- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

In “Shrink,” a film opening today about a group of variously down-and-out people in Los Angeles, Saffron Burrows plays a big-name actress who finds that roles are drying up as she heads past her prime.

Ms. Burrows might be portraying a member of her own profession perhaps best known for her striking beauty, but the similarities end there.

The English actress, who’s spent most of her career onstage and on the big screen has, in the past few years, found a new calling on television. And, despite the cliche, says she hasn’t found it harder to get work as she gets older. (It must be noted that she’s only 36.)

“When I was 21, there was a large volume of a particular kind of role — the girlfriend role — and then it naturally becomes more interesting as time goes on,” Ms. Burrows says by telephone from Los Angeles, where, along with her native London, she keeps a flat.

She uses her last film as an example. “Martine in ‘The Bank Job’ could have been one note, but in my opinion, she was an incredibly complex character to play just because she’s been alive for a little bit longer; she has a history.”

Writers, she says, are forced to make older characters a little more exciting — although that’s not the only reason Ms. Burrows’ own characters have gotten more interesting.

“I notice they’ve become richer. Maybe there are less of them, but I haven’t really noticed because it’s not like a conveyer belt. When you’re 17, you want every experience on offer. You go from project to project to project. You can’t believe you’re in the filmmaking world. Once you’ve made a few pieces of art, or filmmaking, that you’re proud of, you want to do more that you’re proud of.”

Ms. Burrows began her career as a model after being discovered as a teenager. She made her film debut in 1993’s “In the Name of the Father,” but came to wider attention as the slightly ruthless Nan in 1995’s “Circle of Friends.” She’s had a varied career, appearing in the experimental “The Loss of Sexual Innocence,” the spy thriller “Enigma” and the big-budget “Troy.” On television, she’s appeared in “Boston Legal” and, most recently, “My Own Worst Enemy.”

“Shrink” stars Kevin Spacey as a therapist-to-the-stars who needs help of his own when he turns to alcohol and pot after his wife dies. The ensemble film stars Keke Palmer as a troubled high schooler who loves film, Mark Webber as an aspiring screenwriter with writer’s block, Jack Huston as an actor struggling with fame and Dallas Roberts as a potty-mouthed agent. Most of them, including Ms. Burrows, are the patients Mr. Spacey tries to care about.

“It has figures that we would recognize in the entertainment industry, but cut with pathos and humor that creeps up on you,” Ms. Burrows says. “I was drawn to the whole world of it. It’s like ‘Short Cuts’ or ‘Crash.’ It melds all those lives together. If well done, that kind of film is really satisfying to watch.”

Ms. Burrows once said she saw politics in her future. She grew up in a very politically active family at a tumultuous time in Britain. Now, she’s not so sure.

“I thought I would have loved, at that age, my early 20s, to become a member of Parliament. I loved the machinations of how it works, the life and structure of it. Now I think it wouldn’t particularly make me happy now. I feel that people rise and they’re discarded,” she says.

“I have an unusual sensibility because I often support members of Parliament, the backbenchers. One man in particular, he’s like my family MP, he’s been there 25 years, helped free the Guildford Four,” Ms. Burrows adds. (The Guildford Four were released after 15 years in prison when their bombing convictions were quashed on appeal.) “Just people on a weekly basis have what we call surgery, where constituents make requests and challenge them to fix their problems.”

Now, she notes, it looks like many of those hardworking MPs could lose their seats, as the country is disenchanted with its Labor government. Still, Ms. Burrows laughs, “I don’t want to romanticize it too much.”

It’s a rare actress who glamorizes the day-to-day work of obscure politicians. However, few actresses grew up with socialist parents who took in striking miners and who, as a young model at 15 and 16, was reading George Orwell and William Morris. “You’re exposed to working with adults; you’re very young, a teenager, and working with people twice your age, with very strong opinions to the right of you,” Ms. Burrows recalls.

“I did get into all sorts of political debate, I do remember. I was always getting into debates over the lunch break.”

Ms. Burrows is now known mostly for her face, but we’ll soon see more of her mind. She’s writing, for example, for “film and other forums.” And, she says, “I’m working on producing a couple of things, laying the foundations this year for a few things. It touches on what we were speaking of, being an actress and reaching a point where you’ve had a certain amount of experience and want to take the reins a bit more.”

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