Emily Mortimer : The Quiet Storm

Actress Emily Mortimer makes a triumphant return to the HIFF with the indie drama The Bookshop.
Photograph by Carlos Ruiz

by Ray Rogers

After a recent Hamptons International Film Festival screening of The Bookshop, Emily Mortimer, who stars in the quietly stirring drama, stood up to toast the director and her co-stars at an intimate fete hosted by Purist at Dopo La Spiaggia. With a twinkle in her eyes, she recalled getting a pressing phone call from Patricia Clarkson (seated next to her at the party), telling her she’d “be an idiot not to take the part!” opposite her powerful small-town matron in the film. Good thing for lovers of smart, independent cinema she heeded that advice.

The London-born actress, who splits her time between New York City and Amagansett with her husband, actor Alessandro Nivola, and their two children, gives an intelligent, nuanced performance in the film.

“There is something symbolic about the fact that my character is trying to start up a bookshop and that her fight is to bring books to people—to expose people to ways in which they can think more and be more curious about other people,” says Mortimer. “Her tale is one of real courage. She was a quiet woman, but one who had this mighty heart—and in a way it appealed to me that she didn’t succeed. So many of the stories that we see are about people winning, the triumph-over-adversity tale, and a lot of our experience in life is of not winning at all. There’s a real dignity that can be found in somebody being disappointed by life, but managing to keep going and keep putting one foot in front of the other, even though heartbreaking things happen along the way. And part of the reason that she can keep going is because she is a reader and she has this vast resource of her imagination and books that she can be free in her mind.”

From her 2003 breakout role in Lovely & Amazing, which earned her an Independent Spirit Award, to Woody Allen’s Match Point and comedic television series such as HBO’s The Newsroom and Doll and Em (she co-wrote the latter with her friend and co-star Dolly Wells), whatever she’s in, Mortimer brings a fierce sense of humanity, and often a dry wit, which is clearly on display in real-life conversations. (When asked about maintaining a sense of balance and well-being, she cracks, “Once you get to that I think you might as well hang up your boots and die!”)

The Bookshop was her second professional HIFF experience; Wig Shop, a comedic short she produced and starred in, was featured in the short films program in 2016. And this year, a film she and her husband produced—the buzzed-about To Dust, starring Géza Röhrig, who was in Son of Saul, the 2016 Academy Award-winning best foreign film—will show at HIFF. “It also stars Matthew Broderick, who is a neighbor in Amagansett,” she notes.

The festival is a community affair for Mortimer. “It always feels very welcoming and cozy, and cool, interesting people always come to see the movies and support the festival.” When it rolls around every October, she says, it serves as a vital reminder that “there is a community out there that is still interested in the arts. Alessandro’s grandfather was an abstract expressionist painter out here back in the ’50s, part of the artist community here. It’s nice to feel that it’s not just billionaires and party animals out here now. There’s still a thriving artistic community and one that’s still interested in supporting the arts and buying books and going to the cinema—and the Hamptons Film Festival is definitely very much part of that.”