Amanda Seyfried (pronounced SIGH-frid) says that her big eyes make her look a bit like a frog.
But the Amanda sitting across a small table last month in a suite at New York’s Ritz-Carlton looks nothing like a frog, unless she’s referring to some parallel bizarro universe in which frogs kiss ugly princes to turn them into frogs.
Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård
(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 18 Jul 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 11 Jul 2008 (General release); 2008)
Seyfried (“The Big Love,” “Mean Girls”) is pretty, petite and bursting with energy and opinion. In a celebrity culture in which actors are either dumb as rocks or prepped for the press like political candidates, this Allentown, Pa., native and her handlers haven’t yet gotten the memo. She’s as refreshing as an ocean breeze.
It is hoped that “Mamma Mia!,” her first leading role (and it’s opposite Meryl Streep), won’t change her.
After a series of serious roles in “Law & Order: SVU,” “House” and “Alpha Dog,” was it easy for you to lighten up for ABBA?
It was pretty simple for me to just be excited, and that’s the character I play. She’s just enthusiastic about life, and I was so enthusiastic about filming that I didn’t really have to go anyplace to get the right attitude. It was a very rare experience—Greece and Meryl and Pierce (Brosnan) and dancing and singing, sharing something that is so private for me.
Have you prepared yourself for the increased media attention?
Two minutes out of (Manhattan’s) Midtown Tunnel last night I see a taxi cab with my head on it, and I was like, “Wow!” I’m just in a continual state of shock. One day I may wake up and be like, “I didn’t appreciate it enough.” But hopefully that won’t happen.
Were you a theater geek growing up in Allentown?
A little bit. I did some theater when I was young but I came in a lot to (New York) because we have a bus system that goes straight into Manhattan from Allentown. We only take the bus. There are no trains. Driving is impossible. It costs so much to park. And I got to see “Cats” and “Les Miz,” which is my favorite musical of all time.
Your sister lives in Philadelphia?
She’s an artist—drawing and painting, sculpture, multimedia. You name it, she can create something pretty awesome.
Any recollections of visiting her?
I had a Philly moment. When she was in college I got to spend the night. My parents drove me down. And I just partied all night. I was 14. I went to a bar. It was eye-opening. This adult world, it’s kind of dirty.
So now you’re no longer allowed to see your sister?
(Laughs.) No, my sister moved in with me in London (during the “Mamma Mia” shoot). I had room and I gave her half my per diem. She helped out (costume designer) Ann Roth, did some art, read books. ... She’s my best friend.
You started as a young model. Was acting always the goal?
Acting became the goal. Modeling was just fun. I got to experience it. I got actual jobs from it, surprisingly. I was doing theater when I was younger but I never thought I was good enough.
No actress thinks she’s good enough.
True, until you get experience. Then “All My Children” gave me experience. Now I think I’m good enough for some things, not good enough for others. I would like to be one of those actresses who can do anything.
There aren’t many of them.
There really aren’t. I would say that I’d like to be like Meryl some day—I don’t know many people who don’t have that goal.
What was your first big break?
I guess I’d have to say “Mean Girls,” because it was my first experience on a movie and it got such critical acclaim that a lot of people on the street knew who I was—the girl from “Mean Girls.” But that only gets you so far. From this movie, people might know my name, and that’s another big break.
What was it like working with Tina Fey on “Mean Girls”? And you can’t use the words “genius” or “brilliant.”
Tina Fey: Clever. Tina Fey is so humble and super-accessible, and her humility shines through in her writing. She’s not afraid to do anything. She’s my kind of person, and I love her.
How did you avoid becoming a tabloid fixture after “Mean Girls”?
It’s really easy to avoid the tabloids. You just live your life and don’t hang out with famous people who are in the tabloids. Don’t do anything controversial and be a normal person. Have friends. And get a job and keep working. I know people love celebrity and love to get into the coolest clubs and wear the coolest outfits, but there’s a quick route to being a celebrity that has nothing behind it or there’s a route you can take where you have something under your belt, some experience, something to say or do that can affect people.
But these days, with the way the culture is and the tabloids, I think it’s very difficult to get to the point to where Meryl is at and be sane enough unless you are so specific as to which roles you take and where you live. These days, how will I ever get there?
