Mira Sorvino Wonders What Would Happen If Ryan Murphy Had His Way

By
Photography Paul Maffi

Published April 30, 2020

Mira Sorvino photographed by Paul Maffi for the November 1995 issue of Interview. Wrap by Giorgio Armani.

We might know Mira Sorvino as the stiletto-wearing fashionista in David Mirkin’s 1990s classic Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, where she trots alongside Lisa Kudrow as California girls wearing iridescent spandex dresses and sparkly lip gloss. But Sorvino is no airhead. The Oscar-winning actor is a mother of four, can speak Mandarin fluently (having lived in China during her time at Harvard), moonlit as a jazz singer, and played Marilyn Monroe for the HBO film Norma Jean & Marilyn, alongside Ashley Judd. In quarantine, she has added one more thing to her resume: a “short-order cook” (her words).

Next up, Sorvino dazzles as a Golden Age star in Ryan Murphy’s latest Netflix saga Hollywood, which premieres May 1. Reimagining postwar Tinseltown with a fantastical, inclusive lens, Murphy welcomes us to a world where gay actors step onto the red carpet holding hands, an African-American actress gets a leading role in a feature, and strong women stick together in the face of political injustice. Starring alongside iconic figures like beefcake star Rock Hudson (Jake Picking) and the first Black actress to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah), the cast includes Broadway legend Patti LuPoneGlee‘s Darren Criss, and Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons.

Sorvino plays Jeanne Crandall, a fictional B-movie actress who is having an affair with a studio executive to keep her career alive. Sorvino has an outspoken voice of the #MeToo movement after becoming one of the first stars to go on the record with her own Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment story in 2017. While the role Sorvino plays in Hollywood is far from autobiographical, the sisterhood portrayed onscreen strikes a resemblance to Time’s Up, which she has championed. From her home in California, she talks to Interview about staying friends with Lisa Kudrow, the power of altruism, and the possibility of a Romy and Michele reunion (eek!).

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NADJA SAYEJ: How is your quarantine going?

MIRA SORVINO: [Laughs.] It’s probably going the same way as everybody else’s. We’re fortunate in our home that nobody has the virus. We’re spending a lot of time with our kids, who are home schooling with the computer. I have four kids, so I have become the short-order cook of everyone.

SAYEJ: I’d like an order of French fries, please.

SORVINO: Ha! I’m cooking all day and I’m keeping the morale up. We don’t feel comfortable leaving the property much. We’re connecting with one another. We’re worried about everyone in the country and we’re grateful for all the people who are putting their lives on the line.

SAYEJ: What did you cook today?

SORVINO: Today I was lazy and ate what my daughter made last night. She made these incredible Easter cakes from silicon molds with different kinds of frosting. So, we all sat around and ate Easter cakes for breakfast.

SAYEJ: How did you become part of Hollywood?

SORVINO: Ryan Murphy contacted my representatives and offered me the role. We didn’t know too much about it at the beginning. My role was described as a cross between Lana Turner and Joan Crawford. I said, yes, yes, yes! I’m a fan of Ryan and Janet Mock, the director. I love Pose.

SAYEJ: What makes this show stand out, in your eyes?

SORVINO: I think it’s an incredible way to look at Hollywood, a reexamination of Hollywood in the 1940s. The ‘what if’ element—what if things could have changed back then? All the things that we’re more conscious of now, the social ills addressing head on, the representation issues … what if that all became activated then?

SAYEJ: Have you seen it?

SORVINO: I literally just finished watching the series right before you called. I hadn’t seen the whole thing and now I have just seen every episode. It’s a powerful series. It’s such an important piece of television, I think. It’s set in Hollywood, but I think it’s just about being a human being and being celebrated for everything you are.

SAYEJ: People go to Hollywood to make their dreams come true, which happens for many in the show, but others go the wrong route. Does your character speak to that?

SORVINO: I think my character is stuck in a rut, as did many people of her time. She is of a certain age and has been on these B-movies that are filler for the studio, doing roles where she isn’t recognized for having any true talent. She is in a transactional relationship with a studio head, and she has been for years. It’s an affair but has a power dynamic issue to it. She isn’t happy and wouldn’t have chosen this path.

SAYEJ: So, what kind of research did you do for the role?

SORVINO: So many of the careers of women from that era, like Lana Turner, were made or broken by the willingness in these kinds of unequal power relationships. My character is a good egg and helps stand up to a racist director. She’s encouraging to a young Rock Hudson, and comes clean about her affair to the producer’s wife, and felt true remorse, even though she’s a morally broke person.

SAYEJ: What’s the reaction when she confesses to his wife?

