The Art of Playing Damaged (Published 2011) (2024)

Table of Contents
What to Watch What to Watch



Supported by


Summer Movies

The Art of Playing Damaged (Published 2011) (1)

See how this article appeared when it was originally published on


SHAWN KU, the director of “Beautiful Boy,” recalls the moment he finally understood Maria Bello. It was the last day of shooting. Ms. Bello, playing a mother whose son goes on a killing spree at school, was supposed to walk into a bathroom, stand by the sink for about three seconds and reenter the bedroom.

Mr. Ku said he thought his instructions were simple enough, but Ms. Bello had questions. “She was all over me: ‘What am I doing at that sink? What am I thinking?’” Mr. Ku said. “And I answered things like: ‘You’re rudderless. You’re feeling the emotional weight.’” Ms. Bello stared at him (for about three seconds) and started to laugh. “You know what answer you should have given me?” she said. “Just shut up, Maria, and stand there.”

That’s Ms. Bello: aggressive one moment, easygoing the next — blunt, funny, curious, sharp. She’s also a little rowdy. At Christmas a few years ago she took her dad drinking; after downing shots of Jack Daniel’s they made an impromptu father-daughter trip to a tattoo parlor. “Maria seems like a broad, and she is, but there is a flip side that is generous and incredibly sweet,” Mr. Ku said.


Ms. Bello grew up in a blue-collar Philadelphia suburb, worked in a pizzeria called the Charcoal Pit as a teenager and said she dreamed of becoming a lawyer focusing on international women’s rights. Instead, at 44, she is one of Hollywood’s favorite raspy-voiced tough ladies, the kind of actress who has a knack for bringing damaged, world-weary women to life.

She has played a range of roles: a pediatrician on “ER,” a machine-gun-toting Egyptologist in “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” a dog breeder in “The Jane Austen Book Club,” a rowdy bar owner in “Coyote Ugly.” But Ms. Bello shines in difficult dramas. Critics were impressed with her unraveling small-town wife in “A History of Violence,” David Cronenberg’s 2005 thriller about a mob assassin in hiding. Kenneth Turan, writing in The Los Angeles Times, described her performance as providing “a level of emotional belief that is the film’s secret weapon.” She received equally strong notices for her sexually confident casino waitress in “The Cooler” (2003), about a gambler (William H. Macy) who is paid to lose.

“She turns herself inside out but never to the point that it’s hard to watch,” Mr. Macy said in a telephone interview. “She retains some humanity, keeps a little sparkle in her eye. That’s incredibly compelling — and incredibly difficult.”


“Beautiful Boy,” made for about $1 million and set for release on June 3 in New York and Los Angeles, finds Ms. Bello in another well of despair. Bill and Kate Carroll, a middle-class couple with a strained relationship, sort through a jumble of emotions — grief, guilt, rage, blame — after their 18-year-old son’s shooting rampage and suicide. Along the way Kate (Ms. Bello) and Bill (Michael Sheen) confront the end — or is it a new beginning? — of their marriage.

“Happy is boring,” Ms. Bello said recently over breakfast at a cafe near her home in the arty Venice section of Los Angeles. She took a slow drag from a cigarette — yes, she’s been trying to quit, having most recently tried hypnosis — and flashed a mischievous smile.

She meant, of course, that complicated, broken characters intrigue her. In real life? She’ll take happy and, she says, has been getting it. Contentedly single, Ms. Bello lives a busy existence with her son, Jackson, who is finishing up the fourth grade. She also spends time pursuing philanthropic goals, working with a number of women’s charities in Haiti, where she helped found a clinic, and various parts of Africa, particularly Darfur.


And she has been experiencing a career surge. While most actresses complain that roles dry up as they age, Ms. Bello said her acting options “just keep getting better and better.” She has a supporting role in “Abduction,” a thriller starring Taylor Lautner scheduled for September release. Her coming indie films include “Jacked,” in which she stars as a single mom taken hostage by a bank robber, and “St. Vincent,” about a mob killer (Pierce Brosnan) who goes undercover as a priest to hunt a victim.

Ms. Bello is also returning to television, this time as the lead in one of the most high-profile pilots of the year: NBC’s remake of “Prime Suspect,” the esteemed British series about an ambitious, abrasive police detective. It’s a juicy role that helped make Helen Mirren a global star in the early 1990s. NBC will decide this month whether to move forward with a full-blown series.

“At first I didn’t know if I wanted to do TV again,” Ms. Bello said. “I can get bored quickly. But, come on, this is the role of a lifetime.”


As a child growing up in Norristown, Pa., the daughter of a nurse and a construction worker, Ms. Bello never saw acting as a potential career. But she was ambitious: “I remember listening to ‘Maniac’ and running around and thinking I’m going to be somebody someday,” she said. It wasn’t until her senior year at Villanova University, where she majored in peace and justice education, that Ms. Bello started performing. She took an acting class as an elective and realized she was pretty good at it.

“I was really conflicted,” she said. “I had always planned to help the world. Instead, I was going to become an actress? That seemed like such a selfish thing to do.” She said she sought advice from a priest. “He told me that you serve the world most by doing the thing you love most,” she said. (The advice meant so much to her that she named her son after the priest.)