I was at a party the other night for (“Juno” screenwriter) Diablo (Cody’s) birthday, and I wanted to go so badly because all my friends from “Jennifer’s Body” (due in early 2009 with Megan Fox) were going to be there. Courtney Love performed, and it was at the Playboy Mansion, and Hugh Hefner was there with his wives, uh, girlfriends, and he had monkeys in cages. I bet you anything people were doing cocaine there. I didn’t see it—I was surprised—but I did see people brushing their noses, and I was like, “I’m not stupid anymore and I’m walking away.” I swear to God, I’m really scared of that stuff. That might be my winning ticket—that I’m horrified of drugs.
You worked with Lindsay Lohan and kept your nose clean. Might working with Megan Fox turn you into a “Maxim” cover girl?
I hear that they offer you $150,000 to do it and if you’re game, you take it. That is not something I will do because it takes your reputation, not to a bad place, but to a different place. But also I don’t love my body. I have belly fat like everybody else, and I don’t want to be airbrushed on the cover of a magazine. I don’t want someone to swap out my stomach with a supermodel’s. I don’t want dirty old men looking at me in my underwear.
It does say something about the cultural landscape that you think you have belly fat.
(Seyfried stands and thrusts out her minuscule gut and pinches flab that all but Olympic swimmers would kill for.) You know, where it sort of crumbles.
You don’t have belly fat. You’re just human.
EXACTLY! But they don’t let you be human on covers of magazines! My friend Jenny had her legs cut out and a supermodel’s legs put in. She told me that and I was horrified. These days everybody has to be perfect, and I have an issue with my body. I’m not going to lie and say, “I eat everything I want,” and secretly don’t eat anything and exercise from 8 a.m. to 11 at night. I’m not going to do that. I exercise like crazy. I do Pilates. I do yoga. And I don’t eat (junk).
How did you land “Mamma Mia”?
Just another audition—I didn’t think I had a chance because I’m not Greek, but then a few months later I heard Meryl was going to play the mother and I thought now I have a chance. So, I see the show, and then I get the bug, and then I go for my first singing audition and (ABBA’s) Benny (Andersson) decides to like my voice. So that’s amazing. And then I did the last audition with (director) Phyllida Lloyd and Ellen Lewis, the casting director, and Martin Lowe, the musical director. And I connected. She respects me. She trusted me. And I am so grateful—I will always be grateful. She gave me such an opportunity to do something so different. It changed my life—careerwise, lifewise, lovewise. I fell in love with London so much. I think I want to live there when I can—when I can afford it. But I can’t afford to move back to New York yet.
You’ve got to keep making these big-budget movies.
Yeah. But it’s hard. Most of these big-budget movies aren’t good. And that’s a problem. I’m not looking for that.
What can you say about Meryl? And you can’t use the words “genius” or “brilliant.”
Meryl is the warmest, giving actress. She knows exactly who she is as the character. She’s so prepared. And she knows that her role as an actor is to pay attention to what’s going on around her and treat people with as much equality as possible. She understands this and she taught me this—it’s easy to think that you’re more important just because people treat you that way, but we’re equal parts coming together as one to make something great. And she was so graceful on set. Nothing really got to her. She didn’t bring her life dramas on to her movie set.
That’s hard to do when you’re younger, because you don’t know how to separate work from play. I had a hard time doing that on this film, but I brought that experience with me to shoot “Jennifer’s Body,” and it just makes everybody’s job easier when you’re doing your job—when you know your lines and know where you’re supposed to be. There are so many technical things you learn as you get older and keep working. You realize that you don’t just have to show up and act. You have to do all these other things or it just doesn’t work, and there are millions and millions of dollars on the line every day.
And Meryl’s family is so important to her, and mine is, too. I was able to bring my mom and my grandma to Greece. My grandfather had just passed away and it was so hard, we were all so close to him. But I got to escape. And I told my grandma, I said, “Nina, you have to escape with me. You have to come with me. I’m going to Greece, and you’ve never been there, and you need to get away, and you need to have an experience on your own without him.” So my mom put them both on a plane, and my grandmother had the greatest time. She partied with the male ensemble guys. They were picking her up and dancing with her and twirling her, and everyone was going, “Go, Nina! Go, Nina!” It was so amazing!
Your first lead role plus summer in London and Greece?
It doesn’t really get better than this. I’m afraid I’m going to just have to beg Meryl to do another movie with me. She’s so in touch with herself. I know that comes with age, but I’m really excited to figure out who I am.