Q: A sociopath who wants to be a star. What kind of gift is that?
MM: Laughs. I've heard this description come around and rumor has it that it was started by Paul Weitz. I'll take it. I guess, yes, Sally is a sociopath. There's truth there. I think it's fun and it's a challenge as an actress to sort of find that fine line between being someone who's completely conniving and cutthroat and will do whatever it takes to get to the top, but also infuse that with a sense of reality. She's really vulnerable and insecure and that's sort of where this all stems from.
Q: She just wants to be noticed.
MM: She wants to be noticed and she wants to be loved, obviously. I think there was a huge lack of love in her life as a child. At least in the back story I contrived. Laughs.
Q: You've had success, you are successful. Can you relate at all to her mindset of just doing whatever she has to do to become famous?
MM: Well, I consider myself to be an ambitious person and I still have that fire within me to push myself, and there are obstacles to overcome and there are things that I still have yet to accomplish that I'd love to, but I also have to draw the line somewhere. Laughs. There are things at stake that I'm not willing to compromise. Sally doesn't necessarily share that same belief, which is okay and that's what makes her more interesting than me; I'm pretty boring. Laughs.
Q: If you were starting out at this point in time and hadn't received a record contract at 14, would you have gone on something like American Idol?
MM: There's part of me that believes that I would, because I'm caught up in American Idol now as it is, but I'm sure I probably would have been even more obsessed had I not necessarily been in the entertainment industry. If truth be told, I don't know how far I really would have made it on the show. I feel like I probably would have choked under the pressure and just been eliminated and Simon Cowell would have hurled some cruel comment at me. Laughs.
Q: Now you get to sing these amazing songs that Paul wrote the lyrics to.
MM: I know. As if Paul Weitz isn't talented enough, now he has to add songwriter to the mix? It's crazy. It was fun for me because Paul was in the recording studio when I was recording the music for the film, and I've never been directed with the music before. In between takes he would come in the studio and give me direction, and I was in character and loved it. I thought it was a really fun experience.
Q: I was going to ask you about that, because when you're singing as a contestant, is that a completely different style to singing as a performer?
MM: I just didn't really execute it the way that I would have as Mandy, and I don't know if I necessarily would have sung in those style of songs, but I think Paul and Stephen Trask, who wrote the music with him, they did such an amazing job. Being an American Idol fan, knowing that when it gets sort of whittled down to the top five, or the top eight, they sort of write that big sweeping cheesy ballad-esque power song for them, and I think they did such a great job of capturing it. It’s cheesy, but it's also really melodic and the whole crew was singing it for the rest of the day, after we filmed it. I think it was mission accomplished, it was perfect.
Q: That's just too much.
MM: Totally. Laughs.
Q: This film has the war in Iraq against American Idol. How ready do you think people in America are to laugh at their pop culture and laugh at their President?
MM: I think America's really ready to have a sense of humor about some of these issues. I think sometimes we tend to take ourselves too seriously and I, for one, am really proud to be a part of something that is going to start a dialogue and a social commentary. And it's smart and satirical, and I think it's an important movie. It's very timely to have out right now.
Q: It is. There's a great line in the film that says, ‘when you're famous you get detached from reality.’ How true is that for you?
MM: That's a really interesting question. It's so weird to be objective and to step outside of yourself, because there are days like today. I’m sitting here thinking, ‘okay, I'm talking to you, there's a light on me. I'm in this hotel in New York City talking about this movie that I did.’ It's just such a weird entity and then there's part of me that thinks when I leave today I'm going home by myself and watch TV, read the newspaper or read a magazine. There's sort of this on and off switch, and it doesn't necessarily mean you're one person on and off camera. I'm still sort of trying to wrap my head around the concept of leading this almost double life. I know what I have to do for my job, but then you also have to try and maintain having some semblance of a real life outside of it. It's very easy to get caught up in all of this. But I wouldn’t want to. I'm pretty happy keeping them separate. You know what your work obligations are as opposed to just living your life I guess.
Q: And not letting it all get blurred into the one thing.
MM: No, there doesn’t need to be a gray area.
Q: I wanted to talk to you about Sally's character and how she progresses as a contestant and how you charted that with her wardrobe makeover?
MM: Oh my god. That was one of my favorite parts of being cast in this movie. Because my favorite thing about this show is watching the contestant's style evolve; the closer and closer they get to being in the finals it's awesome, because the bigger the hair got, the more makeup they added, the cheesier and slightly tackier the clothes became. The outfits that I wore in the film are just insane. Someone asked me the other day if I kept any of my wardrobe. I didn't want to offend them, so I told them my style is a little different from hers. There were a couple of articles of clothing I wanted to burn. I was thinking they should not exist in the world. Like these studded jeans, that were awful, just awful. Awful, awful.
Q: Laughs. She had no style.
MM: She had no style, but that's sort of what happens on American Idol. All these people swoop in and they're doing your hair differently and dressing you in clothes that you wouldn’t necessarily wear and are shopping for you now. It has to be such a weird tweaked world for these people on these sorts of shows.
Q: I wanted to ask you about Paul and Hugh, because they both say they feed off each other's darker side. Working with both of them closely like you did, did you find that to be true, or is just them being guys?
MM: No, I can see them doing that. Obviously what happens between them stays between them, but I think I was so in awe of Hugh and working with him and so sort of intimidated by him and his presence - he's a movie star in every sense of the word and I've never worked with someone like that before. I sort of used that for my character. And then as our relationship progressed later on in the film there was real acting required to be comfortable with him, because inside I was, like, ‘oh my god, I'm working with Hugh Grant. I'm riding in a Ferrari with Hugh Grant.’ It was a very odd feeling.
Q: I’ve heard he's quite proud of the fact that he's quite dark and cynical and things like that.
MM: I think he is. I think there's this side of him that's very much this character in a sense and maybe it doesn’t necessarily get to come out all the time. I did notice that he's very hard on himself in terms of his work ethic. He's a very hard worker, but he's very critical of himself. I didn't understand it. After finishing a scene, he’d say ‘all right, let’s do it again,’ but I was thinking, ‘that was amazing. What do you want to do again? How do you want to do it differently?’ I was in awe of that, but I guess that's what makes him so good at what he does.
Q: I wanted to ask you about your reaction when Willem Dafoe first came on set in character?
MM: Well I don't really get to work with him. It's only at the end of the movie that I even really get to meet him and see him. It was fun to be in the hair and makeup trailer with him sometimes. He just really went for it. He completely shaved his head and wore the padded belly and he's just amazing, he's amazing. I had the utmost respect for him. He just completely went there.
Q: Now onto your choices for roles, Saved was a satire of religion, this is a satire on politics and pop culture. What influences what you pick and choose?
MM: You know, I have to say at this point I've been very, very, very, very lucky and very fortunate to have great roles, amazing opportunities and really cool films that I know would bring out the best in me. They've sort of found their way to me, and I've worked hard to pursue them as well. I think I'm just at a point in my career now that I've started to be a part of really amazing films that I'm proud of, it's like you don't want to turn that corner again and go back and do anything else. I want to continue making smart films, and smart choices and hopefully I'll be allowed to do that.