The new film The Sisters is based on a play (Richard Alfieri’s The Sisters) inspired by a play (Chekhov’s Three Sisters). The action swirls around Masha (or, in this case, Marcia), the most headstrong, belligerent, and vulnerable of the three women. If this movie version wobbles slightly in the passage from stage to screen, it’s given ballast by Maria Bello, proving what she established in The Cooler and A History of Violence—there is seemingly no role she can’t make more interesting through sheer force of will. Adam Sternbergh spoke to her about Henry Miller and those tabloid girls: Lindsay, Britney, and what’s-her-name.
You know, in the wrong hands, this character could have come off as a total shrew.
Yes, she’s a bitch. I think Masha in Three Sisters is the same way. So either you approach it with a lot of subtlety or you need everything to be really overt. That’s what I went for: She wears her emotions on her sleeve. Her rage, her sadness, her vulnerability, her jealousy, her wretchedness, and her joy. It’s all right out there.
She’s a very convincing character. I’ve known people like that in real life.
Like that character.
No, who in your life? Your mother?
No, not my mother.
Well, it’s true—that kind of person is very difficult. I find myself to be a difficult person. By which I mean moody and hanging all out there.
But does Marcia know that she’s difficult?
Yes, completely, and she’s come to terms with her neuroses. Henry Miller called it, in Tropic of Cancer, the who-gives-a-fuck phase.
Is that a healthy phase to be in?
I think it’s a fantastic phase. I think it’s called freedom.
As a difficult person, do you enjoy the same freedom?
I do. It’s more freedom than I’ve ever known. I’m turning 39 in a couple of weeks, and my friend who’s 42 was saying that your forties are all about the who-gives-a-fuck phase.
How do you reconcile this phase of your life with the celebrity side of your life?
Let me be honest. I don’t really have a celebrity side of my life. You’ll never see me in any sort of gossip column or in those magazines. All those magazines, I can never tell on the front cover which girl is which. Lindsay, Britney, what’s-her-name! They all kind of morph into one.
Speaking of freedom and fraught relationships, A History of Violence explored those issues in detail—like that crazy sex scene on the staircase.
We talked about that from the beginning: that this was a power struggle between my character and Viggo’s [Mortensen]. In the beginning of the movie, she literally and figuratively wears the pants, and he’s more of the mommy, pouring the cereal for the kids. When the truth is unveiled, she falls apart and realizes she’s not in control of anything anymore. So the sex scene on the stairs is really telling: She’s never not been in control. And she finds that very appealing. She gets turned on by the innate female desire to surrender.