Oscar winner investigates her character Cassidy

When an actress begins thinking about her next role, her character most likely has already been created on the page.

But in Marisa Tomei’s case for “The Wrestler,” she began putting together ideas on how to play her part before a script even existed.

“Darren (Aronofsky, the film’s director) didn’t really have a script yet when he brought the role to me,” she says. “I had a vague idea that it would be an exotic dancer, but from that point on we really talked about the character as the script (by Robert Siegel) came together.”

The character is Cassidy, a stripper who befriends Randy “The Ram” Robinson (played by Mickey Rourke), an over-the-hill wrestler trying to find an identity in the world outside the ring.

Tomei says she was trying to figure out in the film where Cassidy was coming from and why she was doing what she did in the first place.

“I started asking questions like, ‘Who is she?’ and, ‘How do I start building this character?'” Tomei explains. “I came to realize that, like Mickey’s character, she wants to entertain these people because when she does, she comes alive doing it.”

And then there were the actual scenes where’s she’s offering lap and pole dances in the club barely wearing anything. Tomei says those were a challenge, but she adds the research wasn’t exactly akin to being buried in books.

“I went to a bunch of strip bars and took some friends and enjoyed myself,” she says.

There was also the question of why Cassidy finds Randy so intriguing to begin with, and how she came to the decision to advance their relationship from client to friend. The film showcases her struggle with taking the step of making this professional relationship into a romantic one.

“I think she finds him as a bright spot in her evening and loves to hear him unwind, but still doesn’t see it going anywhere romantically at first,” she explains. “She begins to ask herself how she can go from the habit of seeing him as a client to an actual relationship.”

Regarding awards buzz, Tomei has been down this path before. She was lauded for her perf in “In the Bedroom,” and her work in “My Cousin Vinny” resulted in a supporting actress Oscar. She says it’s always wonderful to hear that type of conversation and have her pics receive critical huzzahs.

“It’s really nice that people respond to the film,” Tomei says. “It’s a shared art form and nice when this dialogue happens.”

Favorite film this year

“I don’t know.”

Best advice

“Sissy Spacek told me to wash my hands a lot, because when you shake so many hands, that’s an easy way to get a cold.”

Inspiration

Gena Rowlands

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