Tagged under:2002, Interview
Posted by on 18 December 2002

Brazilian-Italian beauty Morena Baccarin, the 23-year-old New Yorker (by way of Rio de Janeiro), catches eyes as Inara, a revered sex worker on Fox TV’s acclaimed new “space Western” Firefly, set 800 years in the future. The daughter of a South American stage and TV actress, Morena moved with her family to Greenwich Village when she was 10 and later attended LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts (the Fame high school), before she entered the theater program at Juilliard, where Wes Bentley was a classmate.

Fresh out of college, Morena landed her first movie role in the improvised fashion world comedy Perfume with Rita Wilson, Carmen Electra, Kylie Bax and Mariel Hemingway. That was followed by a lead role in the film festival hit Way Off Broadway. Shortly before heading to Los Angeles, Morena appeared in the acclaimed Central Park production of The Seagull with Natalie Portman. Firefly is her first television show.

This dark and beautiful actress stirs the imagination as a royal courtesan on television. She’s got the looks and the talent to make it on the stage and the screen, and she’s got brains to boot. You acted with Natalie Portman and understudied for her role in last year’s Central Park production of The Seagull. Any stories about Natalie?

Morena Baccarin: We chatted some. She’s a very, very nice, very smart girl. She’s got a great heart. She’s a foster mom for dogs before they get adopted, so sometimes I would baby-sit the dogs while she was onstage.

PB: Now that you’re starring in a sci-fi show, have you talked to her about her role in Star Wars as Princess Amidala?

MB: I haven’t. While we were doing The Seagull, I didn’t anticipate that I’d be in space, too. I did talk to her about doing that and what it was like. She said it was very intense in terms of costumes and everything you have to wear. I can now understand, but I think mine are a little easier. They’re very simple, but I get to wear the most exotic and interesting costumes I think.

PB: On Firefly, you play Inara, a “companion” or highly revered sex worker better compared to a courtesan than a call girl. On the show, companions are universally respected and they choose their partners. Is this an enlightened attitude of the future, do you think?

MB: I think so. I think it could be something very interesting because she’s modeled in some ways after a geisha. There’s a lot of ceremony and history that comes with being that character. They say that geishas are keepers of tradition, and Inara has a very old-fashioned feel to her. She went to a companion academy, a training school, as a child, where she learned different languages and different instruments. Very cultured. It seems like she’s a keeper of an older tradition in a world where everything is so fast and about survival, and it’s more about indulging the senses and the arts. It’s so fun.

PB: What is Inara’s code of behavior?

MB: She doesn’t sleep with any crew on the ship. That would be bad. There’s this thing called the Companion Database where a client enters their name. I will look it up and pick and choose really carefully whom I’ll choose to be my client. You start to have the same clients over and over because you do know them and it’s more revered that way.

PB: What kind of research did you do for the role?

MB: I’ve been fascinated with geishas for a long time. I read that book Memoirs of a Geisha, and I really loved it, and there’s another book called Geisha: The Life, the Voices, the Art with beautiful pictures of geishas today in Japan. I’m reading a book right now about legalizing prostitution. I’m very curious about that because I’m not sure how I feel either way. There are pros and cons to it. There are very strange and interesting arguments. The argument is that it might clean up its association with drug dealing if it were legal. For example, places like the Mustang Ranch seem like a very controlled environment. But also, it’s bizarre because it seems to me the women there don’t really live like regular people. They’re confined to that space and they’re objects.

PB: Were you a big sci-fi fan before this show?

MB: No, I never really watched sci-fi shows. I loved Star Wars, of course.

PB: How does Firefly compare to Star Trek or Star Wars?

MB: I would consider it more similar to Star Wars, except for the aliens. We have no aliens in the show. It’s closer to the human side of Star Wars where you’ve got the love interest, and you’ve got people you don’t like who you have to work with.

PB: The look of the show is less sterile than Star Trek, too.

MB: [Our spaceship] Serenity is a very worn shuttle. In a way, it’s very romantic and gritty. It’s in the future where the earth has disappeared. When earth was around, China became the world-dominated power and so there’s a lot of Chinese influence. We speak Chinese sometimes.

PB: In real life, do you speak Portuguese, as well?

MB: Yes, I do, even though I haven’t been back to Brazil in a while.

PB: Is Morena a Portuguese name?

MB: Yes, it means “brunette” or “tawny.”

PB: What did your parents do?

MB: My mom is an actress in Brazil. She’s pretty famous now, especially with The Vagina Monologues, which she’s been doing there for two years now. It’s huge there. My dad is a news editor for Brazilian television. I have a younger brother, who’s not an actor, thank God. He’s in college right now in New York, studying graphic design, graphic arts and sculpting. He’s quite an artist.

PB: Someone wrote about your movie Way Off Broadway: “Brad Beyer and Morena Baccarin are the most charming couple to hit the screen since Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger.” How do you account for that?

MB: It was the second movie I got after school. It was a great director and a great cast…the chemistry was all there. It was a great part for me because it was a young actress who just graduated from school and trying to make it. Her friends are artists or writers and she’s struggling with the business. She falls in love with her best friend.

PB: So, it’s patterned after your real life?

MB: Very largely.

PB: Did you fall in love with your best friend?

MB: At the time, I had just broken up with somebody and did end up falling in love with [co-star] Brad Beyer. And we’re still together, which is good. He just finished an episode of Hack, David Morse’s new show.

PB: What is your passion?

MB: I love reading. I’m an avid reader, poetry, fiction, non-fiction. I just finished reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, which is basically the history of the world the past 13,000 years. It was so interesting. I love movies, especially old movies because it seems those old movies you can learn so much, not only about generations, but about acting also.

PB: What’s your favorite movie of all time?

MB: Definitely The Piano is up there…Casablanca…. Can you tell I’m a hopeless romantic? Natural Born Killers is one of my favorite, favorite movies, also. Oh, God, I just love movies. What I saw recently that I loved was Sex and Lucia. It was amazing. It’s one of the sexiest movies ever.

PB: What are the sexiest film scenes ever?

MB: One is Il Postino, with the poetry in that. It’s not really a love scene; he’s just looking at her and he’s saying these poems about how “her smile creeps up like a butterfly.” It’s so sexy and beautiful and she starts to laugh. In a recent movie, Unfaithful, the scene where Diane Lane and Oliver Martinez first get together and she’s just trembling…that’s so intense.

PB: What’s the most romantic thing a guy’s ever done for you?

MB: My boyfriend said, “Just come over to my house at 7:30.” On the door was a sign that said, “Hello. Welcome to the love spa.” I opened the door and he had beautifully candle-lit his entire apartment. He led me with rose petals to the bathtub and he read me poetry in the bath. And then we had this wonderful three-course meal in his dining room, all candle-lit, and he got me a vegan cake.

PB: What is not on your resume, and for good reason?

MB: I’m lucky to say that I have a very young career. I don’t think I’ve had the time to do anything really cheesy yet. Although ‘m sure somebody will find some audition or something.