Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q: Was it scary when you realised you were cast as an
actress who was called the most beautiful woman in the world?
A: Yeah, it gives you a bit of a lump in the throat.
It was so exciting, my agent called and said Martin Scorsese is
in town tomorrow, he's meeting a few people and he'd like to see
you for Ava Gardner.
You go... 'Oh that's great!' Then the panic sets in. It's not
just that she's described as the most beautiful woman in the world;
she is in every page of the script as well. I thought... I hope
I'm not having an ugly day tomorrow.
Then after a while I just had to let go of worrying about that.
I think she was gorgeous but more importantly she had this incredible
spirit and I think that made her even more gorgeous; that she
was this truck driver in a goddess's body.
I think that was what was so appealing.
I tried to concentrate on that and not get too nervous about the
Q: Why did Scorsese think of you as Ava Gardner?
A: I didn't ever ask him... 'Why me?' In case he said
'exactly'! He was very much about the spirit and I have a kind
of truck driver's mouth myself.
From what I can gather there is probably a combination of feminine
and strength that he liked.
I just showed up delighted to be there and did the job.
We had a great time, it was such a lovely project to be a part
Q: What had you known about Ava Gardner?
A: Initially, not that much. I had had my Jeanne Moreau
obsession and my Audrey Hepburn obsession, which I think is compulsory
for all teenage girls to go through that rite of passage.
I also had my little bit of a Bette Davis one. I had seen a couple
of Ava Gardner movies, but actually
not that many.
So when I started researching was when I got into them. She is
a bit more enigmatic than, say, Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis.
But once I started reading about her I felt, 'wow, it's a pity
that there isn't a whole movie about her'.
I did my little doctorate in Ava Gardner and she is fascinating.
From her relationships to her interests... she definitely liked
to live in the eye of the storm.
Q: Where did you get the research material?
A: Marty sent me a lot of books. I loved that because
I have this geeky academic background, so it was just up my street.
It would have been lovely to have met the real person and, obviously,
that was not possible.
So I used secondary sources... watching her movies obsessively,
there was one in particular I concentrated on for the voice and
the accent which was Mogambo. I now know that off by heart.
I ended up loving it by a process of attrition because I watched
it so many times.
It was terrific for studying her... that vulnerable, feisty thing.
Q: What were the physical things about her that you noticed?
A: The way she carried herself. Obviously, she was incredibly
voluptuous but she carried it very athletically.
The centre of her gravity is very grounded. She was not the Marilyn
Monroe, kind of kittenish sexy.
The way she carried herself seemed very modern. I think it is
interesting how sexuality has changed over the years.
She didn't have to play up anything that was weak. It seems very
There was a wonderful dignity about her. The hard thing is to
get an idea of how someone is in life based on their films.
I'm sure her facial expressions were much more exaggerated in
So I didn't want her to appear to be playing a part. I thought
it was important that Ava Gardner was entirely present and earthy;
that wonderful female presence that wasn't couched in anything.
Q: Did you see any news reels or other footage of her?
A: The vaguest bit but it was mainly her signing autographs,
which was still a public appearance. The books were incredibly
helpful. The wrote one herself which was the only book that said
they didn't have a sexual relationship. As a show of solidarity,
I felt I had to go with her story.
Q: What about the costumes?
A: It is a great silhouette. The hard thing is that these
days the people who wear those kind of outfits are grandmothers.
So there is that slight somebody's auntie feeling when you put
it on. The fabric is very thick, they were strangers to lyrca,
which has obviously revolutionised my life!
The costumes are beautiful as a piece of art. I was standing six
feet tall in the hat and the shoes.
And there were these huge shoulders; everything is so padded and
tailored. These days, it seems that everybody wants to look as
thin as possible.
It was very much not that then - it was a robust, ship in full
sail quality that was actually quite nice to do.
Q: Could you see that fashion
A: I think a version of it, involving lyrca and more
In the costume fittings pretty much everything we tried was an
in black or black taffeta.
But Sandy has gone for these amazing tones - all of my costumes
were these startling colours so that I definitely felt I had full
Q: You mentioned how much fun everyone had during filming?
A: It doesn't feel like work when everyone is passionately
involved and excited to be there. And it just feels like you really
are having the
lucky privilege of creating something that hasn't happened before.
I was exhilarated by the work.
Q: Did you have a look into the life of Howard Hughes
A: I did a little bit. I knew Leo would do an amazing
job. You could tell from the audition - he was so immersed in
it. As far as I was concerned Leo was Howard Hughes.
Q: Since making the movie do you know more about Hughes?
A: Oh definitely. Howard Hughes, in a sentence, before
would have been someone who was totally obsessive about something.
That was all I knew really - he went crazy and washed his hands
a lot and was independently wealthy.
I had no idea how much of an impact he had on the film industry
and that the planes we are on now were his idea really.
For one man to have had such an influence on so many different
areas in such a grand scale - no wonder he washed his hands!
I know they are using it as a tag line for the movie, but I do
believe that he had this kind of imagination without limits and
definitely this breadth of scope for what was possible that transcended
other peoples's ideas of what was
There is also a downside to that - if someone has no limits in
a positive way, it is quite likely that there are going to be
some demons that are equally without limits.
It is rather a poetic journey to watch someone tread that line.
That's what the movie does very well.
Q: Can you understand why someone might develop a compulsive
A: Yes, particularly if you are directing and producing
movies and into flying aeroplanes, there is a control issue.
I know from my own tiny control issue that I would much prefer
to have my pilot's licence - so that when I get on a plane, if
anything goes wrong, I might be able to try and save it.
The things he was interested in were difficult to control but
possible so that you could keep chasing the dream.
Q: What do you see in Leo that makes him so special?
A: I was living in Paris with a boyfriend from university
and we were both acting and wanting to be actors when I saw What's
Eating Gilbert Grape?
I came out and said... I really, really hope that was a real boy
because if it is an actor, then we are all in trouble.
He is incredibly intelligent. It's tempting to think that because
he is so young, that the talent fairy has dropped some fairy dust
on him while he's on his skateboard and that he's lucky.
It's nothing like that. He's the most
disciplined, hard working, mature actor. He's just amazingly responsible
and very smart. I think he is attracted to projects in which he
can achieve total immersion.
It's stunning to watch somebody get to do that. And he is charming,
I really like him as a person.
Q: What about working with pop stars like Gwen Stefani?
A: I was totally excited to meet Gwen Stefani and so
was my daughter. It's the first time that she has actually been
impressed by anybody that I have worked with.
Pop stars are actually quite cool. And Gwen was very sweet to
Lily; she's a lovely girl and I think she looks absolutely perfect.
Q: What was it like being directed by Martin Scorsese?
A: All of those guys who come under the umbrella of being
an auteur, your expectation is that it's going to be extremely
dogmatic. The person is going to have a definite idea of what
they want and you had better do it and they might shout at you.
But it has never ever been like that. The best directors make
you feel like you thought of everything by yourself.
Marty is the most dignified, elegant person with a wonderful sense
humour and incredibly gentle.
Once I got over the first day, when he looked so like Martin Scorsese
that it slightly freaks you out, he is
just interested in you.
You feel it's great and I'm sure he gets what he wanted in the
first place. We had wonderful ideas.
I loved shooting the scene when Leo and I have a big fight. That
was a great day.
Marty can think on his feet like nobody else - I just loved it.
Q: After doing this what would you think of someone playing
you in a movie?
A: I don't know if I have blazed enough of a trail for
that. God what a terrifying thought!