Elisabeth Rohm has just wrapped a second David O. Russel picture, Joy, where she plays sister to Jennifer Lawrence, and daughter to none other than Robert DeNiro and, oh yes, Bradley Cooper rounds out the cast. She's been in some excellent company lately. You probably remember Elisabeth as Dolly Polito, Jeremy Renner's New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito's wife in American Hustle. Joy re-unites some of the top headliners from that cast. If you didn't see American Hustle, you may know her from her stints as lionesses of the law on both Law and Order and Angel, or in Heroes, or a dozen other TV and film projects for the last 15 years. She's the example of an actress who works regularly, crossing between the small and big screen over the course of her career, which is a feat many actresses would like to lay claim to. I spoke with Elisabeth recently, already shooting a new picture in Los Angeles as well as starting to work with an entire country, Thailand, where she will be their celebrity ambassador.
My first question, of course, is how does one balance a busy life like that? As a single mom, divorced, working regularly, she now has a new international cultural relationship. Thailand has 28 million visitors a year and no doubt has a lot to share with her.
When you're a mom you don't have a choice but to buck up. I only know that one option. There's no question I have to step into my own empowerment because I have to teach my daughter Easton to do that. I have to help this little girl grow into an incredible brilliant, free thinking, unencumbered woman. Our children bring out the best in us.
Rohm was German born, but grew up in America from an early age. Fluent in German, she appreciated being multi-lingual, and thought the right choice for her daughter Easton was the Lysee Francee, where at seven she's already bi-lingual in French and English. She will be learning a third language before high school graduation. "For an actor who's traveling it's a good choice. Whatever Easton does, I know with languages she can cross borders."
Rohm hasn't just crossed borders in her own life, but she has to cross artistic borders on every job she takes. Actors have to navigate personal boundaries with co-actors and artistic boundaries with directors and writers. Working with some of Hollywood's elite talent can be challenging. I asked her about crossing borders in her craft. How is it working with Jennifer Lawrence and one of Hollywood's top directors for a second time?
American Hustle was an amazing opportunity. After American Hustle David called and said "so I think I want to create a sister for Joy, and Jen and I have been talking about it, and we think it's a great idea for you." And we were off and away in Boston for the biggest snow storm since 1842! It was an incredible opportunity. Jennifer is loose, and blisteringly funny, and works very hard, and I have a great admiration for her. She seems to be able to be very connected and warm and keep a stillness and sacred space for herself in the chaos. Robert DeNiro is the most gracious, supportive artist. And David and I had stayed friends after Hustle. It's about hearing and understanding someone when they communicate with you. We're the paint on his canvas. Once you speak the same language with people you feel very safe and that's when you can deepen the work, because you deepened the work. It's rare and amazing when you can feel that on day one.
American Hustle, winner of best picture and multiple performer nods of many critical awards, including three Golden Globes, The New York Critics award, and a SAG award for best cast, in which Elisabeth was named, has brought a lot of attention to all involved. But as any working artist knows, when an actor has been working regularly for almost two decades the sudden 'illusion of success' can feel ironic.
You take it with a grain of salt and you're grateful. Between Law and Order and America Hustle there were some quiet years that were very important for me personally. And they helped me be a better person, and I became a mother, and I lost my own mother, so it's growing times, and there are seasons, and you can't get too hard on yourselves when there are winters. You see it clearly when someone mentions it and it's incredibly meaningful when your work is appreciated.
So how does one bring out their best work, particularly when pitted against pros you admire so much?
You have to be willing to fall flat on your face and embrace when you mess up, and sometimes you mess up on purpose to get off kilter so that you're not resting on your laurels. You can throw yourself off so that you're more authentic, because life makes you wobbly and that makes the work real.
After wrapping her current film she's off to Thailand where she will be going to the Queen's textile museum, riding elephants in the north, getting to know the country and share it. She says it's an incredible gift to share that experience and be a gift for them over here.
My mom always said to me you're my greatest teacher. Easton was two years old when my mom died. I had to grieve in my own time and not in my time with her. It meant I grieved appropriately; I'm responsible for this human being. When you're a parent, you're always trying to be better, because you're motivated by them. When you're thinking of someone else it's a great opportunity to grow. How many decades can you just think about yourself?
Elisabeth Rohm can be seen in David O Russel's Joy, also starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper coming out this December.
Photo credit: Melanie Acevedo