I think you’d have to really do some searching to find someone who slept with Frank Sinatra AND Woody Allen, so it was a special day when I had the chance to meet Mia Farrow.
Obviously what defines Farrow isn’t her hard to pin down taste in men but her acting, including in a string of unforgettable Allen films. She starred in Woody’s best stuff from the 80s, my favorite of which is The Purple Rose of Cairo, which I think is still the best movie about loving movies ever made. And of course she has a signature role as the vessel for the birth of a satanic baby in Roman Polanski’s classic Rosemary’s Baby. Now she’s back in devilish territory playing Damien’s nanny and infernal protector, Miss Baylock, in the new version of The Omen. And what’s unusual for Mia Farrow is that we get to see her kicking a little bit of ass in this movie, which helps make her the best part of the remake (check out my review of the film here for more details).
Q: So it’s kind of a nod and a wink to have you taking care of a satanic kid in this movie.
Farrow: So I’m finding out! I keep hearing that. It wasn’t in my mind. I was doing a very intense play, ‘Fran’s Bed,’ with Julia [Stiles] when I got the call from John [Moore] asking if I would like to be in The Omen. I asked why and he said ‘I’ve got to do it. I just have so many passionate ideas about how to make it exciting for today’s audiences,’ and he scarcely had to throw in Liev’s name. I’m like, ‘I’m there.’ And he said, ‘And Julia Stiles.’ I said, ‘She’s in the next room.’ He said, ‘What? What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘She’s in the next room. We’re doing a play together. Do you want to talk to her, she’s right here?’ That’s an omen [Laughs].
Q: How far were you able to go in this to make it separate from the original film? You seem more of a protector of Damien in this one as opposed to being under his spell.
Farrow: I hadn’t thought of it exactly in that way. Well, I think that my second question to John Moore was why me because the great Billie Whitelaw played this role and very well, and he said that in his interpretation of it this nanny should not be ominous in any way. We were all in agreement that it was another one of Ms. Whitelaw’s great performances, and we loved to be scared by her, but he felt that it would be much more effective to have someone who didn’t look sinister and didn’t show that hand until later on. Of course on reflection, who would hire a nanny like that? Today especially. So my job I think when I come in is to convince that family and lull the audience into believing that I’m going to be the best nanny.
Q: But you also have to portray that there’s something not quite right here as the story progresses.
Farrow: Yes, incrementally. You have to sort of gauge how much you want to let on and when, but it was a fun part. People say, ‘What do you do to get so evil?’ or something, but there wasn’t a single component that she has, Mrs. Baylock had, that I couldn’t find in myself. And by that I mean she was a team player. I believe that she had her network of people. I, too, love to be a part of a team. She had a work ethic. I, too. She could be extremely passionate about her objectives, and there again. She had her faith. I have mine. It’s just a different prism.
Q: Speaking of fun, how about your attack with the mallet?
Farrow: Well, that isn’t my repertoire – but now it is! That was my first day of work on the film. After that I just couldn’t have done anything more embarrassing. It’s like, ‘How do you do, everybody? How do you do? Oh, this is my mallett? Thank you. Jump on the car? You bet. Wind machines? OK, everybody ready? Fly at the car and start sledge-hammering it.’ After that, you know, there was just no way that I could shame myself.
Q: You’ve done Rosemary’s Baby and now The Omen. Do you believe personally in the existence of evil and Satanic influences?
Farrow: I grew up a Catholic. In my catechism book there would be pictures of the devil whispering in your ear and he was a guy with horns and rather sinister with a long tail and a pitchfork. And then in the other ear there would be an angel. I think that the duality of human nature is the thing to look at here. We see everywhere evidence of altruism and goodness. And we don’t have to look far – not farther than the Darfur region of Sudan as we sit here in the third year of a genocide with four hundred thousand people slaughtered. to see how the destructive elements in our components can be exercised. So I think that it’s more accurate – unfortunately – that it’s not a little cartoon devil, but really to look inside every human being. I believe that there should be genocide education at the earliest possible levels of schooling and home to say that this isn’t outside of yourself. This is inside all of us. Until we can acknowledge that and address it there is no hope for a more responsible leadership and behavior in the world. We look to that. The fact that in this film evil is portrayed in the angelic face of a child it’s more accurate than my catechism book.
Q: So you’ve given that no thought.
