Beautiful Boy - Maria Bello
Kate Carroll (Maria Bello) © 2010 Goldrush Entertainment / Justina Mintz

Maria Bello has established herself as a leading actress, starring in such diverse movies as The Jane Austin Book Club, A History of Violence, Thank You for Smoking and The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon. On TV she was seen for a season on the acclaimed series ER in the role of a passionate and headstrong pediatrician Dr Anna Del Amico. This fall she will star in the American version of the iconic British series Prime Suspect.

In her new movie Beautiful Boy she portrays Kate, whose marriage to Bill (Michael Sheen) is already strained, when their son Sammy (Kyle Gallner) massacre’s fellow students and teachers at his high school.

With the onslaught of media attention and awkward pity from relatives and friends, Bill and Kate must face their feelings of guilt, rage, blame, self-discovery, and ultimately hope – as they look towards the future together.

When you were presented with this project what was it about it that interested you?

Kate Carroll (Maria Bello) and Motel Clerk (Meat Loaf Aday) © 2010 Goldrush Entertainment / Justina Mintz

I got this script probably a year before we made the movie and I just had a gut feeling it was so well written, that I really wanted and needed to explore it. I liked the idea of the levels of grief, which I studied a bit before we did the movie, and usually a parent who loses a child goes through the levels of grief over years.

We had to smash it into two weeks of their lives, and to make sure Michael and I were at the same level in every single scene. Usually a parent would just be in shock or grief for those two weeks. I had to make it a little bit more interesting.

As a parent I can’t imagine what it’s like to put yourself in the skin of somebody going through what these parents are. Did you draw on your own emotions or is that a dangerous thing to do?

When I had my son, it was the worst day and the best day of my life, because I realized I will never love someone so much, but I’ll never be able to keep him from the lessons that he’s meant to learn in this lifetime. So I couldn’t put myself in that situation, about my son dying, it’s too much to bear for any parent to hold onto that for weeks at a time.

So it was drawing on other stuff really, and mostly I think Michael and I worked in a similar way, where we knew our characters and trusted each other enough to react off of each other to find that emotion together.

Did you talk to any parents who were maybe connected to the tragedy at Virigina Tech or Columbine?

Bill Carroll (Michael Sheen) and Kate Carroll (Maria Bello) © 2010 Goldrush Entertainment / Justina Mintz

Bizarrely a week before we started shooting Susan Klebold (the mother of Dylan Kelbold who headed the massacre at Columbine High School) came out with her first interview ever in O Magazine, and it’s funny because of what she said about blaming herself and not knowing, and the process she went through.

I found it really interesting that that was really reflected in our script.

Can you talk about the way the movie was shot, the longer scenes and the way the camera moved like a docudrama. Did that help you?

There was only one cut away during the big hotel room scene. We did it four or five times before we were about to blow our brains out. But it was so fun, it was like doing a play, it was 8 minutes long and it was really technical with the camera, we had to figure out the movements and how to film all of it. Boy that was an exhilarating day doing that scene.

Back in the ER days where you had those long scenes with people going in and out I’ve heard everyone felt a great deal of pressure when you got to the end of a long shot, because you didn’t want to be the one who blows the line and the take.

That always happens for me when I’m acting and creating with a group of people, I forget my line. I’m more forgiving of myself now as I get older I don’t apologize for it anymore, which I used to do.

I’ve often said to directors, ‘Please don’t stop a scene, let us go and don’t call cut every time we forget a line,’ because it puts you, in a way, more in the moment.

The film opens up and basically you’re an estranged couple, and suddenly not only does your son die but the world is against you. What did you think about that aspect of the film?

Prime Suspect - Det Jane Timoney (Maria Bello ) © 2011 NBC Universal, Photo by Patrick Harbron/NBC

It seems to me that from what friends say about being in long term relationships, I don’t do those so I’ve never had one, that you start lying to yourself and to each other to make each other feel safe in some way, to show up the way the person thinks you should show up.

This dishonesty with yourself and the other person breeds resentment and a contempt which you see in these two people. They become so disparate and they can’t be vulnerable with each other and really share their truth. And this tragedy blows that up and makes them confront themselves and each other.

Can you talk a little about doing the US version of Prime Suspect? You are stepping into iconic territory.

I am so excited. People say, ‘How do you feel about filling Helen Mirren’s shoes?’ And I say, ‘I think we wear different size shoes.’ Because it’s a very different character, it’s set in New York City. The commonality is that she’s strong, trying to make it in a man’s world.

It’s a really exciting show; it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. I’m so proud of it.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane