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Success Has Mira Sorvino Maxed Out : Movies: She always wanted to follow father Paul Sorvino into the acting arena, but now she can't seem to get a day off.

FAST TRACK: Up and comers in arts and entertainment

August 24, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mira Sorvino thought she was prepared to be in the public eye. All her life she'd watched her father, actor Paul Sorvino ("GoodFellas," "The Firm"), successfully cope with the limelight. It was "a very normal thing" for the family to accompany him to film sets.

But Sorvino, 24, felt uncomfortable when the spotlight focused on her. For the past two years, the actress has been working nonstop--doing four feature films, including Robert Redford's "Quiz Show" and Whit Stillman's romantic comedy "Barcelona," plus three short movies. "I've been working a lot, but nothing had come out," she said. That all changed last month when her first film, "Amongst Friends," had a big New York premiere.

"All of a sudden people were saying, 'Miss Sorvino! Over here!' There were live camera crews in your face. I was very weirded out. It was exciting, but it was very strange. I felt completely tongue-tied and nervous--all at the same time."

So she called her dad for advice. "He said, 'What you are lacking about this whole thing is a sense of humor. You got to have a sense of humor,' " she recalled.

She heeded his words. Relaxing in a Beverly Hills' hotel suite, the lithe brunette was unaffected and funny.

"She's great, man," said Rob Weiss, who directed "Amongst Friends." " Everything about her is great."

"She was even popular with the electricians on the film," Whit Stillman said.

Though Sorvino had wanted to act since she was a teen-ager, she majored in Chinese studies at Harvard and speaks fluent Chinese. "I wanted to try something truly academic, not like a practical career-oriented major," she said.

Upon graduation, she directed a documentary on Russia, worked as a production assistant and a script reader for Robert De Niro's Tribeca production company. Sorvino decided, though, she wanted to concentrate solely on acting, because "I'm happy doing it."

Sorvino, who is friends with Weiss, originally was the associate producer and casting director on "Amongst Friends." She even cast her 91-year-old grandfather in a small part.

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When Weiss ran into problems casting Laura, the high school sweetheart of an ex-con from wealthy Five Towns, Long Island, he auditioned Sorvino. "Because I had known Mira, it was just weird for me to imagine her doing it," Weiss admitted. "Once she read, I knew she was the right choice."

Likewise, Stillman ("Metropolitan") couldn't find the right actress to play the comedic role of a Spanish translator. "Mira was recommended to us by the cinematographer of the film who knew her from a short," Stillman said. "On set, people who didn't know she was an American spoke to her in Spanish. She became friendly with a group of Spanish people and just sort of fit in."

For the filming, Sorvino said, "I was (in Barcelona) for three months. Every day, I went out with my Living Language Spanish course and learned Spanish. I can do dialects. That was something that I learned from my father."

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During a two-week break in June from "Barcelona," Sorvino returned to New York to shoot "Quiz Show," in which she plays the intellectual wife of Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow), the man who investigated the '50s quiz show scandals.

Redford, Sorvino gushed, "is absolutely considerate and thoughtful and intelligent and wonderful."

Sorvino is now finishing "Quiz Show," which, like "Barcelona," is due for release next year.

"I've played a real wide range of people (in films)," Sorvino said. "In acting class, I would always get the role of Joan of Arc or these who are suicidal or seeing visions. It's nice to break out of that and play positive, happy or loud characters."

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