LOS ANGELES — It’s not every actress who can hold her own next to George Clooney’s bare backside, but Natascha McElhone manages to do just that in “Solaris,” the new Steven Soderbergh film opening Friday. In the film, a remake of the 1972 Andrei Tarkovsky original, McElhone and Clooney play a husband and wife who reexplore their troubled past on board a space station. It’s dark, brooding and romantic, but McElhone says the atmosphere on set was, in fact, the opposite. “It was really gossipy and fun. I got quite an education about Hollywood,” chirps the Brighton-born actress, 31, who’s hardly a Hollywood habitué. “I live in London, and I love coming here and dipping into it in a very intense way and going back home to my version of normality.”
Normality means living next to the hospital where her husband, a surgeon, works; caring for a two-year-old son and reading scripts, not being hounded by press or fans. “I’ve never had a profile done in terms of my personal life or my personality,” she says. But McElhone has also dodged the spotlight by playing a range of different roles.
“I think that confuses people,” she says. “They never recognize me.”
She did, however, catch the eye of filmmaker James Ivory, who saw her in London’s Shakespeare in the Park years ago and cast her opposite Anthony Hopkins in “Picasso.” Since then, she’s appeared opposite Brad Pitt in “The Devil’s Own,” Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show,” and Robert DeNiro in “Ronin.” She’ll appear next on screen as Henry VIII’s mistress, Mary Boleyn, in “The Other Boleyn Girl,” which McElhone just finished filming. “I play Mary, who was the king’s lover first until Anne usurped her position. Eventually, she ended up as their serving maid,” she says. “I think I have to do a comedy next.”
But constantly changing her on-screen persona has not only thrown off potential fans, it has affected McElhone’s own style.
“My style’s much more fluid because as an actress, you’re constantly changing your image. I am really affected by what part I am playing.” For example, in “City of Ghosts,” which will come out next spring, McElhone played a Bohemian chick living in Cambodia and spent her off-set time shopping the Russian market for sarongs and tie-tops.
McElhone’s “Solaris” look, on the other hand, didn’t much alter the actress’ fashion sense. “You don’t really see the clothes because it’s more headshots,” she says.
Of course, there’s also that famous shot of Clooney’s derriere. He wasn’t the only one to go bare, however. McElhone maintains that on the set both stars revealed their all. “We were both equally exposed, but Steven [Soderbergh] cut it together like that,” she explains. “I was surprised, but I was pleased.”