Mena Suvari was born on February 9, 1979, in Newport, Rhode Island to Ando and Candice Suvari. Named after an aunt (whose name comes from the "House of Mena" hotel at the base of the Egyptian pyramids), she is the youngest of four chidren - and the only daughter. Her career began with a short stint as a model and by 13 years of age, she was already appearing in commercials. Mena's middle school years were spent in South Carolina, where she attended an all-girls school in Charleston, but she moved out to California and graduated from high school in Burbank. In 1995, Mena made her debut with a small role on the television show Boy Meets World and her film debut with a starring role in the Greg Araki film Nowhere. Bigger roles followed, including the hit thriller Kiss the Girls with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, the outrageous youth comedy American Pie and Loser, where she starred opposite Greg Kinnear and Jason Biggs. Her breakthrough role, however, came from her participation in 1999's multiple Academy Award-winning film American Beauty. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress by the British Academy Awards for her critically acclaimed performance and is fast becoming one of the busiest young actresses in Hollywood. Suvari was honored with two Movieline Awards for “Breakthrough Performance” for American Beauty and “Best Ensemble” cast for American Pie, as well as a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for “Best Ensemble Cast” for American Beauty. Suvari kept her chin up after the underperforming American Virgin, heading back to high school for the cheerleading/bank heist flick Sugar & Spice (2001) and joining the cast of the period film The Musketeer (2001). On March 18, 2000, Mena married cinematographer Robert Brinkmann and has taken considerable flak because of their age differential - 16 years. Mena considers painting watercolours, playing the piano and hiking among her favourite things to do.
Pie's 'American Beauty' Dabbles in Swordplay
Beautiful Mena Suvari became a star in American Pie, a label cemented as the object of Kevin Spacey's fantasies in American Beauty. Now, the co-star of the current smash hit American Pie 2 has opted to dress up as a virginal chambermaid who helps out the dashing D'Artagnan in a new version of the Alexandre Dumas classic. Suvari discussed these films with Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.
Mena Suvari, who played a sexual nymphette in American Beauty, is pleased that she is able to diversify. When she's not talking dirty in the smash hit American Pie 2, Suvari plays a chambermaid who falls for the dashing would-be Musketeer D'Artagnan, in The Musketeer, opening Friday, which offers a fresh take on the classic tale. "I just loved being a part of a period film which I'd never done before, and get to wear those extravagant costumes." The Musketeer is director-cinematographer Peter Hyams' fresh new take on Alexandre Dumas' classic adventure tale, The Three Musketeers. Newcomer Justin Chambers stars as D'Artagnan, a dashing swordsman whose courage and wilful nature place him at odds with powerful forces in 17th century Paris. The film's cast includes Catherine Deneuve as the Queen of France, Stephen Rea as the enigmatic Cardinal Richelieu, Tim Roth as the conniving Febre with Suvari playing Francesca, a fiery peasant girl who claims D'Artagnan's heart on sight. Trying to avoid the pitfall of playing a subservient character in this rollicking adventure, the 22-year old beauty insists "that the women in this film are very strong, which is like, rather than just the pretty face." Suvari sees her own character as "being someone with attitude who doesn't take too much, which is very different from a lot of period films that you see, and different from the women in that time." For Suvari, this was not only her first costume film but the first time working in Europe, France and Luxembourg to be precise. The actress delicately describes the experience as "interesting but fun." Asked to compare working in these two countries, Suvari laughingly exclaims, "Man, they both had their moments, but nevertheless really beautiful and I really tried to make the best out of it."
Shooting on location in Europe is a long way from Suvari's humble beginnings. Brought up in South Carolina, her Estonian father is a retired psychiatrist and her Greek mother a nurse. Hardly the background conducive of acting. But Suvari, in trying to explain how or why she became interested in the profession, says that as a kid, she "merely fell into it and had fun with it." Her family was persuaded by the young Mena to relocate to Los Angeles in order to pursue her dream of becoming an actor, "but it had nothing to do with this idea of being famous, but the work." She was 15 when she came to Los Angeles, having first dabbled in modelling in New York. "Even though I wanted to act, I don't think that initially it was something I took seriously. I had fun with it; it was something I did after school." That changed after she graduated from high school at age 17. "At that point I said to myself: You know what, I want to take a year off before I go to college and figure out what I wanted to do. The acting thing was there so I focussed on that more as my JOB." It paid off, as role after role came Suvari's way. She got her start on television, acting in guest parts on such shows as "Boy Meets World" and "Minor Adjustments" before landing a recurring role as the daughter of a brash police sergeant on the short-lived "High Incident" during the 1996-1997 season. More TV work followed, including 1997 appearances on "ER" and "Chicago Hope". That same year, the actress made her film debut with a small role in Gregg Araki's Nowhere, followed by a supporting part in the less known Snide and Prejudice. Later that year Suvari was featured alongside Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd in the mystery thriller Kiss the Girls, adapted from James Patterson's best-selling novel. In 1998, she appeared in The Slums of Beverly Hills alongside Natasha Lyonne, who would go on to co-star with the actress in Live Virgin and American Pie (both 1999). It was the latter that ultimately changed the course of her life. "American Pie did so well that I started to get caught up in it, and really began to enjoy what I was doing," she explains.
