Interview: Emily Mortimer

On the 16th May Universal are releasing Martin Scorsese's incredible film Hugo to DVD and Blu-Ray. The film received 11 Academy Award nominations at this year's Oscars, including Best Picture. In light of its release, Chelsey received an exclusive interview with one of the film's actresses, Emily Mortimer.

Hi Emily. Hugo was such a wonderful film to watch. It must have been amazing to be part of.

It truly was. I had a sense when we were making the film it would turn into something wonderful and as a result I kept getting my kid (eight-year-old son Sam) on the set as much as I could because I felt in years to come he would be able to show off about how he stood on that set (laughs). There was just something special happening.

The master behind the magic is Hugo's director Martin Scorsese. It would also be a great opportunity for your son to watch one of the great filmmakers.

Yes. The radical and brave filmmaker that Marty is was choosing to use 3D technology. That is something that scares a lot of filmmakers and rightly so, but Marty was using that to push the boundaries of filmmaking and using the most up-to-date technology around to make a film about the very first movies and the first technology used in filmmaking to create magic in the cinema. 

That is true.

Yes. This film was made in 2011 but was about a filmmaker who was making films 100 or so years ago. In a weird way, one has a sense of every film that has ever been made in between those movies while you are watching it in a weird way. It encompasses the whole history of theatre. 

What was in the script that appealed to you?

Essentially, it is a story about a little boy discovering cinema. You see that experience through a little boy's eyes and seeing film for the first time. I just knew when we were making it it would be something special. I'm glad to be part of it. 

Like you said, in the movie you see Hugo's wonderful experience discovering cinema. What was the first movie you can remember watching?

Calamity Jane. I'm still obsessed by that movie. I can't watch it enough (laughs). I love Doris Day. I also watched a lot of black and white movies. A lot of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn movies. I remember I watched Woman of the Year when I was about 10. I watched Adam's Rib.  I watched them before I had any comprehension of what was going on in the movies. It was a great education.

Can you talk about your relationship with movies when you were a child?

I was introduced to film through television. I was a bored schoolgirl in the English countryside in Oxfordshire and an only child until my sister was born when I was 13. There were a lot of rainy afternoons to fill. I did that by watching telly. At that time there were only three channels on English TV and it was an amazing education. I learned everything from watching TV. I would watch everything from how to build a house in Welsh to university programs about atoms. I also watched a lot of movies. 

What was it like shooting in 3D?

You were very aware of the 3D element because the camera was huge. In a funny paradoxical way, the 3D cameras were like the very first cameras. You were aware of the trickery and magic. You felt part of the magic trick, just as probably Melies' actors were aware. It made you feel like this movie experience was different to others. Your job was to service this magic trick rather than be the magic trick yourself.

You play Lisette and she works in the train station where Hugo lives. Lisette is pursued romantically by the train station inspector played by Sacha Baron Cohen. What was it like working so closely with Sacha?

I was a bit wary before he arrived. I thought he might be a cheeky so-and-so because comic geniuses can be hard work. He was the opposite. He is such a lovely, lovely guy. So, sweet.

Is he funny in person?

He is as funny as hell. Of course. That goes without saying. But what surprised me was just how sweet and nice he was.

Sacha is almost unrecognizable because the character is so different to what we are used to. He definitely isn't Ali G, Borat or Bruno.

(Laughs) It was so annoying how great an actor he is. He kept welling up in tears at the vital moments. I think he was surprising himself at the time. He reminded me a lot of Peter Sellers when I watched him acting. There's something those two have. They have the same look or something.

That's true.

Yeah. Peter Sellers was one of the great comic geniuses of his time, but he was also a brilliant actor. There was something dark and complicated about him as a performer. Sacha has a bit of that too. He is also very lovable. It was easy to have crush on him (laughs).

You have worked a few times with Sir Ben Kingsley. What is that like?

Wonderful. We have worked together on three films now. I always learn from him. I remember on the first film we did, Transsiberian, he said 'You don't have to take on the whole film. You don't have to telegraph the whole movie. You may have the main part, but you don't have to telegraph the whole movie. You just have to be present in the moment and be there and be truthful in the moment'. It is something I have really taken with me.

When you watch Hugo, what goes through your mind when you see the closing credits roll?

I think how incredible the film is and how Martin Scorsese and Asa Butterfield have re-created everyone's first experience of going to watch a movie as a child. It viscerally gives you that feeling again with this little boy, not just for our first movie, but for the first movies ever made. Marty and Asa have pulled off something so magical.

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