My Cultural Life: Emily Mortimer

The British actor and director tells us what she’s been listening to, watching and more

emily mortimer interview
Taylor Jewell / Invision / AP / Shutterstock

British-born actor, screenwriter and director Emily Mortimer moves deftly between offbeat roles in independent films – she won an Independent Spirit Award in 2003 for Lovely and Amazing – and blockbusters such as Shutter Island and Mary Poppins Returns.

She created the brilliantly satiric and semi-improvised sitcom Doll & Em with childhood best friend Dolly Wells, and has most recently written and directed BBC drama The Pursuit of Love, based on the ‘fearless, non-judgemental and hilarious’ Nancy Mitford novel of the same name. Now based in New York, Mortimer’s latest project is a screenplay about her experiences of living in Russia.

The first album I loved was Black and Blue by The Rolling Stones from my mum’s record collection. The first time I saw her really cry was at an airport in Italy when our flight was delayed – she sat on the floor, with her head in her hands, sobbing because she was going to miss seeing them in concert. I was about five and understood then, and forever after, how important The Rolling Stones were.

My all-time favourite piece of music is the overture to The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. My dad [barrister, dramatist and author Sir John Mortimer] loved opera, and it reminds me of him. It’s so happy-making. Chekhov said it was impossible to be sad while drinking champagne and listening to the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and I think that’s true.

The record I’ve got on repeat? Jeff Buckley’s The Way Young Lovers Do, which is a cover of a Van Morrison song. It’s totally amazing – sexy and romantic, which is a hard combo to achieve. I’ve only discovered Jeff Buckley late in my life.

emily mortimer interview
Jeff Buckley in 1994
Dave Tonge

I’ve been watching The Bachelor and The Voice, as well as When Harry Met Sally and Desperately Seeking Susan.

My favourite film is probably Calamity Jane, with Doris Day. It’s a guilty pleasure. I also love Les Enfants du Paradis.

The book that has influenced me the most is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It’s about ambition and humility and love and identity, and how you can be a hardened convict as well as a true gentleman. I also love Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory. It’s the best autobiography ever written by one of the best writers ever to have lived.

At the moment I’m reading James Baldwin’s Another Country. It’s the perfect New York novel.

One of my best-loved quotes is by the 18th-century French epigrammatist Nicolas Chamfort: ‘Love is the exchange of two fantasies and the contact of two skins.’ It says it all.

My favourite painting is Simone Martini’s portrait of Guidoriccio da Fogliano in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. We went to the city a lot when I was a child and we always went to see it before we fed the pigeons in the square. It’s so mysterious, with that inky blue Tuscan night sky.

emily mortimer interview
Simone Martini’s Guidoriccio da Fogliano at the Siege of Montemassi

If I won the lottery, I’d buy a Whistler or a David Hockney.

My top podcast tip is the funny and wise Call Your Grandmother, which is all about Jewish grandmothers in New York. For those of us who never had a Jewish grandmother – well, you kind of get one.

I collect commemorative plates of the Royal Family, because I’m a nostalgic expatriate.

I would like to go back to Rome. I hadn’t spent much time in the city and then my son did a course there and I just fell in love with it when I went to visit him. I want to go to all the museums and drink tons of Campari and eat delicious pasta.

emily mortimer interview
Rome’s Piazza San Pietro
Caleb Miller

This year, I’m most looking forward to seeing plays in theatres and movies in cinemas.

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