EXCLUSIVE Julia Ormond/Iron Jawed Angels Interview by Paul Fischer at the Sundance Film Festival.
Huddled up in a quiet corner of a bar in wintry Main Street, Park City, Julia Ormond may be at Sundance to talk up her memorable performance in HBO's Iron Jawed Angels, but it's her absence from movies that ultimately comes up in conversation. The British beauty, now 38, was remembered for stealing the hearts of Brad Pitt [Legends of the Fall], Sean Connery [First Knight], Harrison Ford [Sabrina] and even Gabriel Byrne [Smilla's Sense of Snow]. Ormond was Hollywood's newest leading lady, a true star-in-the-making, then as rapidly, she disappeared. Now, almost a decade after Legends of the Fall, Ormond has no regrets about turning her back on Hollywood, smilingly admitting that she is happy. "I'm a little too happy," she says, referring to her 1999 marriage to Jon Rubin. "I have a really, really great life but I would like to do more work. I think, when I got my break as an actor it was the consequence of circumstance and timing and then you sort of get the flip side of it that maybe works against you. That's what happened to me and in terms of career, I went through a phase. I went to Russia to make a film with Nikita Mikhalkov that took a year to make and when I came back, I was really kind creatively spent, so then I very deliberately took time off and actually considered quitting altogether," the actress confesses. She says at the time, she "couldn't kind of relate to scripts that were being sent to me."
Ormond is uncomfortable talking about her looks, or at least the way Hollywood made such a big deal about her beauty. "I think the bizarre thing about it is that I've never really related to that side of other people's viewpoint of it, so it's like it doesn't mean anything or something that I can latch onto," Ormond explains. "I've always felt like I would have to kind of fight against all these other women who are just so incredibly beautiful. So I've always felt that for me as an actress, thinking at it from a totally practical pragmatic point of view is that it does key in as a factor for people casting movies, and so I've always felt that was a bit of a battle for me."
After her marriage, Ormond left her London home for permanent relocation to Los Angeles, where she quietly has formed her production company, Indican, and where she is rebuilding a formidable acting career. "I really love living in the States and I think I love it partly because I spent 12 years in London and 5 years in New York and I'm quite sure that we won't spend the rest of our lives in LA." And Ormond seems to revelling in a new phase of her career that seems eons away from her initial Hollywood fame and glamour. "I think that the time off I've had or the time away that I've had, has been not time that I've wasted."
Part of that time was spent playing the extraordinary and courageous 'woman on a horse' Inez Mulholland, in the exquisite Iron Jawed Angels, which received a standing ovation at last month's Sundance Film Festival. The film, which begins screening in the US on HBO from Sunday night, recounts a key chapter in U.S. history: namely the struggle of suffragists who fought for the passage of the 19th Amendment. Focusing on the two defiant women, Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O'Connor), the film shows how these activists broke from the mainstream women's-rights movement and created a more radical wing, daring to push the boundaries of political protest to secure women's voting rights in 1920. Many of these women were to give up a life outside this movement, while Ormond's Mulholland, would give up much more. The actress says that she "just really loved this script and I thought it was taking a really valid and meaningful story, but doing it in a way that wasn't stuffy, or done in a very stilted fashion." Ormond admits that prior to shooting Iron Jawed Angels, she knew very little of the American suffragette movement. "I still kind of think of it as the vote was given to women because of their work in World War I and so to go into greater detail in terms of the suffering, sacrifice and the battle of the struggle that they had was just really moving."
She laughs, somewhat sardonically, when asked if she could relate to Mulholland. "She's the sort of character who was such an amazing woman that it's only the far corners of the better side of me that I can kind of relate to her in terms of what she stood for." Ormond does spend a good deal of time on a horse, which she laughingly adds was a bonus. "I love riding horses because I do enjoy riding and so am always a sucker for a script that has got a horse in it."
Post-Sundance and Ormond remains busy with her company, and hopes to direct, sooner than later. "I am itching to get behind the camera as soon as it's feasible with the right piece, but I'm definitely working towards that." But not necessarily with herself as the star, Ormond hastily adds. "I would try not to at first as I couldn't imagine working with a more difficult actress."
On a more serious note, Ormond says that following the glitz and glamour of Sundance, her other love, the political movement Film Aid International, which she began along with Robert De Niro. "I'm actually going to Washington to do some meetings. Film Aid takes films to refugee camps," Ormond explains. "We started for the Kosovo refugees about 4 years ago and it was a huge success with the United Nations High Commission For Refugees, then we began taking it to Africa, so we've been doing it in Kenya and Tanzania and with a strong focus on health messaging, particularly HIV Aids messaging, conflict resolution and human rights. It's all bundled into Charlie Chaplin movies, Winnie the Pooh cartoons and a lot of African movies." As active as she is with FilmAid, politics in a broader sense is not in Julia's future. "I think I enjoy being involved in the philanthropic side of things and have really found the whole existence of refugees very interesting." Ormond recalls a documentary she produced a few years ago called Calling The Ghosts about 2 women who survived a massacre, which was the Serbian camp. "One was a lawyer and one was a judge, they waved goodbye to their men who were Bosnian, and said 'we'll see you, join you in 3 days' and in the meantime they got arrested and taken to the camps and it's their journey from silence to actually winding up giving testimony in the Hague. We used it as a lobbying tool, and it was shown to the Council of Foreign Relations."
Her involvement in FilmAid, Ormond admits, has certainly put her life in perspective. "I do a lot more stuff though, in terms of strategy, in terms of fund raising and in terms of lobbying and it has really revitalized my sense of what we do, which is really nice."
One time glamorous film star, Julia Ormond has proven that she is far more than a pretty face after all.
YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT FILMAID ON THEIR WEBSITE: www.filmaidinternational.org