Mena Suvari came to the world’s attention as the underage temptress, a modern-day Lolita, in the 1999 film “American Beauty.” The film won eight Academy Awards and launched the sultry blonde into superstardom. That same year she took a comic turn in the the teenage gross-out comedy “American Pie.” The ability to go from drama to comedy without so much as breaking a sweat gave us insight into the talent and abilities the young actress brought to the world of film.
Rather than resting on her laurels, through the 15-plus years that followed, Miss Suvari has chosen films and TV shows with substance and roles that challenge her talents, including “Six Feet Under,” “Stuck” and the riveting “Spun.”
Miss Suvari spoke to The Washington Times at The Hollywood Show, an autograph event in Los Angeles, to discuss the greatest thing a fan has ever given her, how she picks her roles and subverting audience’s expectations of her.
Question: Have you done many autograph shows where you get to meet and interact with the fans?
Answer: This is the second one that I’ve done. I like the face-to-face interaction. Over the years people have sent fan mail to a part of my team or asking online for an autograph. It’s really nice to come to something like this and meet people in general. It is really because of their support and their admiration that I’m able to do what I do. I really, really appreciate it.
It’s a special thing that people acknowledge the content that I worked on and the roles I play. I feel so honored that people are so lovely when I meet them.
Q: What is the coolest thing a fan has ever given you?
A: This guy here today made me an Oscar. I wanna say he was from Japan. He said that “American Beauty” was one of the three films that inspired him to come to this country. He then said, “I made this for you.” It has my name on it! It says “Best Actress.” No film — I guess just in general. [laughs] It was such a surprise and a real honor.
Q: When you look at your career, what are your favorite moments?
A: I’m so bad with favorites. I get asked that question a lot. I see a lot of symmetry between the sort of projects that came into my life and where I was at personally at the time in my life. Everything that I have worked on has really challenged me in a new way that I didn’t think was possible.
That said, working on “American Pie” and “American Beauty.” Those films really changed my life, especially professionally. But it also kind of thrust me into learning about the business aspect very quickly. It gave me the opportunity to focus more on the kind of career that I wanted for myself and the content that I wanted to pursue.
Even when I worked on “Six Feet Under,” playing a character like Edie was something that really challenged me at that point in my life. I’ve see this weird dance between the content that presents itself to me and what I’m ready for.
Q: What attracts you to a certain role? Is it that you will be challenged?
A: Yeah, definitely. When I came out to L.A., there was this vibe that if you were an actress you would either play the “pretty girl” or the “charactery” one. The charactery girl wasn’t as pretty, like the “plain jane.” And I would many times identify more with the charactery role because it was so much more complex and interesting to me. But casting wouldn’t want to see me for it. They only saw me as the pretty girl.
Q: Did you purposely choose roles to avoid the “pretty girl” typecasting?
A: Yes. I choose to work on projects like “Spun,” where I play a meth addict. Or “Sunny,” where a played a prostitute. Or the movie “Stuck.” Material that is so out of left field.
I think people would have preferred I stayed working on films like “American Beauty” and playing the role of Angela Hayes the rest of my life. Doing the same role is not what fulfills me as an actor. I like to really challenge myself and go as deep as possible into a role. That’s exciting for me, knowing that I needed to follow my passion.
Q: Have there been any roles in your career that you turned down and later regretted?
A: Not really. There’s certainly things that I wish I had had the opportunity to work on but I didn’t get the chance. But as far as turning things down? Not really. Because I don’t really regret what I’ve passed on. I take what I do really seriously, and I really consider everything. So once I decide to do, or not do, something, I own that decision once I make it.
Q: Film or TV? Do you have a preference?
A: I’ve always followed the content. Doesn’t really matter what the medium is. I would love to eventually work in theater. As long as it’s great material and I’m able to challenge myself, that’s all that really matters to me.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m really excited at this point in my life because there’s a lot of projects recently that have come to me that I’m also able to develop and produce. And I’ve been wanting to do more of that. I have at least four films that I am producing and attached to that I can star in as well. I hope to get one started by June.
Eventually I would love to add material to my body of work that I’m not starring in. Get behind the camera.