From Pie, Suvari landed the complex teen role of Angela, the object of Kevin Spacey's lustful infatuation in that Oscar-winning film. "In my own life, I've always had fun playing with the kind of flamboyance I brought to Angela. It was like a personality I had already created on my own." The role brought with it a new kind of image for Suvari, who has had to turn down parts "which became too similar to that. The nudity was obviously important in that film because it was a symbolic stripping away of the character; I wasn't simply being provocative. Now I get asked to do nude scenes all the time, and that's just not me."
Which is why she remains fully clothed in American Pie 2, as her character is shipped off to Spain. "I DO get to talk dirty to Chris Klein, which was fun, but this was a movie for the guys and I'm glad it's a hit."
Next to her love of acting is her love of cooking, says Suvari, who is married to 39-year old cinematographer Robert Brinkmann. "I'm really into it now. I love to cook, especially Asian food and dumplings. We have lots of great dinner parties. Next to acting, cooking and eating good food are the best."
At just 22 Ms. Suvari's career has taken off, but the actress doesn't regret the speed at which things have happened to her. "I don't regret anything the way that it's happened, though I never thought I would be where I am right now."
More fun stuff about Mena Suvari
Birth name: Mena Alexandra Suvari
Height: 5' 4" (1.63 m)
Graduated from Providence High School in Burbank, California class of 1997.
Her first name came from an Egyptian godmother.
Is a natural blonde with blue eyes
Last name "Suvari", pronounced "soo-VAHR-ee", is Estonian.
First name "Mena", pronounced "MEE-nah".
Has 3 older brothers, 1 of them in the US army.
Mother is a nurse; father is a psychiatrist.
Mena was raised in a Rhode Island home that was built in 1870 and which she and her brothers believed was haunted. They saw several apparitions over the years, all of which she believed were friendly.
People Weekly magazine titled an article about her "All-American Girl" (1999).
Declared as the most "patriotic" artist of 2000 by Entertainment Weekly magazine, making allusion to her 3 consecutive movies with the word "American" on their titles: American Pie (1999), American Beauty (1999) and American Virgin (2000). In 2001, she added American Pie 2 (2001) to that list.
Her mother is of Greek descent.
Mena and her husband Robert Brinkmann have taken considerable flak because of their age difference - 18 years. Robert is a cinematographer.
Did her own singing in American Pie (1999).
Auditioned for the role of Mary Jane in Spider-Man (2002).
Her father is Estonian.
Her older brother A.J., formerly an Intelligence Analyst in the U.S. Army, is currently a real estate agent in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Is a vegetarian.
Mena Suvari: Trauma
“ I don't think it would be a good thing for me to be in another high school ensemble comedy ”
Mena Suvari hit the big time in 1999 with sexy turns in hormonal teen comedy American Pie and Sam Mendes' Oscar-winning drama American Beauty. After playing the teenage vamp yet again in the critically reviled American Virgin and American Pie 2, she was at risk of getting typecast. From there she resolved to do films without the word 'American' in the title and even dirtied up her teeth for drug-addled drama Spun, before rolling around in ants and blood for Marc Evans' London-set psychological thriller Trauma.
Having recently made gritty, independent films like Spun and now Trauma, is it fair to say that you're dissatisfied with the roles that are being offered to you by mainstream Hollywood?
No, it's not that. It's just what I've chosen and for me that has to do with the story and also finding roles that I think are really good for me - something that I'm passionate about and interested in. The way it has worked out is that those films just happen to be independent and not studio. I don't want to do the same thing over and over again. I want to challenge myself and I don't want to be the pretty girl with her tits hanging out, honestly. I know that's how I've gotten here today so it hasn't led me to say strategically that I'm not going to do any more studio films. But I also think there's more creativity in independent filmmaking.
