Sorvino triumphs in life, love and film

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 14, 2002

In “Triumph of Love,” Mira Sorvino portrays a princess who falls in love with the rightful heir to her father’s throne. Because he has been taught to hate her, she schemes to befriend him (dressed as a boy, of course).

In real life, the Oscar winner didn’t have to try nearly as hard to win the heart of her boyfriend of three years, French actor Olivier Martinez. They were set up on a blind date.

“It wasn’t supposed to even be a date,” says Sorvino, 34, sipping a cup of coffee at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. “I was spending the summer in Paris and my friend said she knew someone who’d make a great tour guide for me. She said, ‘Just be careful. He’s really handsome.’ I didn’t think much of it and then I saw him and was like, ‘Uh oh.’ I pretty much fell in love right away.

“It was nice, though, because he was famous in his country and I was whatever I am in mine. But we didn’t know each other from our work. We only knew each other as people.”

It helped that Sorvino, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1990, already was fluent in French (as well as Mandarin Chinese). Not that Olivier doesn’t occasionally tease her about it.

“I can speak French very quickly, but I always reveal myself with a little bit of an accent and some bad grammatical choices,” she says. “Olivier says, ‘Oh, it’s very cute the way you say that. It’s not French at all, but it’s very cute.”

For her role in “Triumph of Love,” which opens Friday at local theaters, Sorvino didn’t leave her accent to chance. She enlisted the aid of three dialect coaches to make sure she didn’t slip up.

Dressed in a baby blue sweater, faded jeans and a pair of snakeskin boots, and clutching a bright red handbag, Sorvino looks every bit the modern woman that she is. She is polite, pausing during an interview several times to thank waiters for refilling her coffee. Like the character she plays, Sorvino knows what she wants. But she doesn’t feel the need to scheme to get it.

“When I first read the script, I didn’t want to play her, ’cause she was too unlikable,” Sorvino says. “She’s lying through her teeth constantly. But then it became obvious she was using evil means for a good purpose–to put this guy back on the throne. Of course it never occurs to her that he may not love her back and marry her. She’s just that confident that everything will work out the way she wants–that she’ll give up the throne for him, but he’ll fall in love with her, marry her and she’ll be back on the throne again.”

After his parents were locked up by the princess’s father, the naive prince has been isolated from everyone except a woman-hating philosopher (Ben Kingsley) and his scientist sister (Fiona Shaw). The princess schemes to disguise herself as a boy, befriend the prince and win his trust. In order to get close to him, she knowingly misleads the brother and sister, who both fall in love with her, er, him.

“She is a master manipulator who figures out what each person really wants and then promises it to them on a platter,” Sorvino says. “I don’t know that I could do this myself. It’s difficult to remember lies–who you lied to, what you said, how you said it. It’s too complicated!”

The film is flawed, and not even Sorvino’s charming performance can breathe life into the convoluted plot. But the role is a testament to Sorvino’s fearless attitude when it comes to making career choices.

“There are certainly some elements of the movie that don’t make sense, but you have to go with it,” she says. “It’s a fantasy and it’s a fun ride to see what lengths this girl in love will go to for the sake of love.

“I like to do things that I haven’t done before because I’m curious. A lot of people said I should never have done ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion,” but I’d do that movie again in a second. I keep thinking of calling [co-star] Lisa Kudrow about doing a sequel. I just love doing comedies because you make yourself laugh as you work.”

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