Actress-humanitarian Mira Sorvino

The Oscar-winning actress talks about her new BBC America series, the science fiction thriller Intruders.

Mira Sorvino is one of Hollywood's most versatile players, with credits that include roles in such eclectic projects as Summer of Sam and Mighty Aphrodite—for which she won an Oscar—and recurring turns in the series Psyche and Falling Skies. Initially, she took her show-business dad's advice and put education first. She graduated magna cum laude in East Asian Studies from Harvard and speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese and French. She then moved to NYC and got her start in films. A passionate advocate for victims of sexual exploitation, she's been a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and a longtime supporter of Amnesty International. Sorvino is next up in BBC America's original series, Intruders.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino who earned that distinction in Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” returns to television this month starring in a BBC America science fiction thriller called “Intruders” which has a pretty good pedigree.

In addition to Mira, the executive producer has the “X-Files” to his credit, so we’ll start our conversation with a clip from “Intruders.”

[Clip]

Tavis: I was whispering to Mira before we played that clip that, when I saw the pilot episode in the studio – the network was nice to send me the first couple of episodes – but after watching the first episode, I was thoroughly lost which I think that’s a good thing for a pilot that you’re waiting to see what happens next.

So when I got to episode two, it made a little bit more sense, but this is one of those things where, you know, you can’t give it all away at the beginning.

Mira Sorvino: No. It’s like if you’re watching a Hitchcock film in the first eighth, think of this as like if you thought of it like a Hitchcock film. Each episode is an eighth of the film. So in the first eighth or two-eighths of the film, he would never give away what you’re going to find out later.

And that’s the way our mystery starts unfolding and you are sort of in the position of my husband, John Simm, in the story who is completely baffled by what is going on with his wife, what are these strange unrelated events, seemingly unrelated, like his friend from high school played by Tory Kittles who shows up and says, “I have things I need to talk to you about a murder and your wife.” And I go missing, so he is just lost and saying, “What is going on?”

And very strange things are occurring and I seem to be undergoing some sort of transformation, some kind of internal turmoil. At first, you could just say it’s just marital issues, but it’s a lot deeper than that.

Tavis: So how then without giving too much away, which is the trick talking about a series like “Intruders,” how would you describe the series? How would you describe your character without giving too much away? So that way, if they get mad at somebody, it’s going to be you and not me [laugh].

Sorvino: Okay. I would say that it’s a paranormal thriller with shades of 70s conspiracy films and a star-crossed love story.

Tavis: Very nice [laugh]. You must have been asked that question before.

Sorvino: I have. I’ve had to think about it.

Tavis: That’s pretty smooth how you did that.

Sorvino: I’ve had to think about it. But it does have supernatural elements, but it’s not horror even though it has a horror feel to it because both of our directors – we had two directors. One for the first four, one for the second, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Stamm. And Eduardo did, you know, the “Blair Witch” project. So there’s a very creepy feeling to the way the camera moves and the lighting and everything, but ultimately it’s not horror.

It’s mystery, it’s thriller, and I find it completely fascinating. It’s based on a book called “The Intruders” by Michael Marshall Smith and it is adapted closely to the book and then it also kind of takes off where the book sort of stops.

So especially as it relates to my character, I am really far more fleshed out in the series than the book. Because in the book, she’s really a mystery figure. And in the series, it…

Tavis: And the series goes farther than the book?

Sorvino: Yeah, it does. It gets to the point of the book by the end, but it has also kind of branched out. So it’s really fleshed it all out. And I am loving the ability to play over eight episodes something that in a film – because usually I do films – you’re done in a hour and a half, so you only have so much time to grow with the character and learn who she is and where she’s going to go.

And I had the most amazing scenes written for me by Glen Morgan and his brother Darren and his wife, Kristen Cloke. They’re just the most incredible writers and the work was like an actor’s dream.

It was so meaty and so crazy. Crazy things happen, but very, very human. And I think the audience is really going to start connecting to John Simm’s character because he’s this everyman caught in this extraordinary circumstance. I think, hopefully, they will like my character or at least be drawn to her.

And then we’ve got fascinating performances by the little Millie Brown who starts acting like a sociopath [laugh]. A very nasty thing occurs with a cat [laugh]. And James Frain who’s a wonderful actor, Robert Forster who’s incredible. You know, it’s a really amazing cast and an amazing project.