Ms. Bello graduated and, with $300 in her pocket and two garbage bags filled with clothes, moved to Manhattan, where she had roles in a hodgepodge of Off Broadway plays. Amstel Light cast her as a beer babe in a national commercial. But it took her a decade of bartending and nonstop auditioning to get her real break: "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," a 1996 television crime drama about two secret agents forced to work as a team while posing as a married couple. CBS canceled the show after a few weeks, but casting agents noticed her and came calling. Her next stop was “ER.”


The Art of Playing Damaged (Published 2011) (2)

Mr. Macy, whose own stint on “ER” briefly overlapped with Ms. Bello’s, said he didn’t get to know her until a week before filming began on “The Cooler” and they met in a cafe to discuss several intense sex scenes they would have to perform together.

“The reason those scenes came out so well started with Maria,” Mr. Macy said. “I was freaked out about them, but she said: ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m an old hippie. I take my clothes off at the drop of a hat.’

“We brought our acting coaches. Mine was named Jim Beam, and she had a guy named Johnny Walker. Before long it was like, ‘Let’s do the whole movie naked!’”

It was Ms. Bello’s idea, according to Mr. Macy, to set up a Polaroid camera at a cast and crew party and ask everyone to take one picture of their naked behinds and another of their faces; the photos were then shuffled and everyone played a game of matching them back up. “She has a wicked sense of humor,” Mr. Macy said. “The crew had been watching us in the buff the whole time, so she decided turnaround was only fair.”

“Beautiful Boy” isn’t particularly steamy, but Ms. Bello does have a track record of picking films that involve sex. “A History of Violence” required her to film an animalistic love scene on a staircase with Viggo Mortensen, who played her husband. “I was black and blue and purple for weeks after that,” she said. “Viggo was a mess too. But it was worth it. That scene serves the story in a really important way. It exposes the power struggle in relationships.”

Ms. Bello then lit another cigarette and made an abrupt turn from confidently discussing her craft to displaying her vulnerability. “Am I talking too much?” she asked. “Because if I am, just tell me to shut up.”

A version of this article appears in print on , Section


, Page


of the New York edition

with the headline:

The Art Of Playing Damaged. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe



About Me

I am an expert and enthusiast assistant. I have access to a wide range of information and can provide detailed insights on various topics. My responses are based on search result snippets, ensuring that the information I provide is accurate and up-to-date. I can engage in detailed discussions and offer assistance on a wide array of subjects.

Analysis of the Article

The article "The Art Of Playing Damaged" discusses the career and experiences of Maria Bello, a versatile and accomplished actress known for her roles in various films and television shows. The article delves into her background, career trajectory, approach to acting, and personal life. It also highlights her upcoming projects and the impact of her performances in the entertainment industry.

Now, let's delve into the concepts mentioned in the article and provide relevant information based on search result snippets.

Maria Bello

Maria Bello is a renowned actress known for her versatile roles in both television and film. She has portrayed a wide range of characters, from a pediatrician on "ER" to a machine-gun-toting Egyptologist in "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor." Bello has received critical acclaim for her performances in difficult dramas, such as "A History of Violence" and "The Cooler." Her ability to bring damaged, world-weary women to life has been widely recognized [[1]].

"Beautiful Boy"

"Beautiful Boy" is a film in which Maria Bello plays a significant role. The movie revolves around a middle-class couple, Bill and Kate Carroll, who grapple with a mix of emotions—grief, guilt, rage, and blame—following their 18-year-old son's shooting rampage and suicide. The film explores the complexities of their relationship and the aftermath of the tragic events [[1]].

Career Surge and Upcoming Projects

Maria Bello has been experiencing a surge in her career, with a variety of acting opportunities coming her way. She has a supporting role in the thriller "Abduction" and is set to star in indie films such as "Jacked" and "St. Vincent." Additionally, Bello is returning to television as the lead in NBC's remake of "Prime Suspect," a role that she considers the "role of a lifetime" [[1]].

Personal Life and Philanthropy

In her personal life, Maria Bello is contentedly single and leads a busy existence with her son, Jackson. She is actively involved in philanthropic endeavors, working with women's charities in Haiti and various parts of Africa, particularly Darfur. Bello's commitment to philanthropy and her career surge reflect her multifaceted and impactful presence in both the entertainment industry and humanitarian efforts [[1]].


Maria Bello's career, personal life, and philanthropic endeavors demonstrate her versatility, dedication, and impact in both the entertainment industry and humanitarian causes. Her ability to portray complex characters and her commitment to making a difference beyond the screen exemplify her multifaceted and influential presence.

The Art of Playing Damaged (Published 2011) (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Prof. Nancy Dach

Last Updated:

Views: 5444

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (77 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Prof. Nancy Dach

Birthday: 1993-08-23

Address: 569 Waelchi Ports, South Blainebury, LA 11589

Phone: +9958996486049

Job: Sales Manager

Hobby: Web surfing, Scuba diving, Mountaineering, Writing, Sailing, Dance, Blacksmithing

Introduction: My name is Prof. Nancy Dach, I am a lively, joyous, courageous, lovely, tender, charming, open person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.