After doing so many teen roles, did you relish the chance to play someone closer to your own age?
Oh yeah, it was great. I work really well with my agent, we have similar tastes and he knows what direction I want to take. I definitely don't think it would be a good thing for me to be in another high school ensemble comedy, you know what I mean? From that point in my life, I've grown so much in terms of who I am, what I'm interested in, and what I want to do. With this film I liked how different and dark it was, and it was really creatively written.
What was it particularly about the character that drew you in?
The role of Charlotte was just very different from anything I'd ever done, it wasn't the classic "two people meet and end up having sex" kind of thing. Yeah, there was some intimacy there but it was really tragic and torn - it could never be. I also liked the idea that Charlotte could be a figment of this guy's imagination. There's a lot of symbolism as well. I was really excited to do it because I'd been waiting a long time to do something that I liked. I've passed on a lot of things in the meantime because I really need to be passionate about what I'm doing.
Is it true that you attended a séance in preparation for this role?
It wasn't really a séance. My character is really into Reiki [a type of spiritual healing] and I did learn how to perform that and experienced it myself, but I went to what was an intervention basically. There were two mediums that conjured up... spirits, I guess, and one of them would draw the deceased person and the family members would talk to them.
What kind of impression did that make on you?
It was definitely unique. I'm not religious myself but it was fascinating. The most important thing - in spite of any scepticism I would have had - is the reaction of the people and how emotional they became. That's something that really helped me as far as understanding where my character was coming from and her motivation.
Trauma is quite a harrowing film to watch. Was it a similarly intense experience making it?
Well my character is really separated from what Ben [Colin Firth] is going through. Charlotte is who she is, and a healer of sorts, so that's the mindset that I had, and that's how we played it. And Colin, I just can't speak enough of him, because he's so wonderful, experienced, talented and down to earth. He's also very charming and funny and not in any way affected by the business, so it was a wonderful experience working with him. Also, before this, I'd never worked with anyone who was so eager to give you insight - telling me what he thought, and asking me if that was OK, and what I wanted to do. You know, you don't always get that. And Marc is also really good with actors.
Charlotte has to eat a spider in the film - did you pull a Nicolas Cage and eat it for real?
I'd love to say that I did, but I didn't! It was a real spider though, and it did touch my lips a few times in that scene - you can tell - but it wasn't put in my mouth. I definitely wasn't down with that. I mean, I did consider it, but in the end I just couldn't. The girl who did it had a mouth-guard to protect her, and I must say the spider was very professional [laughs], but it's just that at a moment's notice the thing could bite you. For me the thought of that was just... eugh! Not appealing.
You also had rather a lot of ants to contend with...
My God, those ants... Those ants were all in my hair. That really was me. I was drenched in bottles of blood and these ants were all over the place and biting me, which wasn't very nice - obviously. The thing is, when they feel threatened they release a form of acid, so I was like, "Stop! They're hurting me! They're hurting me!" and when they started to go in my eyes I just said, "Cut!" I couldn't handle that. I was covered in dead ants and blood afterwards and I had to take a shower in my trailer, which I must say, I've never done before [laughs] - because they're just so tiny and the water is always freezing! But even back at my hotel, late at night, I was finding dead ants in my hair.
Mena Suvari Snubs High School Films
Hollywood actress Mena Suvari is refusing to star in anymore immature "high school" movies. The sexy 25-year-old actress - who has previously starred in teenage comedies like American Pie, Loser and Sugar And Spice - is now snubbing the film genre that propelled her to stardom. She says, "I try to take advantage of my looks, and there's always a demand for younger parts. There's a limit though and I've reached it. I don't want to do those high school things anymore. It not something I'm looking for."
Mena Suvari Married To A Work Of Art
American Beauty star Mena Suvari is married to a man 17 years older than her - but believes if it's good enough for Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, it's good enough for her. The sexy actress, 22, is married to cinematographer Robert Brinkmann, 39, but says the age gap is not a problem and her husband is a work of art. She says, "What is age? It doesn't matter. I just believe that if I were Catherine and ten years older than I am, and me and Robert still had the same age difference nobody would care. But the fact that I'm in my early 20s makes it some big shocking scandal!" Mena, who recently starred in Robert's film Sugar And Spice, thinks her husband is the best guy there is. She adds, "He's a great guy and he's my husband. He's also the most fabulous piece around. I mean piece like piece of art or piece of work."