Tavis: At this point in your life and in your career, Academy Award already having been secured, what are you looking for artistically in the characters that you choose to play? I mean, I get the point about the story arc that you get a chance to develop here like you couldn’t necessarily in a film, but is that what drew you to this?

Sorvino: Well, what drew me to it originally was Glen Morgan and the script and the book because I kind of got all of them at once. I met with him, I read the scripts, the first four…

Tavis: You read the scripts or the book first?

Sorvino: I read part of the book in preparation for our meeting. And when I came in, I said, “Glen, is it about this?” and he’s like, “Oh, you’re a little off. It’s about this.” And I can say in very broad strokes, this is immortality, okay? The ability to control immortality, to live forever.

And there’s a concept in the story that there’s like, you know, the 1%, as though the 1% was not only controlling finances and geopolitical situations, but actually controlling the ability to live forever and to control how it happens.

And that’s sort of at the heart of our story, so that’s as much as I can kind of say about it. But that’s where the mystery is circling.

Tavis: You know, one of the things that this series, looking at it and preparing for our conversation, had me wrestling with was something I really had never thought of until I got to, again, preparing for this.

And that is whether or not, if I could live forever, if I had the power to make a decision to live forever, whether or not I would want to. You ever thought about that?

Sorvino: Yes. Well, the show poses that question in a very interesting way because it’s really about that which we care most about, the people we love, you know, the loss of loved ones.

Like wouldn’t it be incredible if you were on your deathbed and you were holding the hand of the person you’ve loved the most dearly and you were able to say to them, “Don’t worry. We’ll meet again” and you knew it with certainty and you knew the form that it would take. Not like the vagueness, the promise of heaven or a next world or, you know, the afterlife as different religions see it.

But the actual, “I know. I know how we’re going to meet. It’s going to happen and I know, so don’t cry for me because very soon we’ll be back together again.” That would kind of change everything. But if you had to live without that which you hold most dear, some kind of love that sustains, maybe it wouldn’t be worth living forever.

You know, how far would you go for love? Would you give up your life? Would you give up the possibility of living forever? Would you kill for love? You know, all these questions are explored in the story. It’s really rich. It’s really about the human condition.

And I think, you know, all of us are a little terrified of death even though we may all of us have our faiths. Because when I think about like what makes my life the most rich now, it’s my children and my family and my husband, you know. Just being with them, that’s the most special, incredible time of my entire life even though I’ve had many wonderful times, but that’s it.

And if immortality sort of took a form wherein you were sort of a solo entity kind of bobbing through time, I don’t know if that would be worth it because that attachment to other human beings that is so strong, the people you love, maybe it would, you know, not have the same taste. You know, life being short gives it success in a way. But then again, as we said, nobody really wants to die.

Tavis: I assume none of this, though, is getting in the way of your advocacy work on behalf of women and girls. You’re still doing that, I assume?

Sorvino: Yes. I’m still very strong in the human trafficking sphere. You know, I’m still the UNODC Goodwill Ambassador to Human Trafficking. I’ve been doing that since 2009 and I do a lot of private advocacy within the U.S. on trying to meliorate state laws to be tougher on modern slavery because our federal laws are great.

But no state is whole in terms of its response to human trafficking. It’s been really rewarding. The show was very accommodating. They let me get out in April to go to the Vatican.

I actually got to present at the Vatican on behalf of the U.N. and that was, oh, a very heady experience [laugh]. I was very, very nervous. I thought the Pope would be in the room. He wasn’t actually in the room until the end of the whole conference and then he blessed all of us.

But it was an incredible honor and responsibility because I was speaking to cardinals and archbishops and law enforcement heads from around the world, the head of Europol, Interpol, people from the FBI, the CIA, the chiefs of police from all these countries around the world about how to step up the game to fight modern slavery.

So it was amazing and they allowed me to do that. They allowed me to go to another conference in Atlanta, so it’s definitely concurrent. I’m still doing all my activism and working.

Tavis: You’re a busy woman. How you found time to come see me, I do not know, but I appreciate you coming back.

Sorvino: I’m so excited to be here.

Tavis: We’re always glad to have you back. “Intruders,” starring one Mira Sorvino, can be seen on BBC America. Again, after the first episode, stick with it. It’ll start to make a little more sense [laugh]. I think it’ll pull you in, though.

Sorvino: Yes. It’s a mystery. You’re supposed to be intrigued, yes.

Tavis: It will pull you in. Mira, good to see you.

Sorvino: Thank you.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: September 9, 2014 at 11:59 am