Oscar-winning actress gets to play action star in NBC miniseries
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT) - Indiana Jones has nothing on Tess Chaykin, Mira Sorvino's character in the new NBC miniseries "The Last Templar." Chaykin's an adventurer, history expert and action hero, just like the Harrison Ford film character.
Sorvino makes a rare television appearance to star in the production based on the book by Raymond Khoury. The Oscar-winning actress plays the Manhattan archaeologist who is drawn into a search for the lost secrets of the medieval Knights Templar.
The NBC miniseries airs at 9 p.m. EST Jan. 25 and Jan. 26.
Getting to play a world-traveling, hole-digging, mystery-solving role is a big change for 41-year-old New Jersey native. Most of her film and TV roles have cast her as the love interest. She did get to show her athletic side a decade ago in "Mimic." But that role was an exception to her normal acting parts. Until now.
"I had never before played a role that had all of these different elements to it. It's light and deep. She's a little crazy. But she's also got a very serious side, a very scholarly side," says Sorvino during an interview at the Universal Hilton. "I've never played a role like this. I have either played really comedic gals or really dramatic people. There has been nothing like this which is a fun, charismatic person who is kind of quirky but also be kind of a badass, vulnerable or in love."
You might not immediately think female Indiana Jones when you meet the actress. It is easy to see why she gets cast in so many romantic roles. Her smile is disarming. She's full of energy. She looks more like the kind of woman men fight over at a bar than one who would be an action hero.
And that was one reason Sorvino agreed to endure long hours of physical training and shooting in Morocco, where the temperature got up to 130 degrees. (Other parts of the film were made in Canada.) She's almost giddy when she talks about how she got to throw some kicks and punches in the movie.
"I just think it appealed to the sort of adventurer inside me," Sorvino says. "I would love to play her again. She was really fun. She was vulnerable enough to have heart. But not without her naughtiness and a little geeky, not unlike myself.
"I felt like I could be a big range of who I am as her."
But there was a painful side to the part. During the filming of a scene that takes place on a ship that is violently rocked during a storm, a prop hit her and gave her a bloody and bruised mouth. On top of that, she was already fighting a cold.
"My lip was all split and open. And for some reason, right around this point, our wonderful director decides that we should have a kiss to end all kisses," Sorvino says. "I said, 'Really? I don't know if you really want to do this. First of all, I'm, like, bleeding from the lip. And I'm kind of mangled looking.
"But second of all, I'm going to make Scott sick. He's going to get really sick."
The director stood fast. The actors kissed. Foley ended up getting so ill he was in bed for two weeks.
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"I think the only thing worse than ending up that sick was pulling back after every take with gobs of Mira's mucus in my mouth," Foley says in a good-natured tease of his co-star.
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So the miniseries has action, adventure, exotic locations and even some romance. Sorvino became excited about the project because of the complexity of her character. That complexity even included her playing a mom, another role that Sorvino has rarely been given in TV and film projects.
She's the mother of two. That's why she was so convinced the maternal aspects of the role were so important to the character, she asked for that part of the script to be strengthened. The changes helped build the tension between her character's passion for discovery and her commitment to her daughter.
"I like that because, I think I find in my own life, it's a terrible conflict, when you have children, to leave them for any length of time to go to work," Sorvino says. "I never actually leave my children. They always come with me. But I still despair at walking away from them for a long day of work.
"I try and make their lives as educational and fun and as close to me as possible whenever I'm working. So it's a real balancing act."
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Since she started her professional career in 1991, Sorvino has starred in such movies as "Mighty Aphrodite" (for which she won an Academy Award), "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion," "Summer of Sam," "Gods and Generals" and "Reservation Road." Television projects have ranged from the HBO movie "Norma Jean & Marilyn" to an episode of "House."
Her next five projects are all scheduled to open in theaters. That doesn't mean Sorvino is done with TV after her last crusade with the Templars.
"I feel like these days there is a real blur between what is TV material and what is movie material. I think something being a television movie verses being a movie movie is a reason not to do it these days. It might have been a few years ago. Now, it is all about the material," Sorvino says.
THE LAST TEMPLAR
9 p.m. EST Jan. 25 and 26
© 2009, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).
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