Amy Irving looks a little tired at first, sitting in a big chair in the lobby of The Cincinnatian Hotel. She's been in Cincinnati filming Traffic with Michael Douglas. But on a day with a light shooting schedule, she's promoting her new film, Bossa Nova, directed by her husband Bruno Barreto. Talking about the project and her relationship with the Brazilian director, Irving brightens quickly.
She and Barreto have been together since 1989, but their marriage is freshly minted. In fact, Bossa Nova — a witty romance about a widowed English tutor and a recently separated attorney set to jazzy Latin music amid Rio de Janeiro's scenic splendor — prompted them finally to tie the knot.
Irving and Barreto met when he directed A Show of Force (1990). "Bruno and I always fall deeper in love when we are working together," she says. Bossa Nova is the first feature Barreto has directed in his native Brazil in several years, and both the music and the setting deepened their romantic feelings.
"When we started to promote this film all around the world," Irving says, "we started to be like the ambassadors of romance.
The last day of the tour, the day before I came to shoot this film (Traffic, here in Cincinnati), we got married! It was in our living room. The next day, I'm in Ohio and he's off promoting our film in Europe. We come back to go on our honeymoon."
Irving, who has theater experience in addition to more than 30 films and television appearances since she came to national attention as Sue Snell in Carrie (1976), says her stage work makes her a better film actress. Often, she says, movie actors expect to be told what to do.
"Theater actors," she explains, "know what their motivation is for each scene. They treat it very seriously as a craft. You do your homework. The reason I always need to go back to theater is the most stimulating moments are in rehearsal ... whereas often in film, you've go to do it on your own. ... Some film directors do rehearsal. We rehearsed two weeks on Bossa Nova. It makes a difference when you have that confidence."
In the case of this film, it also made a difference in her relationship with Barreto. She explains that they connect one way on the film set and another at home.
"We met on a set. I think Bruno kind of thought he'd died and gone to heaven. There was this American actress who was doing whatever he said. My father was a director. I was brought up that a director's vision is what we are there to realize. In the theater, the play's the thing. In film, it's the director's vision. So I will argue my points; I will have my opinions. But at the end of the day, it's the director's choice. I am much more subservient on the set, and that's how we fell in love.
"When we're at home ... I'm not like that at home, I don't want anyone directing my life at home. That's where we butt heads," she smiles tightly. I cite a remark by Barreto from Bossa Nova's publicity materials — "I'm the director. She's the geisha." — and she flashes back, "Well, he should never have said that. I am there to serve his films. But at home, I'm just not subservient at all."
Bossa Nova's romantic story is about a delicate dance of communication between mature adults from two different cultures. Irving plays Mary Ann Simpson, a former flight attendant whose husband, a Brazilian pilot, drowned two years earlier. Now she's teaching English classes and giving private lessons in Rio. A chance encounter in an elevator brings her together with Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes), an attorney recently separated from his shallow and opinionated wife. The son of a tailor, Paulo is suddenly inspired to do unusual things, including making a blouse for his tutor.
Irving and Barreto worked closely to define her role. "It's like I was playing (Bruno) in the United States, living his world and being from a different culture. Mary Ann was what Bruno was experiencing. I feel closer to him for this whole awareness, not only as the character, but as me, Amy, working in Brazil with all foreign people. I'd never understood what it felt like for him making movies in the United States. Our worlds crashed together," she says.
Bossa Nova was filmed using an international crew. Irving says, "We had a French cinematographer. We had a Belgian camera operator. We had two American actors. We had an Argentinean actor. There were a lot of languages going on. Bruno would speak French to his cinematographer, Portuguese (the language of Brazil) to the other actors, he spoke English to me, just to be sure I understood the gist of the direction."
The film, which includes characters speaking both English and Portuguese, is subtitled, although its story — an interlacing of principal and secondary characters who increasingly converge on one another — is easy to follow and charming in the ways it reduces the necessity to catch every word.
Music, however, is the universal language of Bossa Nova. While the film is based on Sergio Sant'Anna's novel, Miss Simpson, Irving says, it was really inspired by the lyrics of several Bossa Nova tunes by Tom Jobim, especially "Useless Landscape," which opens the film. The song, according to Irving, asks "Why have all this great beauty around us if I have no one to share it with?"
The success of Bossa Nova in Brazil, where it opened in March, has made it tougher for Irving to travel there unrecognized, and it's part of why she looks a bit tired during our visit. She's a private person who lives in New York City rather than Los Angeles because she wants her children (her older son is the product of her marriage to Steven Spielberg) to know people who work outside the film industry.
But Amy Irving's weariness these days is happy, the product of a labor of love. ©