think if you did sensitivity training for males worldwide, you might be able to discourage them from buying sex.

Q: We applaud you for doing this important work.

Sorvino: Thank you so much.

Q: What are you working on now?

Sorvino: My father and I are planning to do a 19th Century adaption of King Lear together and that’s gearing up now.

**Mexico’s President Calderón announced its version of the United Nations "Blue Heart" campaign against human trafficking. "It is an honor for Mexicans to be the first country on the American continent, and in the world, to join and launch this important prevention campaign…. We have to act now…and to put an end to inhuman practices which turn people into merchandise, because human beings are not and cannot be for sale."


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Let Bev know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Thanks so much for those lovely tourism photos, especially of Ireland. I certainly enjoyed all the places you suggested, and am working towards my next vacation. Don’t forget Cuba. That’s an exciting place.

Rosalie, Los Angeles

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Enjoyed your article on Mira Sorvino. Such an interesting background – family, education, career and now human rights activist. I'm not a gossip mag fan so getting more meaty news about movie celebrities from you gives me hope that there are some inteligent life forms in Hollywood.

Peter Paul, Pasadena, CA

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Thank you, Bev. This reminded me to go see the movie, "An Education," which I had already almost forgotten about, having seen the preview a few weeks ago. I enjoy this actress quite a bit--she has a uniqueness about her and she pulls me in. I enjoyed this.

Sandeee, Seattle, WA

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Thank you Beverly,I really enjoyed reading about your intimate conversation with Forest, of whom I am a great admirer. I look forward to seeing the film "Our Family Wedding."

Yoka, Westlake Village, CA

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Thank you for the sending me the beautiful article you wrote about Ireland. We will use your recomendations for hotels in the Southern part. We plan to also go to Dublin and some other Northern cities so I will get some recommendations for these from others. After reading your article, I am getting more excited about going. I think we will be in Ireland for 8 days altogether.

Leah Mendelsohn, Santa Monica, CA

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Very much enjoyed Ms. Cohn's article about Munich, especially the visuals. Though it has been 25 years since my last visit, the piece brought back countless pleasant memories of the city and the people!! Many thanks.

Lawrence, Los Angeles

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Marianplatz and that general area is truly one of the best Christmas celebrations in the world. Between that and Oktoberfest (which I can only imagine) Munich is one of the greatest cities in the world for major annual events.

Christopher Dale, New York, NY

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Hi Bev, you have done some wonderful pieces on some great celebs...Great work. The travel articles are just wonderful too.

Scott Mueller, Huntington Beach, CA

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Your great Zurich article makes me want to go there for the holidays! I love the photos, too, especially the ones of you in the sleigh, the view over the houses and the zoo!

Anna Marie, Santa Monica, CA

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Lovely article! As a European, and having been to Zurich (albeit in summer) I can vouch for this lovely city. Great pictures, too!

Helene Robins, Santa Monica, CA

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Hi Bev,

Nice review, nice seeing you, nice website interface "...Talk to Bev" - Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Richard D. Kaye, Marina del Rey, CA

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Hi Bev,

Your interview with John Cusack is very interesting. I always wondered why these actors/actresses always get top billing when really, if you think about it, the real work come from the animators, writers and tech whizzes who spend far more hours on the movie than those actors. I know, I know, it's the all about marketing. The names of these actors are what bring in the big bucks. Still, I think these actors are way overpaid for the "little" that they do.

I remember that once upon a time, the early animation classics never mentioned the voices behind the characters. I think it was only later when Walt Disney tapped into the voices of known celebrities like Walter Matthau in the Jungle Book or Zsa Zsa Gabor in The Rescuers that the voices became a marketing magnet.

Keep up the good work. I enjoy your interviews as you peer into the lives of the Hollywood celebrities.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA



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