‘It’s very rare on the screen that we actually see a woman in the throes of pleasure,” Maria Bello says, reflecting on the fuss surrounding her uninhibited—and refreshingly awkward—sex scenes with William H. Macy in The Cooler. The film, which opens this week, stars Bello as a soulful cocktail waitress who gets involved with the unluckiest man in Vegas (Macy).
At first, it earned the dreaded NC-17 rating for what has to be one of the mainstream cinema’s most honest depictions of oral sex, but the MPAA eventually relented, giving the film an R and Bello a lesson in the whims of prudery. “They cut off about two seconds of my pubic hair,” she says. Fortunately, the strength of her performance has generated a buzz of its own; in upcoming months, the actress, who got her first big break on ER, will star alongside Johnny Depp in a thriller, Secret Window, and play a reporter in John Sayles’s latest ensemble piece, Silver City. She’s also apartment-hunting in New York, where she got her start as an actor. “I love my life in L.A.,” she says. “But I’m dying to get back to New York City.”