Love, Lust & What Marisa Tomei Didn't Wear

Oscar winner Marisa Tomei plays a doting mom in the new movie “Parental Guidance,” but her roles have often required her to bare both flesh and soul. She talks about her Brooklyn childhood, dating younger men—and what she learned from that “Wrestler” striptease

by Margot Dougherty
marisa tomei leaning on a tree image
Jean Paul Gaultier twill dress; J/Hadley opal, pavé diamond and gold ring;
Photograph: Alexei Hay

Jonah Hill confesses to being abjectly in love with Tomei, and not only because she was the first celebrity to give him props. “She came up to me in a restaurant the day after Knocked Upcame out and said, ‘I love you—you’re awesome,’ ” he remembers. “When she walked away, my friends were like, ‘That was crazy!’ ” What sealed his adulation was playing her son in Cyrus, an offbeat comedy that depicts the overly close relationship of a single parent and an adult child. The arrangement becomes increasingly problematic as Tomei’s character tries to date a new man (John C. Reilly). “My favorite movie I’ve ever been in is Cyrus,” says Hill—high praise, given his Oscar nomination for his role in Moneyballwith Brad Pitt. “And my favorite scene I’ve ever shot is the one of just me and Marisa crying on the bed. I’m basically saying, ‘This guy’s not right for you,’ and she’s admitting that she’s made a lot of mistakes and that our relationship is fucked up. I’ve never had a moment connecting with an actor so much. She and I have remained good friends. I really treasure her.”

Tomei grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Her father is a retired attorney, and her mother, a retired schoolteacher, now leads culinary and cultural tours in New York City. Tomei went to Edward R. Murrow, a magnet high school with an emphasis on the arts. “We had a drama teacher who brought a lot of joy into my life,” she says. Her parents introduced her and her younger brother, Adam, also now an actor, to Broadway shows and local productions. “My mom would take us to the Heights Players,” a community theater in Brooklyn, she says, “and afterward you could have your birthday party onstage. So all these things added to the magic of what theater was. Also, seeing how happy it made my parents—that transference of ‘Oh, I want to make them happy.’ ”

Her parents’ approach to child rearing was liberal and supportive. “Whatever you want to do, we are behind you,” is how Tomei describes it. “My mom was into consciousness-raising groups. She’d have them at our house. Women were coming into their own when I was a little girl. She raised us with that idea, to be who you are.”

In the summer, the family went upstate to Goldens Bridge, a community also known as “the Colony,” which was started by immigrant socialists in the late 1920s. “It was like A Walk on the Moon,” says Tomei, referring to the 1999 movie with Viggo Mortensen and Diane Lane, set in the Catskills. Homes were arranged around a lake, connected by a few dirt roads. “The Colony had a counterculture, hippie vibe,” says Bucatinsky, whose parents also had a house there. The center of activity was a barn where skits and talent shows were performed. “No one locked their doors or wore shoes,” says Tomei. “Everyone knew everyone, and everyone was your mom. It was really heaven. Sometimes when I have good dreams, I dream of being there, of that kind of safety. If you had something going on with your mom or dad, there were a lot of older people around and you could find your way. For me it was the theater. I’d sit by the people who did the writing for the shows and be their little helper. There were ways to mature outside your nuclear family that were really helpful.”

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