I’M USED to watching Marisa Tomei on the big screen but it’s quite another thing seeing her live on my computer screen at midnight on a Friday during London lockdown. She’s sitting in an impeccably decorated room in Los Angeles, wearing a casual red shirt, hoop earrings and designer glasses. Her hair is swept over to one side in a tumble of glossy curls — the kind few of us achieve for Zoom calls. Her teeth are Hollywood white and she could conceivably be half her 55 years.
But even Marisa Tomei’s Oscar-winning acting skills can’t conceal her discomfort. The interview’s been delayed because of technical problems and she initially seems irritated, chewing her lip and playing with her necklace. She’s also, understandably, worried about her country.
‘A lot of the systems are broken and they’re not serving the citizens, on every level, from Black Lives Matter to climate change,’ she says. ‘So in this particular moment the spotlight is on change that needed to come for generations — and uplifting the voices of the young people who are on the ground.’
You get the sense Tomei is feeling helpless about the state of the world. She also seems to be missing her job — the fun part, that is, not the interviews.
‘I like the research and costume part, and I find it exciting learning about other cultures and perspectives,’ she says. ‘I had the experience of going to Bosnia right after the war, for example, in the film with Michael Winterbottom [Welcome To Sarajevo]. And then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve gotten to live in a hotel in Positano for three months while I shot a movie with Robert Downey Jr [Only You]. So the range is enormous.’
Downey Jr is just one of Tomei’s famous ex-boyfriends — others include Christian Slater, Lenny Kravitz and The OC’s Logan Marshall-Green. She’s currently officially single and Downey Jr remains a good friend, welcoming her into the Marvel family when she was cast as a youthful version of Aunt May in Captain America: Civil War.
‘That whole bunch, they are best friends, they are thick as thieves,’ she says of her co-stars. ‘It’s fantastic to see how they bonded and take care of each other.’
She’s also a big fan of her on-screen nephew, Spider-Man Tom Holland.
‘Tom is a great leader and he’s an incredible actor,’ she says, adding that she’s been considering his character of late. ‘I did think about how Spider-Man is a community hero and the character of Aunt May is a community organiser, and the values she gave him are why he wants to try to take care of the community and how important that is now.’
Brooklyn-born Tomei returns to New York for her latest role as a nurse and single mother in Judd Apatow’s amiable new comedy, The King Of Staten Island, which is now coming straight to digital. Margie lives with her grown-up slacker son (Pete Davidson) and finds a new lease of life when she meets a moustachioed fireman (Bill Burr). It’s a part that suits the actress’s love of costume and its part in evolving a character.
‘It’s Pete’s journey so the focus isn’t on her so freely,’ she says. ‘Costuming is so important. As she gets her groove back, her wardrobe does change. She’s not as depressed and she feels sexy again. She doesn’t realise she has a type, which is this very kind of rash, demanding firefighter, super macho type of guy. But it really just lights her up. As soon as she has that encounter with him at the diner, he starts joking around with her, the pheromones start to fly…’
Margie even looks cool in her pink work scrubs. ‘We tried a lot of scrubs, we did a lot of costume tests,’ she says, and is careful to pay tribute to front-line workers: ‘Of course, now we all have even more appreciation than we’ve ever had for the people that take care of us.’
I’m left with the impression of a caring, funny woman committed to her work and who is having a stressful day — and heck, we’ve all been there. And while she values her privacy, Tomei is happy to answer my pressing question: what does a glamorous actress really wear at home when Zoom camera clicks off?
‘There’s of a lot of loose muumuu dresses, loungewear and kaftans,’ she says.
Lockdown style sorted.
FIVE FABULOUS TOMEI TURNS
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Marisa won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her brash, funny turn opposite Joe Pesci in the screwball comedy. On Now TV
What Women Want (2000)
Marisa steals the show as one of Mel Gibson’s hook-ups in the comedy about a man who can hear what women are thinking. On Amazon Prime Video
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
Here Tomei plays Philip Seymour Hoffman’s wife and Ethan Hawke’s lover — and the two men just happen to be brothers. On DVD
The Wrestler (2008)
Tomei got a third Oscar nomination for her role as a smart stripper and love interest to Mickey Rourke’s grizzled wrestler. On Amazon Prime Video
Love Is Strange (2014)
This big-hearted indie gem has Tomei as a New York writer who’s part of the extended family of a gay couple (Alfred Molina and John Lithgow). On MUBI
■ The King Of Staten Island will be available to rent from Friday