If my brain were a Google search engine and I typed “whatever happened to…” into it, the first autocomplete suggestion would be “Mira Sorvino”.
I am forever wondering what the hell happened to Mira Sorvino. She was Romy in Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion. She got an Oscar for starring in Mighty Aphrodite. She graduated from Harvard magna cum laude with a degree in East Asian studies. Her father, Paul Sorvino, was a famous actor and director. Warren Beatty was a close family friend. She dated Quentin Tarantino. She was stunningly beautiful, funny, talented, well-connected and smart. If anyone had the chops to become a major, major Hollywood star – like, Susan Sarandon big – it was Mira Sorvino. And yet, after the late 1990s, we didn’t really see a lot of her.
Why? Well, you’ve already guessed why.
“I have other friends who were told, ‘Oh, you are absolutely going to have to have sex with all kinds of people to advance your career.’ I never did that and I was never willing to,” Sorvino, now 50, told the Hollywood Foreign Press Association podcast this week. “That was horrendous to me. I always refused those things. And I lost out on certain acting opportunities in big movies because of it.”
“You know that?” the interviewer asks.
“I know it! Big movies. This big director who’s got Oscars, who is known for his social justice profile. He said to me: ‘You know, as I look at you, my mind can’t help but travel past the artistic possibilities, and into the sexual.’ (....) My silence was deafening. I thought this was a legitimate meeting. So I didn’t get that part. I know for a fact that’s why I didn’t get that part.”
Sorvino, who now lives happily with her husband and young family, had been relatively quiet until the #MeToo movement first erupted. Since last October, however, she has been one of the most outspoken and unforgiving spokespeople for the movement. Not just in airing her own personal grievances, but in campaigning to change the law around workplace sexual harassment so that it can apply to not just direct bosses, but investors and third parties. “Investor harassment is rife,” Sorvino says.
This is the great shame of hearing Mira Sorvino speak – she’s got this incredible mind, this empathy, this eloquence, and she could have been this huge presence in culture if she hadn’t been so cut down by the industry. In the podcast, she reflects on how, at the age of 16, she had a deeply troubling experience with a casting director.
A new, alternate reality timeline opens up: one where talented women aren’t physically and emotionally tortured, are able to pursue the projects and roles they want
“In order to scare me for this horror movie scene, he tied me to a chair, he bruised my arm, and I was 16 years old, and then he gagged me, and I was all game because I’m trying to be scared for the scene. And at the end, he takes the gag out of my mouth and he said, ‘Sorry for the prophylactic,’ so he had gagged me with a condom. I was too young to even know, thank God, what a condom tasted like. It was so inappropriate and what the heck was a casting director doing with a condom in his pocket in an audition?”
“Gagged with a condom” is, of course, the headline that most publications are running with since this interview came out. Phrases like “gagged with a condom” are the cornerstones of the media’s involvement with #MeToo and #TimesUp – find the grimmest, most sordid moment in a woman’s story, make it the headline and turn a 50-minute interview about her life into another soundbite of a beautiful woman brought low. Since October, we have been stuck in the mire of stories like these. Like a car trying to reverse out of a mud puddle, every time we try to get ourselves out of discussing the sordid details, we get splashed in the face with more depressing anecdotes about condoms, hotel rooms and bathrobes. It feels like a woman’s demand for change has to be measured against the severity of her abuse and it makes me wonder whether Mira Sorvino’s interview would have had any press attention at all if it weren’t for the “gagged with a condom” line.
Like Salma Hayek’s op-ed about making Frida with Harvey Weinstein in The New York Times, or Uma Thurman’s admission that a badly co-ordinated stunt left her with a “permanently damaged neck and my screwed-up knees”, this Mira Sorvino interview is a glimpse into what could have been. A new, alternate reality timeline opens up: one where talented women aren’t physically and emotionally tortured, are able to pursue the projects and roles they want, and don’t fade further and further out of the industry for the crime of being either “frigid” or “difficult”. It makes you miss the performances we never got, but could have.
These are the details that should be floating to the top of the #MeToo coverage – not “gagged with a condom”, but recognition that these women were denied their dignity and we, as a culture, were denied their brilliance, and are all the poorer for it.