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Sunday 4 December 2016

Roar from Minnie the mother lion

During the filming of Conviction, Minnie Driver kept co-star Hilary Swank waiting every couple of hours while she breastfed her son. 'I was out of my mind when I made this film,' she tells Evan Fanning, going on to explain how motherhood has changed her life and left her even less tolerant of the paparazzi

Evan Fanning

Published 16/01/2011 | 05:00

Minnie puts on an accent right out of a Lucky Charms advert when told of the great affection for her in Ireland. 'Beyond beautiful, but not for the faint-hearted,' she says of surfing in Donegal
Minnie puts on an accent right out of a Lucky Charms advert when told of the great affection for her in Ireland. 'Beyond beautiful, but not for the faint-hearted,' she says of surfing in Donegal
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'I don't look like this in my everyday life," Minnie Driver says, stretching out her arms and offering examination of her appearance. I'm slightly confused as to what she means -- I had some vague notion that this was real life -- but then I realise she means the make-up, hair and clothes that have been so finely put together for a day on the publicity circuit.

She is dressed in a black, sleeveless, leather mini-dress which shows off her toned arms from her favourite pastime, surfing, which she pursues from her home on Malibu beach. Her trademark dark, curly locks elegantly frame her freckled features. She turns 41 this month. She doesn't look it. I can't imagine she does in her real life either.

Warm and grounded, she apologises profusely for eating a breakfast of boiled eggs and toast during our interview. A trip home to London, where we meet, means a frantic tour of family and friends. Last night was spent in her sister's house, despite having the option of a luxury hotel room if she so wished.

"The idea of coming home and staying in a hotel is completely queer to me," she says. "I slept in my niece's bed last night and she was in her brother's room. It was so funny being in a little girl's room in a single bed."

It was a night's sleep she variously describes as "great", "funny", "good" and "grounding". But despite all the fun there was no breakfast. "There was just my sister's kids charging around being monkeys," she says.

She is here to talk about her role in Conviction, an Erin Brockovich-style drama in which Driver stars alongside Hilary Swank, but she's so relaxed that anything, or nothing, could be on the agenda and it seems as if she's happy to go along with that.

It's an ease that is evident in her best roles, from her breakthrough performance in Circle of Friends to her roles in Grosse Pointe Blank and her Oscar-nominated turn in Good Will Hunting. It's been a while since she's had a real bona fide hit, but Driver's appeal remains as strong as ever.

In part this is due to the interest in the life of a star who seems to be perennially single. She has had relationships in the past -- high-profile ones most notably with John Cusack and Matt Damon -- but for now she remains single.

A single mother in fact, as any article about her over the past two years will surely have stated. Practically all will have speculated on the identity of her baby's father, a fact she has fiercely protected ever since she revealed she was pregnant with Henry, who is now two.

"I kept all that private because he's not in the public eye. Why would I visit upon anyone that I loved ... the f***ing paparazzi?" she says as her voice rises a little and her egg takes a beating with a spoon. "Why would I do that at the time of the birth of their first child to someone who is not in the business? All their co-workers would have all this gossip, all this bo****ks. I would never do that. I wouldn't do that to someone that I hated, never mind someone that I'm having a kid with."

The consequence of her decision is that potential names have been bandied about in the press along with other, more fanciful, rumours.

"It's worth taking a bit of 'did she go down the sperm bank?'" Driver says, adopting the voice of a cynical British hack.

"Well, carry on wondering. I chose to do this [live in the public eye] with my life. He didn't. So I wanted to protect him. All I care about is him and Henry. We're not together now, but his and Henry's relationship is all that I cared about protecting. And I think I did a really good job. Job done as mother lion."

So she took one for the team, so to speak? "Yeah, but it's not so bad. There are worse things than that. Anyone who would genuinely ask me, I would look them in the eye and tell them the reasons I'm doing it. I wasn't hiding it because it was some other celebrity. He's just a regular bloke who didn't deserve to have all this stuff heaped on his head. It's not because it's David Hasselhoff."

"Jesus Christ," she states pondering, for just a moment, the thought of The Hoff being the father to her child.

Motherhood, she admits, has changed her outlook on her career, putting what is really important into perspective. Potential jobs in extravagant locations have been dismissed without a moment's thought.

"It's already come up," she says of child versus work dilemmas, "but it's funny because it's not really that hard a decision. There was something that was in Africa and he hasn't had all of his vaccinations yet so I just said 'I can't do it'. Just point blank. So it does make you change. It can't not."

And it's not just in the sphere of work where her outlook has changed. "You would jump under a bus for him without a moment's thought," she says. "It takes you by surprise. One minute you're just bobbing along doing everything to make yourself feel good. Everything you do, whether it's going on vacation or doing a certain job, is done because it feels nice. Suddenly you have a child and everything is skewed towards what will make that baby happy and, whatever that is, is what makes you happy."

