Marisa Tomei on Supporting Roles and the “Lucky Pants” She Wore to Auditions

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Actress Masisa Tomei

“Usually the ‘wing man’ has a lot more interest, is funnier, has a lot more character. I want to know that person’s life and their insides.” – Marisa Tomei

It’s been over a quarter-century since Marisa Tomei played Mona Lisa Vito in the comedy My Cousin Vinny and the Oscar-winning actress is still demonstrating her abilities as an actress in a wide range of work, including last year’s blockbuster Spider-Man: Homecoming and the talked-about Hulu series The Handmaiden’s Tale. Tomei spoke with The Cut about several aspects of her career, including why she has been seen more in supporting roles than leading roles, what draws her to her roles, and her naïve first auditions in Hollywood before she discovered why her “lucky pants” brought her so much luck.

One interesting thing about Tomei’s body of work is that she has rarely appeared in a lead role. Not surprisingly, Tomei says this wasn’t a choice — but she embraces playing supporting characters. She explains, “I never intended to get into only supporting roles … [Laughs] that wasn’t really my goal. My feeling was, all roles are great and it’s just what you want to do with it and whether you want to be part of a certain project or you feel like this would be a fun character to try on. Usually the ‘wing man’ has a lot more interest, is funnier, has a lot more character. I want to know that person’s life and their insides.”

Nowadays, Tomei is following the path of other women and seeking to develop her own material having produced 2014’s Loitering with Intent and the upcoming Behold My Heart. She says, “Usually what the whole piece is talking about. Do I want to be part of The Handmaid’s Tale, for example — what’s the discussion around it? I’m still looking for those Barbara Stanwyck roles, which are very rare. I think it’s great that a lot of women are starting to create their own production companies and creating roles for themselves and for other women. I’m taking a swing at that now. We’ll see how that pans out.”

With that said, Tomei looks back at her early days in Hollywood when she was known more for her beauty than her acting talent — so much so that some people still believe that her Oscar win for My Cousin Vinny was an error. She recalls her early “luck” on auditions, remembering, “I remember when I first started auditioning I had these Betsey Johnson flower pants. And every time I wore them I got a job and I thought, Oh my God, they’re my lucky pants! And I look back and now I’m like, no, they were just tight and my ass looked good in them, I suppose. I was naïve. I wasn’t really a wise Brooklyn kid, in terms of Hollywood.”

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