CANNES, FRANCE — It's every star's dream to walk up the plush red carpet of the Palais des Festivals for your movie's gala presentation, gazed at by an admiring throng who will treasure this moment as a quintessential Cannes experience. But what is it actually like when you're the celebrity in the spotlight?
"To be honest, it's terrifying!" said Mira Sorvino not long after performing the ritual at this year's filmfest.
"I was almost shaking by the time I got inside the lobby," continued the actress, who visited Cannes to launch "Lulu on the Bridge," her newest film.
"As much as I should be used to this kind of stuff by now, there's something about having to present oneself calmly and with a certain self-possession, and be photographed constantly and have people call your name out - 'Over here, no, no, turn, over here!' that just fills me with panic. And yet I have to smile and seem like I'm not panicked!"
The walk itself is only part of the ordeal. "The way you get there is by driving very slowly through a long corridor of people," Sorvino says with a slightly grim smile, "and people look into the car and knock on the door. Young boys lean over and kiss the window, and other people look inside and say 'Not so pretty!' while I just sit there with my mother and try to be normal.
"It's fun, I guess, but not as much fun as one might think. Be careful what you wish for!"
Although she's still a young actress, Sorvino is well acquainted with the ceremonies of stardom from watching her father, Hollywood actor Paul Sorvino, and from achieving her own fame as an Emmy winner, a Golden Globe winner, and an Academy Award winner for Woody Allen's comic "Mighty Aphrodite," the best-known movie in a list of credits ranging from "The Replacement Killers" and "Barcelona" to "Quiz Show" and "Blue in the Face."
"Lulu on the Bridge," written and directed by novelist Paul Auster, pairs her with Harvey Keitel in a romantic tale of lovers united by a mysterious stone.
The impressive cast also includes Willem Dafoe as a sinister anthropologist and Vanessa Redgrave as a distinguished filmmaker.
Sorvino first met Auster while serving on the Cannes jury last year.
She describes this as an "intense and rich" experience, since jury duty required her to be "a mind and not just an instrument."
Usually, she continues, performers are called on "to interpret roles with our instincts and bodies and voices, not to offer opinions. But talking about film as an art form, rather than just a commercial product, was great. It made me care much more about the kinds of films I do.
"I love acting as something higher than myself, and it's better to practice this in a piece of work that might have the potential of approximating art."
Still fresh from her years at Harvard University, where she earned a degree in East Asian culture, Sorvino brings intellect as well as glamour to her work, and sees every new picture as an opportunity to learn more "both about acting and the way stories are told in cinema."
Her goal is to direct movies of her own, like Jodie Foster, her favorite role model. "I may not be mature enough yet to make a great film," she says modestly, "but I'm starting to think I have something to say, so within the next few years I might try."
Questioned about the sort of movies she admires most, Sorvino says she favors those "made straight from the director's heart, really personal and truthful for them, and saying something about the world as they know it. It has to be honest, and you need to have a point of view, a truth that you know and share with other people.
"Or you can explore something," she adds, "let the film ask a question! I don't think a movie should be dogmatic, although I think it should raise issues. You should open up a dialogue with the audience."
Asked for an example, Sorvino mentions Tim Robbins's dramatic "Dead Man Walking," with its passionate performances and issue-oriented plot about capital punishment. Asked what her own first project might be like, she hedges and dodges, preferring not to commit herself - and clearly eager for the day when she'll know the answer for certain.
"I can't tell you now," she says with a grin, "but I'll give you a huge interview when it's done!"