"Is that toast still out there?" she suddenly screams to no one in particular. "I'm sorry. I'm a total gannet. When I'm running around all the time doing stuff I eat like a horse. I always have. You kind of have to."

Driver was born into a family of significant means. Her father was a hugely successful businessman -- a billionaire, in fact -- who had served as a bombardier and pilot in the Second World War. Her mother, Gaynor Churchwood, was a designer and former couture model. She was raised in Barbados but following her parent's separation when she was six she returned to boarding school in England.

Circle of Friends was her big breakthrough and a fondness for the country it was made in has always remained. I tell her that in Ireland she was practically considered one of us after that film. "We'll claim Minnie Driver," she says adopting an Irish accent straight out of a Lucky Charms advert. "It's actually Minnie O'Driver."

But her ties with the country are stronger than just that project. "My grandmother was Irish on my mother's side and my father's mother was Irish. I spent a lot of time there, not through family, but I had so many friends who were from there when I was growing up. I was always in Wicklow. And then through surfing I went to Donegal a lot. It's absolutely beautiful. Beyond beautiful, but not for the faint-hearted."

Now her surfing is primarily done in Malibu where her work is right on her doorstep and she can take Henry with her to the office, as she did on Conviction when he was just three-and-a-half months old.

"He was tiny. He was brand new. I was out of my mind when I made this film. When I look at it all I see is an unbelievably tired, haggard-looking new mother. Great. Just the way you want to look in a film. But he was part of it. He was there all the time. [Director Tony Goldwyn] did a lot of directing holding Henry."

In Conviction, Driver plays a supporting role to Swank, who is being tipped for yet another Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Betty Anne Waters, a single working mother from a white-trash neighbourhood who puts herself through law school with the aim of overturning her brother Kenny's (Sam Rockwell) murder sentence.

Driver pays Abra, a fellow mature-student she meets along the way who provides the foil, often comic, to Swank's powerful performance. "I know the power of levity in a deeply emotional, dramatic story," Driver explains. "I saw that she was going to be a really valid anchor for Betty Anne's character. She was so light and full of life and fast-talking. It's good to be a backbone."

The easy, playful on-screen friendship between Abra and Betty Anne was replicated off set between the film's two lead actresses. "I love my girls," she says. "I love my girlfriends and Hilary has become a good friend of mine. She's a good woman. She's not threatened by other women, which is rare in actresses I think."

Does she find this makes it difficult to develop real friendships with other women in her profession? "I have a couple of really good friends who are actresses, but just a couple. I think a lot of actresses are just threatened by women. They are more comfortable working their sexuality with men than they are connecting with a woman on a female basis. Actors are not the most secure people. All of us, and I put myself in that category. We're not. That's part of it."

But working with Swank was easy, even if at times, Driver feels, she must have really tested the composure of the two-time Oscar winner. "Hilary was so patient because I was breastfeeding Henry every couple of hours. She was so patient with stopping for 20 minutes and letting me feed him. Everyone was so cool. There was a good community on the film."

A common theme with actresses, especially once they hit 40, is that the good roles dry up and all that is left is the option to play someone's mother or wife. Days before I meet Driver, Gwyneth Paltrow became the latest big star to voice these concerns. I ask if Driver is in agreement?

"It's all how you approach it. I can bitch and moan about not getting the parts I'd like. Well yeah, but make the most of what you do get, do good stuff, do other things, be creative in as many ways as possible. I dunno, good stuff finds me. It just takes some time.

"I actually think it's easier for women nowadays. I think there are more roles for women -- certainly 35 plus -- than there ever were before. When you look at American television you've got Glenn Close and these amazing actresses, but maybe Gwyneth Paltrow isn't interested in doing American television. I feel like there's tons of work out there. I like all the films I'm making and I'm really happy to be working."

The downside to all that work is the celebrity side of the job, being of interest to the type of publications who want to know "what knickers you're wearing".

"I only really started loathing it since Henry because of being chased by the paparazzi when you have a tiny baby who's flinching every time the flash goes off is disgusting and I hate that. But for me it's just part of it. I'm not Angelina Jolie. I'm not Posh and Becks. I don't have it to that level, for which I'm eternally grateful. And I get to do what I love for a living so it's a trade off."

Interview over and breakfast finished, Driver readies herself for the next person asking her to trade off the job that she loves with bits of her life, or at least the parts of it she's prepared to reveal. It's a long day ahead but at least she knows that at the end of it she can return to her sister's house and climb into her niece's single bed.

Conviction is now showing

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