Actress Minnie Driver thought that she'd show her High Heels And Low Lifes (2001) (movie opens Friday 20 UK) co-star Mary McCormack a glimpse of high society when the pair were filming the Mel Smith-directed film in England last year - and she ended up with egg on her face.
Minnie, who is soon to be Barbara Streisand's daughter in law when she weds fellow actor Josh Brolin, explains: "Everyone British laughs at the Americans and their sometimes oddball customs, so I thought it would be good for Mary to see the natives at play over here - and what odd things we get up to. To give her a view of the - shall we say - rather more conservative establishment? So I got us some invitations to the Cartier polo matches at Hurlingham last season, and we got dressed up to the nines, and off we went."
"They play polo in the US - but not where Mary comes from in New Jersey! I know nothing about the sport, but the game is pretty easy to pick up, and it's not brain surgery to understand. We loved it, and afterwards we wandered into one enclosure, and totally unexpectedly found ourselves in the royal line-up. We were actually presented to The Queen, and I was so gob smacked and surprised that I totally forgot to curtsey."
"Mary was the total opposite, very cool and calm and composed, and made a lovely low bow. I was very proud of her. What actually distracted me, I think, was the fact that Her Majesty was wearing a very large floral hat, and a lot of flies seemed to find it fascinating - they were buzzing all around it. I think that I was more worried about the flies than missing the curtsey!".
Today, Minnie's long and lustrous black hair tumbles over her shoulders, she's wearing a very small and very tight white top that exposes a lot of midriff, and which is supported by two of the thinnest straps that you'll ever see on a garment, and her jeans are of the very faded and much-washed variety, with frayed slits here and there that expose tanned flesh beneath.
Born in Essex, to a "very ordinary" family, the 31-years-old now lives in Los Angeles, and in New York, with occasional forays back to the old country.
High Heels And Low Lifes (2001), a pretty formulaic caper movie, was shot entirely in London and the surrounding countryside, and it was also summertime. Driver liked that bit. "It was warmer" she allows, "and not miserable and wet. So I enjoyed being back home again for those few months. And the fact that I was working with Mary (now a very close friend) and Mel was a huge bonus."
Working on a film set, she says: "is pretty much the same anywhere you may be - it's like walking into the Hilton, the surroundings are the same whichever part of the world you may be in. The thing that I thanked God for was that it wasn't a costume drama, and so I didn't have to be laced up in a corset for the summertime!".
She also managed to hold up filming for ten days when she developed appendicitis, and had to be rushed to hospital. "At first the producers thought that it was going to be a terrible disaster" she recalls with a laugh, "and of course, it certainly wasn't convenient for them if I went down with anything. But then they realised that they were fully covered by insurance. .. .. .I got a few days in the Lister Hospital, most of the crew took advantage of a bonus week off with a few days in Ibiza, and the insurance people coughed up!
The thing that made it difficult for the scheduling was that I got it just before a slew of night shoots that were lined up. "
"I can remember actually feeling the pain for the first time - I'd just finished work, and I had this bad pain in my stomach. The typical British thing is to think 'soldier on', believe that you've got trapped wind, and to go to bed with a hot water bottle. Which is precisely what I did. But then the pain got worse and worse, and I rang my mum in the wee small hours and said 'I think I've got something nasty', and she came around, got me into the car, and into hospital."
"The pain came on at seven in the evening, at seven in the morning the appendix was out. That's how quick it all was. Thank God it never got to the stage of anything bursting, or me going down with blood poisoning. It was just uncomfortable and a bit grim for a day or so, that's all. My stomach swelled up - which was a bit of a bugger and not nice to look at."
"Mary was very sweet - she sent me books and magazines to keep me occupied". No-one in the Lister, apparently, twigged that they had a celebrity in their midst, and an actress who was in fact playing a nurse in her latest movie.
Minnie's character Shannon works in the NHS as a casualty nurse on a minute weekly pay packet, and accidentally overhears a message from a gang who have just robbed a bank. With her equally impecunious best mate Frances (an aspiring but out of work actor) they decide to blackmail the thieves into parting with some of their ill-gotten gains. It all - as you might guess - badly backfires.
It's a sort of Thelma & Louise (1991) story in a way, "except that they don't die", chips in Minnie.
