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Mira Sorvino at the New York screening of Union Square, June 25, 2012. (AP Photo)
Posted: Friday August 31, 2012, 11:22 AM
By Ian Spelling

Mira Sorvino has a husband, four children, an Oscar, dozens of films to her name – including Mighty Aphrodite, Romy & Michele's High School Reunion, Summer of Sam and Reservation Road – and some fond memories of growing up in Bergen. All the above are, in fact, mashing together at this instant.

Sorvino is on the phone from Manhattan to talk with (201) about her latest movie, Union Square, and to reminisce about her years in Tenafly. As she speaks, she's interrupted by the joyous cooing of her daughter Lucia, who was born to Sorvino and her husband, Christopher Backus, in May.

"That's my baby," Sorvino says, tending to Lucia for a moment. "Hang on."

"Hi, cutie," she says excitedly to Lucia. "Hi. Hi. Ooh, ooh!" Sorvino then returns to the call at hand. "My kids are going to have lunch with their good friends," she explains, "and I'm going to join them when we're done."

Clearly, Sorvino – now 44 – loves the mommy business. Truth be told, she loves Mattea, 7, Johnny, 5, Holden, 2, and Lucia more than the film business. It's part of the reason she has been so scarce for so long. She exploded with a couple of her early films and with her Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite. But the ensuing fame and pressure to make hits became too heady and exhausting and, ultimately, too much for her.

"I'm a much happier person now," she says. "I remember there was a year where I did three movies back to back in which, total, I had only three weeks when I wasn't shooting. I almost had a nervous breakdown. I felt so overwhelmed and tired, like I didn't have a life anymore. At a certain point, I escaped to Paris. I went for a summer and I just stayed on for a while because I wanted to get back to being a normal person.

"That helped me get my sanity back," she continues. "Now that I have my beautiful family, my life is very different. My priorities and what I care most about are right here. It's wherever I am with my kids. It's not just a professional life anymore. My personal life is so rich that now I have to make that balance between my acting world and my family world. If you ask which comes first, family always comes first."

Sorvino still must earn a living, which she strives to do on her own terms. She doesn't shun studio features, but she won't chase them, either. More her speed is something like Union Square, a super- low-budget indie film currently in limited release. Sorvino plays Lucy, a married, bipolar woman cheating on her husband, who arrives at the Union Square apartment of her estranged sister (Tammy Blanchard), dog in tow, to break some bad news.

Sorvino describes Union Square – written and directed by Nancy Savoca (Dogfight, Household Saints) – as compelling and funny, but moving at the same time. Lucy, especially during an early sequence in which she melts down while shouting into a cell phone at her lover, is shrill and unlikable. Sorvino takes a genuine risk with her portrayal.

"I said to Nancy, 'People are going to want to walk out. They're going to not be able to handle her hysteria,' but as soon as she walks into the apartment her mood takes a turn for the brighter," Sorvino says. "All of a sudden, it's funny and fun. I just had to put my trust in Nancy's hands, and she knew what she was doing."

Union Square feels as if it were shot guerilla-style. And it was. Savoca used the high-definition video capabilities of a Canon 5D still camera.

"When you don't have the camera on sticks, on a tripod, when it's that size camera, you're allowed to just walk around and film," Sorvino says. "A lot of the people walking by or talking to us in Union Square, except for the 'free hugs' guy, were New Yorkers who happened to be there that day. There's a guy who has an argument with me about chia seeds and honey. He's a real farmer's market vendor who took offense when I insulted his honey stand for not carrying chia seeds. He was gracious enough to sign a release and be in the movie."

The movie might not gross $100 million, but Sorvino sounds proud of it and thrilled that it has made it to theaters. Few indie productions these days are accorded that honor.

"I love this movie," she says. "I love that we're getting a chance for people to see it. It's so hard in independent filmmaking these days to get anyone to come to the table, to pony up money, to put their faith in having a movie in theaters. We opened in New York and L.A., and it's rolling into a bunch of other theaters. If we catch fire, with some good press and good word of mouth, it'd be great."

Taking her back to Tenafly

Sorvino grew up in Tenafly with her parents, Lorraine and Paul, and her siblings, Michael and Amanda. She attended Dwight-Englewood School and Harvard University. Sorvino happily recalls her home, which was situated on a heavily wooded property.

"On one side we had a tire swing that hung off this big tree, and in another part of the woods we had a stream that sometimes would get quite deep," Sorvino says. "We'd chase frogs through it and bring our Barbie dolls there and play campout with them. There was a real feeling of an outdoor life we had growing up. I used to ride my bike all over the place, from town to town. I had my parents' old bike, with the baby seat on the back, so I'd take my brother, who was maybe 2, to the golf course a few towns away and walk around and watch the ducks. It was a good childhood there.

"I did like the small-town simplicity," she says. "We had one movie theater. There was the ice cream shop. I liked the little town in Tenafly, the main drag, the railroad station and the parks."

Sorvino still spends a fair amount of time in Bergen County because her mom lives in Demarest.

"A lot of the holidays are at her house," Sorvino says. And when she returns, she takes her kids to Willow Run around Christmastime. "I'll buy them an ornament each and we'll go see the gingerbread houses and the tunnel you go through, with the animated figures."

She also stops by Friendly's for dinner and the New Jersey Children's Museum in Paramus because her kids love it there.

"I'll take the kids to the playgrounds I used to go to in Tenafly," Sorvino says. And since her mother lives in Demarest, the family visits the playgrounds there as well.

"The Duck Pond area is so pretty," she adds. "So we walk around there too."

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