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Emily Mortimer on Her Literary Influences and Return to the Big Screen

During the three-season run of “The Newsroom,” Emily Mortimer was a standout among the ensemble cast. Now, the English actress, who appeared in “Shutter Island” and “Hugo,” is returning to the big screen in the adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 novel, “The Bookshop.”

What’s your background with literature?

My dad [“Rumpole of the Bailey” creator John Mortimer] was a novelist and playwright and I grew up surrounded by books. I studied English literature and Russian literature at Oxford. As I got older and started having kids, books sort of faded for a while. When you’re raising kids, it’s an achievement to just get your teeth brushed by the end of the day, let alone read a book. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve come back to reading again.

Is there a favorite genre or author?

I love Dickens. My dad was a big Dickens fan. He instilled a passion for Dickens in me, and I think [his books are] wild and funny. On the surface, they’re full of Victorian morality, but underneath it, there’s a kind of absurdity to them, almost a surrealism. They’re just great about the human condition, and some of them have brilliant thriller plots.

Did your literary history help you connect with your bookish character in “The Bookshop”?

I certainly have known people like Florence who love reading, and there’s a sort of freedom about them. Being a reader gives you a highly developed inner world, an escape that makes it possible to endure more pain and strain and hardship in the real world. I was aware of that with Florence.

Why is it important for people to keep reading in a screen-centric era?

There’s a great thirst for books still. But obviously the world is changing, and the way people come to books and the way people read is changing. As a format for entertainment, I think the novel is incredibly important — especially in this day and age where everything is sound bites and most of what we read is a concentrated version online; you miss the nuances of life by only getting your information that way. I think novels are a very important aspect in sound-bite culture, because in a novel there are gray areas, and it takes a long time for a story to unfold. There’s room for confusion in the gray areas of life. There’s too much moral certitude in the world we live in.

Things You Didn’t Know About Emily Mortimer

AGE: 46 BIRTHPLACE: London FAVORITE PODCAST: “S-Town” FAVORITE TV SHOW: “Search Party” STRESS-RELIEVING TECHNIQUES: Vodka, hot baths

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