SORVINO: She gets a hand up in the business, honestly. Instead of punishing her for her sins, she says: ‘You know what, you’re a victim of the system, just as I have been, we’ve been repressed, given no direct route to power and authority over our own talent. Let’s help each other.’ My character is floored. Blown away that she would help her get the career she deserves.

SAYEJ: Do you think that would have ever happened in the 1940s in Hollywood?

SORVINO: That’s exactly what [writer] Ryan Murphy and [director] Janet Mock have created—this world that asks, ‘Well, why couldn’t it be this way?’ Why did it have to be any other way? Why couldn’t it have been this way then, and why can’t it be this way now? With each storyline, there is this progressive beauty, this concept of, what if we let the better side of our natures prevail?

SAYEJ: What would happen?

SORVINO: Lead policy, lead action, lead industry. What if we were so courageous and could do that? In one scene, Archie Coleman and Rock Hudson go on the red carpet as an openly gay couple, even though they get boos and death threats. They had bravery, and things change.

Mira Sorvino photographed by Paul Maffi for the November 1995 issue of Interview. Shirt by Giorgio Armani.

SAYEJ: What other part of the series floored you?

SORVINO: How it envisions an African-American woman as a leading lady of a feature film in the 1940s. The Anna May Wong story, the first Asian-American actress, which is a tragedy that becomes a triumph. She gets her due. She’s given a chance. It just makes me cry.

I love Pose because it’s moving. Painting the humanity of these marginalized people who had this struggle in the darkness of their lives, forming new families with people who share their experience and their love. I feel the same way about this show. It’s unabashedly beautiful. What other show do you see a variety of love stories blossom like this? All of it is beautiful fantasia on the best that we can be. It’s not cynical. People’s behavior creates the happy ending. It’s not like they have a happy ending and walk off into the sunset; the sunset is created by the beauty of these people’s bravery and action.

SAYEJ: That has a lot of resonance in where we are today with the pandemic, having to step up for the greater good.

SORVINO: Yes. People are returning to things that really matter. Honesty. Kindness. Altruism. Living a true and honest life that doesn’t have anything to do with the outside of things, but the interior, the inner world. It’s not about materialism, but heart.

SAYEJ: What was it like working with Patti LuPone?

SORVINO: Great! It was my second time working with her. We did a 2014 film called Union Square. She played my mother in that. She worked with my father in a musical called The Baker’s Wife in Washington. She’s a legendary performer. Our solo scenes are special—she’s simple and real. She was like an angel to me.

SAYEJ: Did you get to spend any off-camera moments with her?

SORVINO: Yeah, I got to spend time with her backstage in the green room. She talked about her life, her beginnings, her showbiz life, my dad, all sorts of stuff.

SAYEJ: What are you wearing in this still? It looks incredible.

SORVINO: It’s a light blue satin dress, a vintage dress. The costume department by Sarah Evelyn Bram is just extraordinary. There’s an incredible selection of vintage dresses. They recut a vintage design from old patterns. All the jewelry was vintage. Putting on the clothes, you literally felt like you were stepping back into Old Hollywood. It was like a little girl playing dress up.

SAYEJ: Can you believe it has been over 20 years since Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion?

SORVINO: No! I think the popularity has been growing. Lisa Kudrow and its creator Robin Schiff are always marveling at its staying power.

Lisa Kudrow (left) and Mira Sorvino in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.

SAYEJ: Would you ever do a Romy and Michele sequel?

SORVINO: It’s funny because we always stayed in touch and said we were always willing to do a sequel of some sort. It has never happened so far, but I haven’t given up hope! If people keep asking for it, maybe it will happen.

SAYEJ: I think a lot of people would love a Romy and Michele reunion.

SORVINO: It would be interesting to walk back down that lane. It still remains a fun movie to watch, even for me. It’s so ridiculous and yet poignant, in a weird way. It celebrates not being the prom queen but being your authentic self and the importance of deep friendship. I still relate to it and love it. I love Lisa Kudrow. We’re still friends. I am going to do her show, which has been put off for now because of the virus.

SAYEJ: It also taps into the importance of furry stilettos.

SORVINO: Of course! My 15-year-old daughter watched the film with me and said, “Mom, do you still have any of those clothes? Can you give me any of them?” I said, “A lot of the clothes were mine before Romy and Michele and I brought them in as possible costume options!”

SAYEJ: Ooh, which ones?

SORVINO: Remember the pink and blue prom dresses and the Madonna twins? Those were actually my outfits. I think I was still waitressing when I bought them. I used to take my tip money and go splurge on the sale rack at Betsey Johnson. They were some of my favorite outfits.

SAYEJ: Would you let your daughter wear them?

SORVINO: Sure! I’d let her wear it. Why not? It’s so cute. It looks like a tutu. And she’s a dancer, so it’s perfect.

SAYEJ: Thanks so much, Mira.

SORVINO: Have a Romy and Michele Day!