The Hollywood business is a shifty one, and making it big in the acting mecca is often a dream many don’t get to experience even once. But one actress managed to rise to stardom not one time, but two, and along the way, proved that women in the movie industry don’t have to follow stereotypes or patriarchal norms in order to showcase their true talent. This is the story of the extraordinary Mira Sorvino.
Mira Sorvino was a regular New Jersey kid who grew up to be quite the academic. She attended Harvard University, which saw her graduating in 1990 with a degree in East Asian studies. By that time, Sorvino has already spent a generous amount of time in China, where she honed her Mandarin language skills. But it wasn’t academia Sorvino was after.
Sorvino, in fact, was dreaming of becoming an actress. And like many others, she knew the first step toward that goal was moving to a big city. So Sorvino relocated to New York City and began landing minor roles in television. In 1993, she was hired by director Rob Weiss to star in the indie movie Amongst Friends, and everything changed from that moment on.
Soon after the indie movie was screened, Sorvino became somewhat of a known name. She was now landing more and more roles, and in 1994 appeared as a leading woman in Robert Redford’s Quiz Show. Her first major role would put her in the spotlight, but even Sorvino didn’t know what was coming for her.
Just one year after making her big break in the movie world, Sorvino got a call from the casting people of Woody Allen’s new movie, Mighty Aphrodite. She was to play a rather controversial role, and many didn’t understand why Allen would choose Sorvino for the character. Nevertheless, Sorvino was now cast as the leading woman in an Allen picture. And she didn’t take that chance for granted.
Mighty Aphrodite was a hit. But what is more, Sorvino shot to fame after the movie was released. She received great critical praise, an Oscar, and a Golden Globe. At that time, Sorvino was 29 years old, and one of the few actresses to score so many awards for a comedic role. It was clear she was on to something.
After the success of Mighty Aphrodite, Sorvino kept getting roles that appreciated her talent. In 1996, she got nominated for both a Golden Globe and Emmy Award for portraying Marilyn Monroe, but Sorvino went to great lengths to pick roles that would allow her creative freedom and diversity. She refused to be typecast, and one man helped her avoid that pitfall more than anyone.
Between 1996 and 1998, Sorvino’s love life involved director Quentin Tarantino. If there is one thing Tarantino is known for, it is his sense of experimentation. He was a big inspiration for Sorvino, and he guided her to try different things in her acting career. Because of him, Sorvino starred not only in comedies, indie movies, and romances; she also appeared in horrors and thrillers. But her heyday was nearing its end.
In 1999, Sorvino starred in Spike Lee’s Summer Of Sam, which was arguably her last big role at that time of her life. Despite having worked hard to not be typecast, it seemed like Hollywood had a different story picked out for her, and the diversity of her roles started to dry out. And Sorvino was not the one to take it.
As Sorvino’s acting career abruptly came to a halt, she had to reconsider her options and refocus her life’s trajectory. Instead of acting, she now dedicated most of her time to philanthropy. She became the spokesperson for Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women program in 2004 and was appointed a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations in 2009. But her biggest cause came a few years later, and it would bring her career, and her life, an unwanted gift.
In 2017, Sorvino became one of the first actresses to come out against Harvey Weinstein publicly. Her leadership in the #MeToo movement, which went out after powerful men who abused their power towards women, was a brave act, but it was one that not only affected her private life but also buried her career as she knew it. And Sorvino could not have imagined just how much of an effect #MeToo would have.
When big names in the business are involved, it is natural that the stakes are high. And in the Weinstein case, the stakes definitely were as high as it gets. After Sorvino so publicly backed #MeToo, she suddenly stopped appearing on casting lists, and this is because her name, along with others, was blacklisted. Directors were told working with these selected actresses was a nightmare, and should be avoided at all costs. But Sorvino persevered.
Sorvino’s career might have taken a dive after #MeToo, but not everyone was ready to give up on her. Her talent was recognized once again when she was cast in the new Netflix series Hollywood. The mini-series follows a group of ambitious actors and filmmakers who dream of making it big and have to struggle through the trials of tribulations in the movie business world. But the characters in the series are pointing to something important.
Hollywood is based on a mix of real-life icons such as Rock Hudson and Hattie McDaniel and fictional characters such as Sorvino’s Jeanne Crandall. Jeanne is shown as a glamorous bombshell who is hiding deep wounds of rejection inflicted by the mighty Hollywood dream machine. And Jeanne’s story intertwines with Sorvino’s in more ways than one.
Jeanne of Hollywood is mostly styled after Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe, but there is a big piece of the real-life Sorvino that comes through in the character. In fact, Jeanne’s character is inspired just as much by the one-shot actresses, B-film stars, and typecast women as anything else. Hollywood is, in some way, a true reflection of Sorvino’s experience of the movie business. And Sorvino recognized this sooner than anyone else.
In the mini-series, Jeanne’s fortune keeps changing as she is offered big roles, but she is never truly in charge of her career, or her life in general, for that matter. Sorvino saw herself and her professional life in Jeanne right away, which is why she managed to portray the depth of the character so well and so authentically.
Sorvino has had quite the ride in Hollywood. From making it big with the help of the genius Woody Allen to starring in diverse movies, and all the way to being blacklisted for her outspoken nature, Sorvino has managed to both be thrown around by the Hollywood business, and defy it. What the future holds for her is unknown, but it will surely be extraordinary.