Soul-baring actress recalls sultry Euro sirens

When Maria Bello made her New York City stage debut — an event attended by a minivan full of her relatives from Philly — the lights came up, and the actress climbed out of bed, naked. “The entire theater is quiet,” Bello recounts, “and you just hear, ‘Jeee-sus Christ!’” She starts to laugh. “My dad.”

Bello, recipient of WIF’s Max Mara award given to an actress deemed “the face of the future,” has never been afraid to show herself — body or soul. David Cronenberg, her director in last year’s stunning “A History of Violence,” says that her sensibility is more like a European actress, and in fact there’s something about her — the strong pout of her mouth, the husky timbre of her voice — that recalls the famously complex Jeanne Moreau. Women like these don’t use their sexuality as a bartering chip; they’re too honest for that. Finally, it seems that Hollywood can handle it.

“No matter what I do, I have to bring my essence to it,” says Bello, whose forthcoming projects might be construed as more conventional than, say, her wild turn as a Vegas cocktail waitress in “The Cooler.”

In “Flicka,” Bello plays a ranch owner married to country superstar Tim McGraw (“he’s a fun guy,” she says), and in the recently wrapped thriller “Butterfly on a Wheel,” she faces off with the kidnapper of her daughter.

Bello’s role as a mother of four in Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” gave her the chance to reconnect with the “undercurrent of grace” she experienced Sept. 11. “There was such a great humility and humanity I felt that day,” she recalls. “I know that Oliver captured it in this film.”

Yet glamorous as her chosen field can be, it’s less a luxury than a necessity. “I’m a terribly sensitive and emotional woman,” Bello admits. “If I didn’t act, I would go mad.”

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