So why does she think that there aren't that many films in which two women play the leading characters. "Because usually they don't make money" she says. "Buddy films for actresses just don't, that's all. The industry doesn't value funny women - and Julia Roberts is about the only female star who gets paid as much as her male counterparts. It's also all about who takes who to the movies to see what - do guys want to take their girlfriends to see a film about two other women, or do their girlfriends take their reluctant men? It's strange".
Comedy, she says "is not as gruelling as the big emotional stuff. That really takes it out of you. But you do hope that you get the comedy in one or two takes, because otherwise you've got to repeat the gag or situation over and over until you get it right, and by then it's really not that funny at all. We were so fortunate to have Mel (Smith) as our director, because he understands comedy timing like no-one else - and if Mary or I didn't get the joke at first sight, he'd carefully walk you through it."
"He knows what he wants of his actors - which is a help, believe me. A lot of directors don't! There really aren't that many funny parts written for women, you know. "
Why's that? "I dunno. Hollywood always demands love interest and yet more love interest in its scripts - and there's virtually none in High Heels. It is a totally focused female comedy, nothing else. That marks it out as different, for a start. And maybe it's also something about us girls being encouraged to be sharing and caring and polite when we are younger, and little lads are supposed to be larger than life and outgoing. Little girls don't get brownie points by being comic wisecrackers".
Nevertheless, both she and Mary had to audition for their roles. Neither was a shoo-in for the part. Was she glad to get it? She wrinkles up her nose and says with heavy sarcasm: "I think that they were very fortunate, very lucky, to get us. The other way around". So has she ever overheard something - as Shannon does - that she shouldn't have done? "Now that's a moral conundrum" she says. "Ermmmm - yes. A few times. But I've never acted on it. Well, not for monetary gain, as she does. Naturally".
How about firing the guns in High Heels? "Not very nice - they have a tremendous kick, even if they were firing blanks. And the noise is deafening, you have to wear earplugs. I've fired a gun before, in grosse Pointe Blank (1997), but it's not something that I like doing, frankly, or that I'm familiar with. It's very gnarly and very serious".
She giggles as she recalls that on the set of the movie, the costume designer, "a lovely French lady called Jany Temime wasn't that enthused about the British nurse's uniforms - so she called in Vivienne Westwood to make it that bit more sexy! I think that she just wanted to make it less frumpy and more appealing. I'm sure that Dame Vivienne will be designing all the NHS uniforms from now on - they'd certainly all look better in them if she did! They'll close down a wing of the Middlesex so that they can afford her!"
Waiting for release is a new movie she's just made in Canada, opposite John Hurt, called owing Molony (2001), "which is all about a true story of a banker, a really high roller, who embezzled millions from a Canadian bank.
It's fascinating - and John is just one of the top actors in the world to work with. I loved the time I had with Robert de Niro, and I admire John Cusack as well. I learned from those gentlemen that it's better to do less rather than more on the screen. To be reductive, and that paring down is the key. Do more, and you look wild and whacky".
So, let's have a look at the engagement ring, then? "It's a sapphire, surrounded by diamonds, and it was entirely Josh's choice". And how does she feel about having Miss Streisand as a ma-in-law? "It's absolutely great - she's a wonderful lady, and I've always admired her and all her films. I'm a great fan. " Is Barbra - as some tabloids assert - arranging everything about the wedding? "Do NOT believe everything that you read in the newspapers" says Minnie firmly. "I have yet to read one line of truth about my lovely boyfriend and all our plans and arrangements". And the date is when? She narrows her eyes a tad and says "later in the year. .. .. "
There's going to be no further information on the subject. Mary, it seems, will be on the invitation list. As far as work is concerned, she's not got a lot planned for the rest of the year, she admits, "because all that kerfuffle over the possible writers and then the actors strikes in the USA has meant that not that much is going forward. But I have been sent a good many scripts, and I'm having a careful look at all of them. I've also started to think about the potential of a musical idea that I've had - but getting a musical made is about as difficult as getting a Western into production - so we'll just have to see what gives. "
Has her Oscar nomination (for Good Will Hunting (1997)) helped her? "Well, it certainly changes your profile, but it rather depends on the person on precisely how it does it. I think that, armed with that boost to your career, a lot of people grab the first big script that comes along, and they neglect to look at the quality of the film in question. There are directors I'd especially like to work with - Steven Soderbergh for one. I'm green with envy because Mary just told me the other day that she'd got a project lined up with him in the autumn. Lucky so and so!".