Discerning thesp follows her heart

Critical analysis: ” ‘Minority Report’ holds our attention most in its quietest moments … most grippingly, when (John Anderton, played by Tom Cruise) spends quality time with precog Agatha, a role that gives actress Samantha Morton… a chance to give a harrowing performance that touches a raw emotional nerve.”– Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Awards pedigree: British Independent Film Award for actress in this year’s “Morvern Callar”; Oscar and Golden Globes nominations for supporting actress in “Sweet and Lowdown” (1999).

Upcoming: The Stateside release of “Morvern Callar,” in which Morton plays the title role, a young Scottish woman who works as a supermarket checkout girl until her boyfriend’s suicide changes everything; also starring in “In America,” a modern autobiography of director Jim Sheridan, directed by Sheridan.

For most actors, when Steven Spielberg calls, you jump. Not so with Samantha Morton, the British actress best known in America for her nonspeaking Oscar-nominated role in “Sweet and Lowdown.”

Naturally, Morton took Spielberg’s call when he approached her about “Minority Report,” asking her to play Agatha, a precog who sees murders before they happen, but she didn’t rush to commit to the movie.

“I was in Israel at the time doing a film with Amos Gitai (‘Eden’) and I got a phone call saying Steven Spielberg wanted to talk to me,” Morton remembers, chatting via telephone from her home in London. “But I didn’t just say yes without thinking. In my job, I really do follow my heart. So if scripts come in and they’re brilliant, I’ll be interested. It’s not just about working with someone because they’re a name.”

From Spielberg’s point of view, Morton was the perfect choice for the role. “I saw ‘Sweet and Lowdown’ and thought that she gave one of the great silent performances since Dorothy Gish,” Spielberg says. “I actually didn’t meet her; I just offered her the part over the telephone. She’s an amazing actress.”

Agatha spends the first half of the movie submerged in a pool of water and the second half terrified and on the run with an accused police officer (Tom Cruise), with little dialogue throughout. Quite a challenge for any actress, but that was the point with Morton.

“In a lot of the work that I’ve done in the U.K. I’ve played quite angry people,” Morton says. “To play someone this innocent was such a change for me. Of all the women that I portrayed last year, Agatha was someone who I completely believed in and felt that people needed to see and watch her journey.”

And the fact that “Minority Report” just happened to be a huge-budget film starring Cruise and directed by Spielberg? Well, Morton admits that working with those two was certainly a bonus.

“I’m trying to find a balance,” she says, simply. “I’m 25, I just want to keep going the way that I am. It’s not about trying to get big movies. It’s brilliant if those things come along, but that shouldn’t be your agenda.”

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