Amy Irving talks a lot about being an actress over 40, but she hardly looks the part--not even in person. Under a thin veil of make-up, a youthful, vivacious enthusiasm colors her face. We met to discuss her new movie, Bossa Nova, in which she plays a widow who finds love after 40. Set in Rio and directed by her husband, Brazilian filmmaker Bruno Barreto, she said this movie was her husband's present to her. She returns the favor with a gifted performance in his light and breezy romantic comedy.
The irony is that Irving moved to New York from the left coast four years ago with the idea of doing fewer movies and more theater. When we sat down to talk at the Essex House, she said, "For some reason, I moved here and I started getting movie offers. It was strange. As soon as you don't need them anymore, that's when they want you." In the case of Bossa Nova, however, she had been wanted for 11 years. Irving was actually offered the starring role in the film more than a decade ago when a friend of her husband's pitched her the idea. Based on the Brazilian novella Miss Simpson by Sergio Sant' Anna, the project languished for lack of funding. Meanwhile, Barreto was jealous, wishing he had found the novella himself as a vehicle for his brand new wife. Time passed, and the director who had the rights to the book became a famous political journalist in Brazil and eventually turned the project over to Barreto. With Brazil's economy stabilizing (and Barreto's Four Days in September getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film), funding suddenly became available and the director was in business.
So was Irving. The film opened just a few weeks ago in Brazil with the fanfare of Titanic, and the actress received the kind of treatment usually reserved for megastars; she was on the cover of every newspaper and magazine in the country. She said she understood the addiction of adulation; it can be like a drug. Then she laughed. "It's a kick in the pants at my age." One of the reasons she is so beloved in Brazil is her facility with the language. "I did all the interviews in Portuguese so this is easy," she said, gesturing toward our microphone. "There aren't too many American actresses who go down there and learn their language."
In some ways, this was a commercially hazardous movie to make. "How many directors are looking to make romantic comedies with women after 40?," Irving rhetorically asked. "I can count one, my husband. But the baby boomers are complaining all the time, 'when are the romances going to be about us?' Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce. There are a lot of people wanting to find love after 40. Bruno wanted to present a film in which love after 40 had glamour, beauty, and all that can go with it. And because there are eight [interrelated] stories in the movie, there's a lot of young love the film, too."
Reminding her that our own audience would know her as much for her stage as her screen work, we went back to her theatrical expectations upon moving back to New York. "I moved," she candidly said, "because I really was never satisfied when I did theater in L.A. It's just a different sensibility--the audiences, the long drive, and there's no place to go after the show. There just isn't an actor's community there." Acting in the theater, however, doesn't automatically equate with happiness. "I didn't have a great experience doing Three Sisters when I first got here on Broadway (at the Roundabout). Most recently, though, she performed Eve Ensler's one woman show, The Vagina Monologues Off-Broadway and said, "That was the most fun I've had in a long time on stage."
"I'm so open to doing theater," Irving continued. "I love to stay home. I don't like to travel that much, now that the kids are in school." (Irving has two sons: Max, with first husband Steven Spielberg, and Gabriel, with Barreto.) I'm always looking for more theater to do."
And Irving means it. "I'm so game to do Off-Off Broadway," she announced. "I think people perceive me, because I've done Broadway and Off-Broadway, that I'm not obtainable that way. But working with new playwrights is very exciting to me and I've been banging down the doors, saying I'll do this stuff. I'm here for it."
Plus, she adds, if something doesn't come to her, she'll bring something to the stage. "I have a project by Brazil's greatest playwright that I'm going to do a reading of. I don't have a good translation yet. I'm not a good producer," she lamented. "When you have children and you're trying to act, producing is hard, at least for me. But I wouldn't mind introducing Nelson Rodriguez to the New York stage. I might give it a shot. He has a play called All Nudity Shall Be Punished that I really love."
Speaking of nudity, Irving did the full frontal thing herself in her husband's film Carried Away. It was during the making of that movie, she said, that she really noticed the difference between American and latin filmmaking. "[Costar] Dennis Hopper and I had a sex scene. Usually, with an American director, the whole set would get self-conscious. Everything would get very tense. With Bruno, even with his wife standing there naked with the co-star, it was so natural for him. Since he wasn't self-conscious it liberated us." That liberation has extended itself to work beyond that which she does with her husband. Referring again to her recent run in The Vagina Monologues, she said, "I had to do twenty different orgasms on stage. I don't think I would have been comfortable doing that before I met Bruno. I'm much more open and relaxed now. I've become more comfortable in my own skin."
In fact, Irving is comfortable enough in her own skin to not want to change it. When so many actors and actresses rely on plastic surgery to elongate their careers, Irving will have none of it. "It's just too frightening an ordeal," she said. "I figure if they don't want me without a cut face then I'll just move along." Besides which, she says, it doesn't much matter in the end anyway. "Being a stage actress, there are always great roles for women in the theater. I feel like I can always feed my soul through my acting."
We wondered what roles she would still like to tackle. She laughed. "I was just thinking about roles the other day. It's so funny. I keep going like (she slaps herself upside the head and comically groaned), 'Oh, I forgot to do Ophelia!' There are all those roles that you somehow miss. I've wanted to be an actress since I was two." The daughter of stage director Jules Irving and actress Priscilla Pointer, Irving is one of the few stars who can accurately say, "I've been acting all my life. There are all those roles that you gear up for. I did my Nina in The Seagull. I did all three of the Three Sisters. Then all of a sudden you get over 40 and you say, 'Oh, I missed that one, and I missed that one.' And you feel a little sad about that. I'd like to do Kate in The Taming of The Shrew; I think I've still got one left in me. I'd love to do Threepenny Opera. I'd love to do Caucasian Chalk Circle."
While Amy Irving might be over 40, she's clearly still in her prime.