Harden comes up smiling

USA Today

New York:

Marcia Gay Harden is going a little nuts. She scoops up a cashew, then a pistachio, before stopping her salty snack attack in favour of a chocolate chip cookie and cup of tea. The seven-month actress pregnant with twins — a boy and girl — while jetting to LA knows sodium and flying don’t mix.

“Swollen feet, swollen feet,” she says. “I’ll have elephantitis when I get off the plane.”

The actress was promoting her new movie, ‘Welcome to Mooseport’, a light laugher that has her playing retired president Gene Hackman’s unflappable, coolly sexy sidekick. Director Donald Petrie cast Harden because she could “stand up toe-to-toe with Gene, a force unto himself. And she’s got great comic timing. Plus, she is so warm and immediately treats you like you’re an old friend.”

As for Harden, she loves comedies. “But it’s harder to get cast in them because people see me more as a dramatic actor,” she says.

In fact, it’s her turn in the brooding ‘Mystic River’ that earned Harden her second supporting-actress Oscar nomination, after her win for the 2000 biodrama ‘Pollock’. In ‘Mystic’, she is nearly driven mad by the dogged suspicion that her husband, Dave (Tim Robbins), killed a teenage girl. If that’s not enough, Harden also filmed key supporting turns in last year’s chick flick ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ and the adoption drama ‘Casa de los babys’. It’s no wonder that after the birth of her own babies, Harden is taking a break.

“This is it, right now,” says Harden, who will spend the summer with her brood at her tranquil Upstate getaway.

There, she goes from Oscar winner to country girl: “I do pottery. I’m going to put in a garden, with cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots. I’m learning how to jam and pickle, and we water-ski on the lake.”

Harden, who often plays tortured, tempestuous women, herself is funny and down to earth. She makes a point of thanking a photographer for a portrait he sent her of ‘Mystic’ co-star Laura Linney and herself, which now hangs in her home.

She asks dozens of personal questions, comparing notes on dogs (she has a border collie), footwear (she prefers Uggs to heels) and workout habits (she bikes through Central Park). Perhaps that normality comes from living an inconspicuous life in a Harlem brownstone with her husband, documentary filmmaker Thaddaeus Scheel, and daughter, Eulala, five, who has mixed feelings about the arrival of her siblings.

“She’s a little nervous,” Harden says. “She says, ‘Mommy, are you going to love them more than me?’ It makes it easier to talk to her, to work it out, to assure her.”

What’s more difficult is the mention of her niece Audrey, 10, and nephew Sander, six, who died in a fire on December 14 last year at their home in Astoria, Queens. Audrey had accompanied Harden to the premiere of ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ on December 10, and Harden’s composure dissolves with the memory.

“That was the last time I saw her. She spent the night with me that night,” says Harden, biting her lip. “She had a beautiful night.”

And after a tough winter, Harden is looking forward to a spring with “a lot of good things coming together.”