Never Say Never To Nudity Says Mena
Mena Suvari may be getting ready to strip for the cameras again. The natural redhead stripped off for American Beauty and she was pleased that she wasn't the only one to get 'em off. She says, "The scene wasn't just a nudity shot - it was an unveiling of Angela's character. I think it worked in the film as a whole. I found it comforting that I wasn't only the one that was naked. Kevin Spacey had a scene, Annette Bening had a scene, Thora Birch had one - so I was like, 'Okay we're all a little involved.' I always said I didn't want to be known for nudity and then this happened. I'm not going to say I'm completely open to it, but I'll never say never."
Mena's Man Is Teaching Her About The Movies
Actress Mena Suvari has discovered another advantage of marriage to an older man - her film knowledge has improved dramatically. Mena, star of the upcoming Sugar & Spice (2001), met and fell in love with German cinematographer Robert Brinkmann, who is 17 years her senior, during the making of her latest film. And while the age difference has shocked many, Suvari insists it was the best thing she could have done for her happiness - and her career. She explains, "I love doing everything with him - even going to the gas station. People in the business always ask me, `Have you seen this movie or that movie?' and I have to say no. Robert is helping build up my library. We go to the Hitchcock festival - things like that."
Unpopular Mena Suvari Didn't Even Go To Her Prom
Sexy American Beauty (1999) star Mena Suvari has revealed that she hasn't always been popular - she was an outcast in high school. And the young actress was teased so much by her classmates - who made her feel like an outsider after she moved to Los Angeles from South Carolina - that she couldn't wait to graduate. She explains, "I moved to L.A. when I was fifteen from South Carolina. When we had the earthquake I was teased if my chickens got loose because I lived in South Carolina, and just things like that. It's just the way that kids are." Mena, who also starred in the hit comedy American Pie (1999), didn't even get to go to her high school prom. She explains, "I didn't have that many friends. I had one or two friends but didn't go to the prom. It was just very much about graduating and making it through."
Mena Suvari's Embarrassing Family
Actress Mena Suvari dreaded being given lifts to and from school by her family - because they always made it so embarrassing. The 21- year-old American Beauty (1999) star says her parents used to drive her to school in a car so huge she'd make them drop her off around the corner so her friends wouldn't see it. She says, "My parents used to take me school in my grandmother's 1980 white Fleetwood Cadillac. It's like, the biggest car made. It was huge. I'd make them drop me off a block or two away so I could walk." And Suvari says things didn't get any better when she left school at the end of the day. She recalls, "My three older brothers would pick me up sometimes in the same car. They'd pull up right to the front of the school and crank country music and sing really loud until I came out. I was so embarrassed."
No Nudity For Mena
Hollywood star Mena Suvari has put a ban on nude film scenes. The American Beauty (1999) actress is insisting on a no nudity clause in her new film contracts. Mena, who appeared topless in that film says, "I didn't want to be seen as that kind of actress. But for this, it was more than just an `Oh, I'm taking my top off' shot. It was a revelation of who the character was. Also because Thora Birch, Annette Bening, Wes Bentley and Kevin Spacey some nudity, I felt I wasn't the only one."
Mena Suvari Shocked By Her Change Of Lifestyle
Mena Suvari is in shock about how much her life has changed since she made the Oscar winning film American Beauty (1999). The 21-year-old actress, who played the object of Kevin Spacey's affection, has gotten married since filming wrapped and become one of Hollywood's hottest young stars. But she says the change has been nice, explaining, "I love coming home to my husband and my house." She adds, "It's all very, very surreal. I never expected anything like this. I'm still trying to figure out why I'm here."
Actress Mena, 21, Weds Lover, 38.
Life imitated art for teenage actress Mena Suvari as she married a man nearly twice her age - just like the character she plays in the hit film American Beauty (1999). Mena, 21, who seduces her friend's dad in the film, tied the knot with Robert Brinkmann, 38, at a ceremony two weeks before the Oscars. Mena let the secret slip at a party this week and a friend says, "Mena doesn't care about the age gap. She knows that people will draw comparisons between her real life and her movie role. But she and Robert are really happy together so it doesn't matter what other people think." Mena met divorced cameraman Brinkmann last year and moved into his luxurious los Angeles home a few months ago. In American Beauty (1999) - which picked up five Oscars including best picture - Mena's charater, Angela, is lusted after by her best pal's dad - played by Kevin Spacey.