MARIA BELLO on 'FLICKA' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
October 13, 2006
In the family film Flicka, a headstrong teenage girl (Alison Lohman) who seems to be perpetually at odds with her parents (Maria Bello and Tim McGraw) finds a kindred spirit in a wild mustang that she discovers on her family's ranch. But when her father sells the fiery and uncontrollable horse to a rodeo, she takes it upon herself to embark on a mission to liberate her four-legged friend.
In this interview, Maria Bello talks about overcoming two childhood fears for the movie (horses and snakes), relating to the story's characters, and playing mom to Alison Lohman.
MEDIA: How comfortable were you with horses before taking on this role?
MARIA: I actually was afraid of horses since I was a kid. I had this sort of love/hate relationship with horses. I didn't understand them and felt like they would just kind of take over. And so it was a real challenge to me to take this role because of that. And they sent me to cowboy camp for two weeks, and I had this great cowboy called Monty who taught me how to ride a horse. And the first day, I didn't even know what side of the horse to get on. So he had to teach me how to get on the horse, how to find my seat. For the first three days, I had maxi pads up and down my legs. He had me sticking them on the inside of my jeans because I was in such pain. [laughs]
Did that help?
Yeah, they actually did help. And then after a few days, I started to find this balance between surrendering and control. And I realized that's what I needed in real life--to understand that, yes, I had the reigns, but I had to surrender.
Did you have a certain exercise routine to prepare for the horseback riding?
No. I was actually on my heavier side of my weight. I kind of play with 10 pounds, and felt fuller and more earthy. I felt good. So I wasn't really working out during this movie.
In previous interviews, you've seemed particularly fond of Flicka. Is this a special movie for you?
It is. I never get to do kind of light films. [laughs] I tend to do things that are really intense and anxiety-provoking, and by the time I finish the film, I'm like in bed for three months. And this one was quite different in that every day I woke up, I was excited to come out here. I was excited to be outside with the horses and in the sunshine. My son was here a lot of the time we were filming. And I love that part of life--as much as I like the intensity, I love the lightness as well.
Did you have any qualms about doing the scene in which your character casually picks up a snake?
You know, I had a horrible snake phobia since I was a kid. Horrible. I would get heart palpitations, I would faint if I saw a snake. It was horrible. About ten years ago, I was going to Africa, so someone suggested I go to snake therapy. So I did. I went to the snake therapy, and I had to carry around a rubber snake with me. I did field trips to the zoo. Every week, I had to walk closer and closer to a cage and they monitored my heart. It was a huge thing. So by the time I went to Africa, I was ready to face the snakes! I go to Africa for six weeks by myself: I don't see one snake. I came back, and the day I came back, I was at Union Square in New York City, and I saw this crowd of people around a fence, and there was an albino Burmese python stuck in the fence, and it was bleeding. And I remember crying, feeling so much compassion for that snake. And in that moment, the compassion took over and my fear of snakes was gone. So it was a big thrill for me in this movie to be able to handle the snake and really surrendered to that, and kiss the snake.
What kind of snake was that in the movie?
He was a gopher snake.
How well did you relate to your character in this film?
Of any character I've played, this is the character that's most like me and how I am as a mother. She's really the center of her family, but she's also really childlike in her nature, and I think that's what I'm like as a mom. And I love the dynamic in the family. I think it's complicated, as it should be, especially when your kids are teenagers, and these are all authentic, individual people just trying to find their way.
Would you say she was the peacemaker of the family?
Yeah, she is the peacemaker. I think a lot of women that I know take on that role: my mother, especially, and myself.
When we spoke to you for A History of Violence, you said you preferred film over television because you disliked the routine of constantly playing the same part. So did you relate to Alison's character Katy, and her desire for a certain freedom?
Yeah, I really understand that. You know, I'm such a gypsy in my nature, so doing the same character year after year after year doesn't appeal to me, and I understand her need to be independent and be on her own. I'm quite like that, and was quite like that when I was younger, even more.
If you had a daughter like Katy, how would you deal with her?
I think the greatest thing we can teach our kids is to be their most authentic selves, whatever that means. You know, what your parents want you to be, what society wants you to be...It doesn't matter. It's who you decide you are in your heart. But I don't have teenagers yet, so I don't know. And I'm happy I don't have teenagers yet. [laughs]
How did you feel about playing Alison's mother, when in fact she is only 12 years your junior?
[laughs] Hopefully she looked a lot younger in the movie!
She did, even though she's 27...
Isn't that incredible? Yeah, she's such a beautiful girl. She did such a great job.
How did you get along with Tim McGraw?
Well, he's such a lovely, generous guy, you can't help but to fall in love with him. I mean, he's just so kind. One time we were filming up here, actually, and he surprised us all and brought up busloads of his friends from New Orleans to cook us this Cajun dinner. It was unbelievable. Crawfish and jambalaya. He just treated all of us and had them come up all the way from New Orleans to cook for us. It was really cool. He's very generous like that. A couple times, he got up and sang for us. He's just such a lovely person. Couldn't help but to like him.
Is there a role you think you would do well in, even though people might not think it is suited for you?