Mena Suvari: I'm every woman

 

Mena Suvari doesn't think there's enough meaty roles for women these days. So when she was offered the part of Catherine in the movie adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's Garden of Eden (out Friday)...

Mena Suvari doesn't think there's enough meaty roles for women these days. So when she was offered the part of Catherine in the movie adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's Garden of Eden (out Friday), she jumped.

In the movie, set in the '20s, Suvari plays a honeymooner in the French Riviera with her writer hubby David (Jack Huston, Boardwalk Empire).

The relationship takes a twist when Catherine decides she wants to wear the pants in the family -- literally. She cuts off her hair, takes control in the bedroom and even finds them a female lover to share.

``The movie has kind of a universal theme,'' says Suvari, 31. ``It's about struggling to find one's own identity, especially as a woman -- always battling and struggling with expectations that are put on us.''

After the film wrapped about three years ago, the former model -- who first burst on the scene as a come-hither teen in American Beauty -- shaved her head (too many bleachings had zapped her roots). She was treated differently bald.

``I was at the airport, and the immigration officer looked at my passport picture when my hair was really long, and he said, `You know, you're such a pretty girl,' '' Suvari recalls. ``It really took me back. It made me think -- having long hair is kind of this expected look that women are supposed to have. Short hair didn't make me less of a woman!''

Filming the role was cathartic.

``I feel like this movie changed my life,'' says the Rhode Island native who is married to concert promoter Simone Sestito. ``I've always grown with the characters I play. To dive into this so deeply was emotionally and mentally very challenging.''

She'll have a hard time replicating the experience.

``There was a moment when I really thought that I'd quit the business,'' confesses the actress. ``I put so much energy into discovering [Catherine] that I almost wondered if I could ever give like that again.''

-- MADELEINE MARR

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