Its part of the McCormack legend now that, despite a raft of offers, she
didnt work for eight months after Braveheart, except in the all-too-gritty
role of barmaid in a west London pub. "Every part I was sent seemed to be for tragic
women with long hair. So I got my hair cut and sat around, because I wanted to do films
with strong women in them who have something to say," she said.
In fact, the Scottish connection continued as she played
opposite Billy Connolly in the TV film, Deacon Brodie. She plays
Brodies lover, an ex-prostitute called Annie Grant.
She was the mother of his illegitimate child,
and his final sexual conquest before he went to the gallows. According to McCormack:
"For her, it was an unrequited love. Its really about the decline of a woman in
love and that love turns into an obsession. It is a wonderful character because she is so
vulnerable and so desperately in love. She ends up in an almost schizophrenic state of
mind. She has too much love in her heart and it gets broken in the end."
She moved on to a more demanding, but not
dissimilar role in 1998. She was the honest courtesan, in the sixteenth-century drama of
that name, set in Venice and co-starring Rufus Sewell. Based on the historical character
of Veronica Franco and variously described as "a costume romp" and "a dull
period drama", it was something of a disappointment to McCormack who accepted it
because "it was a wonderful female role about a real woman." Hoping, she has
cheerfully admitted since, that she was going to further her career by a piece of solid
acting in a La Reine Margot sort of film, she has learned to laugh at her naivete.
She did, however, make a small, personal, and, it seems, proud stand against the
Hollywood-isation of history.
She has not been shy to reveal that the
director took her out for a meal one night and ordered a couple of bottles of wine. After
a few glasses he asked if she would be prepared to use sticky tape to pull up her
breasts. She laughed and refused.
She also took advantage of the offer of a
body double for the explicit sex scenes. Revenge is always sweet, but she did not allow it
to cloud her vision of how she wanted her career to proceed. After The
Honest Courtesan translated into Dangeous
Beauty for an American audience who did not know what courtesan meant she
confessed: "I hated it myself. I wouldnt have offered me any films after
Perhaps it was having an Irish grandfather
which prompted her to accept the role of a young v oman who has an illegitimate child in
defiance of the strict morality of small-town 1930s Ireland, in Dancing
at Lughnasa. Despite starring Meryl Streep, it was not well-received critically,
although for the first time McCormack had a role which offered real scope for her acting
abilities. She herself embraced it as a learning experience, saying afterwards:
"There was one point when even Meryl Streep suddenly confessed how worried she was
over one of her scenes.
"I thought if someone like her is
worried, with two Oscars and a great reputation over the past 20 years, there was hope for
Hope has been moving steadily and admirably
closer to reality ever since. Despite choosing film parts with care, they have been a
motley selection, including Jocelyn, a bespectacled, oddball hypochondriac who tends
tombstones for absentee families in Born Romantic.
She has co-starred opposite Sean Penn in the
melodrama, The Weight of Water, with Brad Pitt in Spy Game, and with Pierce
Brosnan in The Tailor of Panama. Her conclusion is that having tried the good
parts with bad directors and the small parts with good directors, neither combination has
satisfied her ambitions.
She has returned, with obvious joy, to the
stage and made the first moves towards directing.
Last year she played the title role in Anna
Weiss, a complex play about the subject of false memory syndrome. The fathers
alleged molestation of his daughter and her relationship with the therapist, Anna, are
The obviously draining role, however, was one
McCormack relished. It was much more her kind of role than playing romantic leading
ladies, she says. Shes now to be found treading the boards once more, this time at
the Soho Theatre in London. After shooting to fame six years ago as the girl who was
kissed by Mel Gibson and confessing to being "in constant shock because I just
couldnt believe I was doing it," Catherine McCormack is the female lead in Kiss
Me Like You Mean It, a romance by the young playwright, Chris Chibnall.
Shes reportedly not overwhelmed by the
script, which may be dangerously close to sentimental, but delighted to have an input to
its evolution, a rare experience, she acknowledges, for an actor, who is more used to
being dictated to by a director or a writer.
That comment perhaps holds the key to her
future career. She has just directed her first film an adaptation of William
Boyds short story Cork which she hopes to develop into a feature and
clearly relishes the very different form of creativity from "standing there, speaking
a few lines and moping."
"Unless you are getting the Kate Winslet
roles all the time, you have to take control," she once said. At 29, it looks as
though she has.