PASADENA, Calif. — Winning the Oscar didn’t change her, says actress Marcia Gay Harden. It changed everybody else.
She won as best supporting actress for her role as the ever-patient wife in “Pollock.” “I think I stayed the same on some core level,” she said.
“But it changed the way people perceive me. And therefore it probably does change me. It changes the way you see yourself a little bit. I think I do the same kind of work I did then, in the same kind of manner that I did then. I think I have a bit of a stamp of approval behind me, but I think what really changes your opportunities is being in a very commercial film,” she said.
Though Harden continues to morph into every role she plays, she still doubts herself. “I work steadily, but it’s a different market,” she said. “You work steadily to come out with less than you ever would have before, on some level. You can’t help but divorce yourself and consider the financial aspects, the time aspects, and all those things.
“But we all know the world changed,” she said. “ ‘Pollock’ was in 2001, as was 9/11, and the instability of the world grew. And on some level I feel it reflected within me as well. I don’t feel like a more confident, more stable, more yoga-based, granola-based woman. I don’t. I feel that there’s this amorphous insecurity in life that seems to permeate my consciousness,” she said.
You’d never know that by watching her in movies like “Mystic River,” “Miller’s Crossing” and “The Mist,” or on TV series “Damages,” “Royal Pains” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
“We have visions of ourselves and our lives and what they’ll look like. And then you live your life, and it doesn’t look like what you thought it would look like. And maybe that’s the biggest lesson — to constantly be grateful for what I have lest I become the complainer. ... ‘Why don’t I get ...’ That whiny thing that is very destructive and believe you me, I’m not saying I don’t fall into it. I’m just saying it’s maybe not how I want to proceed.”
Now, as the mother of an American coed who is accused of murdering her roommate on Lifetime’s “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy,” Harden exposes her other half. That is the maternal half — the part that finds her home-schooling her three kids and fretting about their future.
With a daughter 12 and girl-and-boy twins, 6, she said, “It’s definitely a juggle, and the teachers are far better at it than I am. They know their subjects. And their teachers can teach in innovative ways. I don’t think that’s true across the system. I think tenure and 1,000 other things have created something that has stayed. And if the biggest reason we’re having the kids go to school is socializing, that’s kind of the wrong message, I think.
“I can’t do it better than her school can do it, but at least I can have them with me this year when I’m traveling and have them see the national parks and go out on the lake and learn about winter, and what happens to the fish when the ice freezes. We study genetics and evolution and all those things, which I think are just fascinating.”
In spite of the struggles in her career, Harden says her biggest hurdle was “finding the man with whom I wanted to have children and being successful and having children; having my family. It was another world. It did change me.”
Harden has been married for 14 years to Thaddaeus Scheel, whom she met when they both worked on “The Spitfire Grill.”
“Children are the biggest challenge in the world. Joy, blah, blah, we know — but it’s a challenge that tests your strengths and points out your weaknesses. And it points out the things you need to work on because you’re helping shape young lives. So that single thing, husband and children, is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life. And literally it points out every hole in my fabric — which is also opportunity, the opportunity to find the holes and to work on them.”
It was a catastrophic family tragedy six years ago that prodded her introspection. Her brother’s two children and ex-wife perished in a fire. “It will always be the tragedy of my life, but I’ve seen him go on to choose joy and to have a new wife ... and he just had a new baby. So that has changed me certainly — to recognize how precocious and precious time is. God knows I’m the most flawed person in the world, but I do have that memory of their spirits always with me to remind me of that.”