Farrow: Well, I haven’t been asked any questions today and I’ve been itching to talk! [laughs]
Q: There was supposedly an Omen curse that hit the first film. Did you hear about any of that? Were there any strange occurrences on the set?
Farrow: I think that others had. I think that you better ask them because when I was there it was just jolly. I flew paper gliders with little Seamus [Davey-Fitzpatrick] and I did crossword puzzles with Liev [Schreiber] and chatted with my old pal Julia. It was only fun. John is a riot and really good to work with, and I could see what was happening on the monitor – I haven’t seen the film, but I could see that it was beautifully lit and his placement of the camera was so astute. Any silent bits of the film that would be John doing that. The scene in the hospital, John’s brother is a doctor. John is a very brilliant guy and I was eager to work with him.
Q: How was the dog off camera?
Farrow: I wouldn’t know. I like my own dog and spent as little possible with that one.
Q: Was there ever a point where you thought that the original film was so well done that there was no point in revisiting it?
Farrow: Well, that was my first question to John. ‘Why? Everyone liked the first one, I think.’ Then he gave me the compelling reasons as to why he wanted to do this film in his way for his generation. So I think that it’s valid that he has an interpretation of his own. He was so passionate about it.
Q: So you think that the original may not hold up for the current generation?
Farrow: I don’t think that you can have a hard and fast rule for that, but I think that this film was not so sacrosanct. I mean, there are certain films that I don’t want to see remade. This isn’t one of them.
Q: Would you want to see Rosemary’s Baby remade?
Farrow: Definitely not [Laughs]. What do you think I am, insane?! No. I’ll tell you why. Not just purely because I don’t want to see someone else in a very great role, but because I think that it was by all accounts such a skillfully made film. I don’t want to see Gone With The Wind remade. I don’t want to see Lawrence of Arabia remade. I don’t want to see Psycho remade. They can do it, but the brilliance of Rosemary’s Baby was not in the tale, but in the telling of the tale, and shot for shot I just learned so much about filmmaking. I know that young filmmakers study that film, the brilliance of that cinematography, but the direction of that film is what is so brilliant about it.
Q: It does seem inevitable, though. If it did get remade, would you be willing to talk to the actress who gets your role to give her pointers?
Farrow: If anyone wants to talk to me. But I’m hardly going to be relevant to any future production. But I would I think that they would have a hard time matching Roman Polanski’s work. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but it would be a challenge.
Q: Are there horror movies that you like?
Farrow: I get so scared. I mean, they come up TV and I just turn it right away.
Q: Did you see The Omen when it first came out?
Farrow: I did. Not when it came out, but at some point. I think that I saw it on television. It wasn’t so scary, but there are some that I just can’t watch.
Q: You seem to be keeping very busy these days.
Farrow: Haven’t I been lucky? Absolutely.
Q: Is it luck?
Farrow: I believe so. I really do. It’s fortuitous which coincided with my ability to leave the house because I have four children who are seventeen and eighteen years old, and they’re just now at that age where they are going off to college and one is going to law school and I just have one twelve and a half year old who is going to be home next year. So I can think about now responsibly leaving the house or going to Prague to make a movie. I mean, I have a lovely housekeeper that many of my children…you may know that I have many children and that many of my children have disabilities, and it really just wouldn’t have been responsible for me to leave them for any length of time. So it just coincided with a play that I could here in New York and I could do these films. And I do feel extremely lucky to have been asked.
Q: What’s your role in Arthur and the Minimoys?
Farrow: Actually, I’m going to Cannes with that. I play Freddie Highmore’s grandma. We two are the live people in a heavily animated film. A lot of very famous people, Madonna and Snoop Dogg and others, are in that and voice the animation characters. I’ve not seen it, but I love little Freddie and I love Luc Besson and we’re hoping that there will be two sequels. That’s what Luc is planning.
Q: What’s the story?
Farrow: Oh, you don’t want to go into that. It’s a grandmother and her son living alone, running out of money, and they have a world of tiny people underneath the house.
Q: Besson wrote it?
Farrow: He’s written five books. My script was one of them and he’s planning to do two more feature films with Freddie and I, Freddie and me.
Q: And you’re doing Fast Track with Jason Bateman and Zach Braff. Who do you play in that?
Farrow: Chuck Grodin and I are parents, Amanda Peet’s parents. It’s really fun. It’s just a fun movie and it was fun to work with a lot of very talented young people. I love Zach so much. He’s great.