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Marcia Gay Harden

Mystic River

Though the tough script for “Mystic River” didn’t go down easy, Marcia Gay Harden felt passionately that she had to be a part of the film, particularly with Clint Eastwood at the helm.

The 44-year-old actress has worked with Eastwood before, on “Space Cowboys” in 2000 — the same year she won the supporting actress Oscar for portraying Lee Krasner in biopic “Pollock.” So she knew there a certain ease to the job. “He conducts his set with such grace and calmness that you can’t help but feel in a very secure place,” says Harden, who also admits that an easy set didn’t necessarily lessen the enormous challenge of playing Celeste Boyle, the sad, confused wife of a man who was abused as a boy.

Knowing how Eastwood likes to work she did her own research and decided on Boyle’s physicality. “I went to the areas of Boston where the film was shot. I interviewed people on the street. I worked with my own voice and speech coach … so I could arrive ready. Clint heard that I wanted to have long hair and liked the idea, but wasn’t part of judging how it should be.”

Harden came on set in character saying, “Hi, Clint, this is me, Celeste,” to hear him respond, “That’s definitely it.”

Without the opportunity for any prep time together, co-star Tim Robbins says he’s grateful how easy it was to work with Harden to create “the reality of two people, who have been married for quite a while, known each other for a long time.”

Harden says her character is “rougher, but much more vulnerable is some ways (than I am).” She physically manifested the character’s doubts and fears: “There is a jerkiness — almost tremblingness — to her; and in her voice at times there is a quality of almost stuttering to get the words out, or hanging back on the words because she didn’t know what to say.”

Portraying such “visceral tragedy,” she says, creates “a strange inverse kind of energy … because you are actually getting to do your work as an actor, you are being used as an actor, you are being allowed to create.”

Harden notes that Eastwood was very adept at giving her the slightest of hints to help her character be as full as possible.

“That was a real gift for me, especially with a movie like this that is streamlined,” she says. “You don’t want a baroque performance. So there are many times that I can remember where Clint would come and talk about how to say the same thing, but with less, to just be in the moment. He’s very succinct in terms of getting you to the scale or proportion that you need to be.”

Coming attractions: “Just Like Mona,” “Welcome to Mooseport,” “P.S.”

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